How to: Survive a trip to Detroit
DETROIT — The police force is nearly extinct. Firemen have no equipment. The hydrants don’t work.
Once the richest city in America, today Detroit lies in ruins as windowless, abandoned buildings blanket the landscape and crime commands the streets.
There are still remnants of the beautiful city that once was within the devastation. The Detroit Library, Eastern Market and Greek Town are just a few places that still remain and are well worth the visit. For those planning a trip to see this city of ruin there are several things to beware of but also many sites worth seeing.
Where not to go“You are technically not safe anywhere,” said Nicole Goddeyne, a proud Detroit native who’s seen the good and the bad. “You just need to use common sense and be ready to stand up for yourself if you have to.”
The areas immediately outside of downtown are areas to avoid. The nice buildings that surround the looming General Motors building are misleading. Travel four or five blocks in any direction and the buildings and homes are mainly windowless and empty. Downtown itself could be considered half safe in daylight but even at night it’s best to steer clear.
“The downtown area is sort of safe,” said Jimmy Rams of Detroit, “but nowhere is actually safe, as random violence can happen at anytime. The perpetrators are like lions tracking a herd of gazelles, when they see an opportunity they strike.”
One unfortunate fact about Detroit is people are rarely safe to walk alone even in daylight. Crime circles, crack addicts and the homeless have claimed many abandoned homes and buildings for themselves. It’s easy to take up residence when there’s no police force to stop it.
“I think last I heard, if you call 911, it could take an hour for a cop to show up,” said Goddeyne.
Locals know better than to take the destruction tour through Detroit. But to the tourists who want to see exactly how bad it is: Don’t. Forced prostitution is not unheard of so women especially must be careful downtown.
“The lions are always looking for an opportunity,” said Rams. “Robbery, sexual assault, kidnapping and enslaving women into prostitution… car jacking at stop signs and red lights. Now the streets are generating a very mean group of thugs that have zero value on life. They will kill for absolutely no reason.”These are not areas to go site seeing or to test bravery. These are the areas to avoid at all costs even if there’s a firearm in the car, the places that stand directly outside of downtown along Woodward Avenue. It’s free game for predators even at the sports stadiums and music halls.
“I was at a concert at St. Andrew’s Hall, there was an entire parking lot of cars that suffered minor break-ins to their cars,” said Goddeyne. St. Andrews is a music venue in downtown Detroit.
In 2002, rap star Eminem starred in a movie called “8 Mile.” The movie portrayed the state of Detroit very accurately. Detroit uses a mile road system and 8 Mile Road is a street to stay away from. The movie might entice visitors to see the real 8 Mile but anywhere from 6 Mile Road to 9 Mile Road should be avoided. It’s common for car bump robberies.
“I was pulling up to a red light, had my window down and apparently it’s unsafe to pull up to a red light without a car length in front of you incase you start to get car jacked and need an escape route,” said Stu Brown, a Californian who spent time in Detroit.
Where to go in Detroit
Amidst the trials of Detroit are timeless pieces of history and art. The Detroit Union Station may be dead and decaying but the Public Library is still very much alive. The library sits among the few buildings left intact downtown, right next to the Art Institute. Grandiose staircases lead to the second floor where paintings cover the hall walls and stained-glass artwork shines through each window.
Every summer is the Woodward Cruise where car buffs dust off their old Chevys, Fords, Chryslers, and GMs to showcase down Woodward Ave. People bring lawn chairs and food to enjoy the hours of endless historic and impressive cars that drive by. This is a specific part of Woodward though… after 9 Mile Road to 14 Mile Road.
“My parents used to take me to the Eastern Market all the time as a kid and Iloved it and I wish I was able to go more now,” said Jacob Carlson, another born and raised Detroitian.
The Eastern Market is held every Saturday, winter or summer, for local merchants to come and sell goods at a booth. Small grocers, restaurants and coffee shops are sprinkled around the market too, but stay inside the safety of the two-block length of the market.
Through a viaduct next to the vacant decomposing Union Station lies Mexican Town. Several restaurants line the street and a bakery sits on the corner. The Mexican bakery has every sweet imaginable, from macaroons to churros to chocolate mice with mousse in the middle. To satisfy a sweet tooth and get the feel of the safer Detroit areas Mexican Town is a good place to see…in daylight.
Coney Island, or anywhere you can grab a Coney is great, it’s a Detroit specialty. The Fox Theater holds live performances and plays and in the summer the Hart Plaza has conventions and concerts.
“There’s this one spot that used to be a park but the city no longer has funds to maintain it,” said Goddeyne, “so a group of people took random objects from the city…pipes, pieces of wood, whatever…and actually made a putt-putt golf course out of it all.”
Riot in Greek Town
Greek Town is famous among Detroitians. Located just outside of the tall casinos seen from miles away, Greek Town has several restaurants and bakeries as well. This part of town has an ugly history though. It could be considered safe to visit now but in 1980 Greek Town became a riot zone.
Jimmy Rams was a motorcycle riding, black leather jacket wearing, gun carrying man back then. As he and his girlfriend approached Greek Town that night there was an air of mischief.
“I could actually smell it,” said Rams. “As I carefully scanned the people walking down the street to our right and then left, I noticed several young black thugs from the hood walking on both sides of the street and attacking anyone they came across.”
After shielding his girlfriend behind him Rams grabbed his “trusted friend,” his Colt 45, and was prepared to fire all seven rounds at the six approaching him. When the leader realized Rams was not afraid he backed away and went after other citizens running away from the riot through the street.
“Hay hay, you two,’ I heard an old Greek man shouting from behind us in broken English,” said Rams. The man let them into his shop and they watched the full riot ensue.
“The packs of lions were everywhere attacking and stabbing any that resisted. My father’s voice ringing in my ears, ‘do not go to places where you need to carry a gun for protection and defense’…Dad what happens when everywhere you go you need to carry a gun…what happens then?”
A few minutes later the clomping of horse hooves resounded through the street. Policemen with knee high jet-black boots swept down the road on horses. They swung their thick black clubs back and forth as they swept down the road. The police beat and zip tied the thugs then a Detroit Police panel truck drove up and threw them into the back.
“They were incredible to see in action… crack, crack, crack, then crack, crack, crack again, zip, zip, zip, toss, toss, toss, thud, thud, thud,” said Rams.
In the 34 years since, Greek Town has earned a better reputation, especially with visitors. It is currently one of the must see places for tourists. All of the restaurants are family owned giving the area a more intimate appeal.
Detroit is a city that has been struggling to overcome poverty and perverse politicians for decades. The art, the culture, and the strong reserve of those who have chosen to stay should be applauded. A city in devastation has built a persona of strength in the face of adversity; a strength worth witnessing.
“Detroit is like that one annoying friend you have,” said Goddeyne “you and your group of friends can make fun of him but as soon as someone else does, it’s not okay.”
Detroit travel survival tips
- Park close when attending sports games.
- Carry Pepper Spray.
- Stand Tall.
- Always have your cell phone.
- Never walk alone.
- Watch who is watching you.
- Check between cars in parking lots and garages.
- Do not get trapped between cars.
- “I like what my father told me,” said Rams “If you have to carry a gun to go to the places you are going to, stop going there.”