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Just Some Thoughts on Detroit...

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Just Some Thoughts on Detroit...

Bill Crittenden
February 25, 2014

I've only been to Detroit only once, a couple decades ago, and I didn't even get out of the car.  The car wasn't even anything made in, near, or connected to Detroit, it was a 1988 Hyundai Excel.  My father and I dropped off my sister to live in the Motor City and ever since I've had at least a family connection to it.

Since then, at least, since I became aware of the city's issues (and the world in general), I've watched the "decline" of a great city on the nightly news, then read about it in the internet era.

Detroit is so much more than you see in the headlines, even for someone who doesn't get to go there.  What's it mean to me?

The headlines are bleak: a city of abandoned buildings and empty streets, one where the stoplights in some places don't work and the city can't afford to fix them.  Violence, poverty, and the occasional Stanley Cup championship define this city.

But get to know the people of Detroit, even online, and you discover so much more.  What's left after everybody who could get out did?  The people who chose to stay, or those who had no choice but to dig in and fight.  Cutting the fat, as it were, left Detroit a lean, tough city, filled with people that have carved out their niche in one of the hardest cities in America and are proud of their work.

The founding home of Motown still cranks out great music.  Far from the flash of Hollywood and the egotism of New York, it turns out artists who have a grittier, harder, more realistic message.  Take Eminem's "Lose Yourself," perhaps the song most associated with Detroit for my generation after it was featured in Chrysler's ads a few years ago after its release with the movie 8 Mile, and compare it with New York's recent anthem "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z.  I always say, "to each their own," but I know which city fits my "proud to be working class" attitude better.

Speaking of comparisons, and cars, let's look at Detroit and how it stacks up against other cities.  Los Angeles has the film industry, New York has stock markets, but The Motor City is a place of real industry, with factories full of men and machines getting shit built.

Chicago has a chrome bean, New York has a (admittedly quite nice) statue of a French lady in its harbor.  Detroit's most symbolic statue?  The clenched fist of Joe Louis.

California and New York each have versions of their "Real Housewives." Detroit has Les Gold and his kids.

New Yorkers consider it a tragedy if someone says deep dish is the best pizza.  Chicago, eternally jealous in its "second city" status, will go to war to defend its deep dish.  Detroit?  Too busy building shit to care, or even wait for a damn pizza, it's a Little Caesars Hot & Ready and they're on to the next challenge.  (we have a Little Caesars in Woodstock, and it's the best damn thing there is for busy nights at home)

So now Chrysler, continuing its "Imported from Detroit" theme started a few years ago by working a silhouette of the Detroit skyline into the Chrysler 200's mats, is celebrating a city that may not be everyone's dreamland but is home to some really great people.  The kind of people I wanted to be like growing up (my sister's second husband was my inspiration for getting into the auto business), great people working to restore a great city, one that's tarnished, not broken, to its former glory.

A few articles ago I described a kind of American attitude about cars...

A lot of Americans are, fundamentally, a very practical people.  We take pride in our practicality, taking the discomfort in stride a badge of honor if the job is done effectively and efficiently.

Pop culture and big-city life aside, this attitude definitely spills over into most aspects of life for those who life in America's heartland.  England has fox hunters in resplendent red jackets, America has its cowboys in Wrangler jeans.  England has Sir Patrick Stewart, America has John Wayne.  We're a country of pickup trucks and "if you can't duck it, fuck it" repair work.  England has Adele, we've got Rascal Flatts.  The Queen is expected to be elegant, we love it when our President rolls up his sleeves at his desk and goes out for a big-ass cheeseburger at Five Guys.

So when it comes to cars, we overwhelmingly pick Chevrolet Corvettes over Ferraris, proud of the fact that something made in Kentucky for less than $100,000 can keep pace with Maranello's quarter-million dollar machines.  So what if it's a little gaudy and your back hurts a little after driving it, you got the adrenaline rush, saved the price of a house, and you take pride in not being so soft that you need to spend a ridiculous amount of money to have your ass coddled in the name of "refinement."

What better place in America is there to represent this to the automotive world than Detroit?  Our President, before he sat at the big desk, used to drive one of those Chrysler 300's from the commercials that said, "the strongest steel is forged in the hottest fires."  I wish General Motors and Ford, despite the obvious overlap in marketing, would do more to acknowledge their home city, a great representative for American values of grit and spirit.

Apple acknowledges its California home, despite manufacturing in China nowadays, with a "Designed by Apple in California" on the back of just about everything they make.  And yeah, I know that technically the headquarters of the Big 3 are outside of Detroit's city limits, but something, anything, either on the car or in the marketing that says, "Detroit was important to the making of this vehicle, and strong people wouldn't accept a weak car," would not only be great for Detroit but look at what Chrysler has been able to do with their marketing since they adopted the theme.

Personally, I hope to go back someday.  Long enough to get out of the car.  Hopefully a large, American car, with the beats of "Lose Yourself" on the radio as I hit the city limits.  I'd go see the Big 3's buildings, the old Packard ruins, catch a Red Wings home game.  And buy something, anything, from the shop on Hardcore Pawn.

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