Photo by Andrew Duthie.
Yeah, yeah, I’m writing about 8 Mile again. It’s been cliché ever since the Eminem movie. Yet it continues to fascinate me. Mostly because I can’t figure out what it was supposed to be like. We know it’s kind of crappy looking now. But someone, somewhere, must have had a grander vision for 8 Mile.
Right? Right?!?!!? It was a massive boulevard, linking Detroit to its booming suburbs. In any other city, it’d be lined with pricey malls and upscale apartments.
But not here. I saw a photo of 8 Mile from 1954, and interestingly, it didn’t look much different from today. For some reason, it’s always been a bit of a dumping ground for the unfortunate side of Americana. You could already see where junkyards would go, the opportunistic scroungers feeding off of the automotive sprawl. Today’s strip clubs feel like an inevitable end for such a makeshift road.
Where Detroit’s tentacles of annexation where finally, forcefully, put to rest by the suburbs.
The engine stopped firing up. Detroit became a junk car. Only now are the masses finally seeing the value in it, restoring its American glory. Those that stood by the city wonder what took so long, remaining skeptical.
We put high voltage lines right down the center of 8 Mile. How many major boulevards are you aware of that have that particular decoration?
And then there’s the road’s the endless small to large industry. The gas stations. The strip malls that, surprisingly, are doing OK. The car lot. The auto factory. Then, finally, the brave bar or restaurant, standing tall amidst the crap. Clearances. Going out of business signs. A boarded up house on a street corner. Liquor stores.
They at least tried to make things look nice around Southfield, on the west side, with tall office buildings and a once trendy – and now shuttered – mall. And I guess there’s used to be an east side amusement park at 8 Mile and Gratiot.
Not that you’d ever guess. 8 Mile and Gratiot has seen better days.
And to the north, the suburban promiseland is rotting, too. It raises an important question: Where does urban rot stop, permanently?
Sure, it slows here and there, and even stops in places. But then it spreads somewhere else, like cancer. You can try to build over it, or away from it.
And it’ll never disappear.
Because it’s natural decay. It’s our own worst fears, manifested. It feeds on our prejudices and luxuriates in our ignorance.