Detroit's crown jewel, the Renaissance Center, or "RenCen", I spent my wedding night there in the wedding suite, back in 1980. I've had many of fine meals at "Coach Insignia" the rooftop restaurant, while gazing down upon the city. That seems almost like a lifetime ago....
Hmmm, where to start? I want to make this as personal as I can, my relationship to this once great city. I suppose, I'll start with some very fond memories and experiences that I had as a child. On a couple of occasions my mother and the next door neighbor took their broods to see Santa Claus, at the Hudson Building, "downtown" on the bus. This was no ordinary experience that you'd see at the local mall, no it was much more than that, it was "Santa Land". I can remember passing through three full floors, the lighting was rather dim but not quite dark, of snowy cotton spread out on the floor and with sparkles that would shine of every color that laid softly upon the snow. Life like wildlife figurines were scattered about amongst a pond with skaters, hills with sledders and scenes of Christmas at the farm. It was almost like following the yellow brick road of "The wizard of Oz" and at the end was a jolly old Santa, where a boy of five could whisper the dream of having a horse in the old man's ear.... Never again, would I see such "splendor" as it was long ago that the store had closed.
Other former popular attractions of downtown, was the ferry ride over to Bob-Lo Island where there was an amusement park and small zoo that featured seals, penguins and walruses in a water park equipped with slides and pools... Trips down to Michigan and Trumbull, brought the excitement of Tiger baseball.
The Detroit Zoo is still a popular destination but now is threatened of being closed, features 125 acres of naturalistic habitat in near by Royal Oak. Even the Henry Ford Museum, at nearby Dearborn, has lost a lot of it's luster of the "hay days" before the city lost half of its population......
My family moved, "Up North" back to the "family farm" just before the riots of 1967. I can well remember my father stating, "Glad, we got the hell out of there, just in a nick of time!" I did get my wish of getting that horse, guess that Santa Claus guy, was able to drop off one further up north, before he ran out...while coming to the city.
In, the late seventies, I moved back to the Detroit area to work construction, as an heavy equipment operator. There were times when the asphalt paving company who I was working for, had jobs in the inner city constructing fast food restaurants, loading docks, factory roadways and such. It was ALWAYS the practice to haul the machinery back to the yard everyday while completing projects within the Detroit city limits... As theft and destruction of equipment was common... It wasn't long, before the economy tanked and I found myself working elsewhere, along with thousands of others.
It wasn't until 1984 when I found myself back again in Detroit. The city was just beginning to pull out of the recession of the time and the Detroit Tigers baseball team was on the way to the World Series. It was almost as if the city became alive once again! Very upbeat and the construction "boom" was on. I cannot understate the pride and enthusiasm found in making this city "great" again... The Detroit Grand Prix and the Detroit River boat races, were also considered, "World Class" entertainment.
I found employment as a foreman/operator for one of the largest minority contractors in the city. Here, I started work at Chene Park, the pride and joy of the city at the time and also doing work within the low income projects around the inner city. Working at the park was almost a reward for under taking the jobs at "the projects". However, there was an "overseer" at the park that demanded attention, that could have been another reason...
It was at the park that I came to meet Mayor Coleman Young. While being prepped for this event, I was told to never cross this man and to do EXACTLY what he told me to do, to the letter, whether it was "our" job or not... One should not speak of Detroit without mentioning this great man's name. He was the mayor of Detroit spanning from 1974 to 1993, 5 consecutive terms for a total of 20 years. He ruled Detroit with an "iron fist" and it was his vision of the city, that carried it through the rebounds or "partial recoveries" of the era. It was his character and charisma, that made it so! He "willed" it, anyone who disputes this, didn't know the man... Mayor Young, was not an easy man to please, there would be many, many times I would do a job over and over again, until it met his satisfaction. Not only at the park, but Cadillac Square and "the projects", he was personally involved in them all (and didn't seem to mind if he got his feet dirty doing it). He did get to know me on the first name basis, for me addressing him it was always Sir, or Mayor Young... I can't say, that I knew this man well, because I didn't. However, I learned a lot from him just by the way he walked around. This man walked, like he had an invisible shield around him and that nothing could touch him. I cannot say if I've ever met a man more admirable, maybe not respectful. He had his worries, and it was on more than one occasion, I'd seen him, lash out.
I think, in retrospect his vulgarness, stemmed from his vision of the future for the city, once he left, that it'd "fall apart". I even went to the extent to switch jobs, so I could help complete the work at the park as well at the projects. Detroit, is a "hard" city, and what is so apparent to me anyway, it lacks this kind of "hard" man to manage over it today... Mayor Coleman Young was a "World Class" man.