city slicker Detroit

Roberta Mock
Monday 30 October 1995 00:02 GMT

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Tonight is Devil's Night. On the night before Halloween, some Americans embark on "devilish" pranks like decorating their neighbour's tree with toilet paper. Detroiters tend to turn the occasion into an arson-fest, setting most of the city's abandoned inner city ablaze

The motor city: The big three automakers (Chrysler, Ford and General Motors) all made their homes in Detroit, a former French fort situated conveniently on the Great Lakes. Henry Ford set the wheels in motion and an eponymous museum dedicated to the industry hauls in the tourists near the Ford HQ in Dearborn, Michigan. Despite economic recession, the monicker is still appropriate since you can't get anywhere in Detroit without a car. But beware: the city claims to have invented "car-jacking".

Or murder city? Back in the 1960s and 1970s, Detroit earned its reputation as Murder Capital of America. Nowadays, it has slumped in the polls behind such upstarts as Washington DC.

1968 and all that: Like most big cities, Detroit had its fair share of riots. Unlike most, Detroit hasn't really bothered to repair the damage or fix it up since.

Art and architecture: The boom years of the auto industry paid for some spectacular art deco skyscrapers, which now preside over a near-derelict city centre, as well as most of the contents of the Detroit Institute of Arts. Besides an impressive modern collection, the DIA features a Diego Rivera mural of factory workers - once notorious for inspiring colourful acid trips.

Home of rock'n'roll: Iggy Pop, Bob Seger, Alice Cooper, the MC5, and Ted Nugent all come from Detroit. Madonna grew up about 15 miles away. There was also Motown which provided work for Detroiters like Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross. But unlike the car factories, Motown moved to the sunnier climes of California.

Dress code: Watch Wayne's World, then model yourself on Garth.

Pastimes: Drinking and dancing. There's a club for every possible musical taste, most of which feature $1 drinks at least once a week. Take your pick from Sanctum, Lili's 3-D, Sanctuary, the Falcon Club, the Miami or hang out at St. Andrew's Hall and eavesdrop on 20 something nostalgia ("I remember seeing the Beasties here just after they released 'Cookie Puss' ") and 40 something nostalgia ("I remember seeing Zeppelin at the Grande Ballroom") simultaneously.

Retro-chic: Royal Oak, seven miles from the city centre, is the place where time stands still. Anything not originally plastic, neon, or kitsch is rapidly replaced by something that is. People here have huge quiffs and compare tattoos and body-piercing at groovy coffee houses.

Take me out to the ball game: Detroiters like sport and support their teams (usually at bars in front of big screen TVs with plenty of chicken wings and $3 pitchers of draft beer).

Take-over TV: A major hoo-ha broke out last year when the Fox network bought out the prime spot on the terrestrial dial, forcing heavyweight ABC from channel 2 to UHF channel 62. Furious re-tuning ensued.

Essential listening: Radio station WDET is like a hip Radio 4 with a tremendous Pat Metheny collection.

Institutions: Lafayette Coney Island in downtown Detroit where you can only buy chilli dogs and beer. At 3am, this hole-in-the-wall is full of cops, clubbers, tramps and politicians, crowded together shoulder to shoulder.

Where to go: Summer is too hot, often more than 100F, plus humidity you can cut with a knife. Winter is too cold. Spring is tornado season. An autumnal sense of decay and nostalgia is probably best suited to Detroit's temperament.


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