We’re “Good People”
It is in our nature as social creatures to attempt to seek out validation from people who’s opinion we agree with or esteem. The first gives us a feeling of social cohesion and familiarity and is one of the bases of good friendships, the second helps us strive to better ourselves and rise above our current level of personal achievements. However when the validation is offered from someone who is just looking to cage some cash or beer out of you the game changes.
This weekend Tabula Rasa and I packed up the car and headed for a very sort road trip to Detroit. More specifically, to say good-bye to the Packard Plant and get in one last explore, just in the off chance that the developer actually manages to pull the rehabilitation and resurrection of this magnificent edifice. Despite that fact that in some places only a single wall remains standing out of defiance.
Meeting us for the very first time was a friend of the blog, Holly. She had come in from the frosty land of Canada to the only slightly less frosty land of Michigan to join us on what is probably the last time we get to set foot in this place as a derelict. We met up at Detroit’s excellent Eastern Market and headed over to Packard while plotting the course of our day. Since we didn’t want to leave the car sitting out in the open upon our arrival we drove into one of the bays and hid it far out of sight. We then struck off toward the most westerly portion of the complex as we had never explored there before.
I’m not going to kid you, it was cold out. Something like lower teens to single digits and we were impossibly cold. It was to the point where Tabula Rasa was taking a moment here and there to run up and down the hall just to generate more heat. Holly was worried that she wasn’t going to be able to make it and I was right there with her. We decided that after 3 hours of this intense cold perhaps some breakfast and coffee and was in order.
On our way out of the the complex rather than crossing the streets through the plant by taking the walkways we chose to leave at ground level. This actually turned out to be to our good fortune as the security patrol saw us exiting the building. At first blush this seems like it might be a bad thing but the security guy’s first words of, “Tourists taking pictures huh? Where did you park?” reassured us. Sure! I’ve never been so happy to be thought of as a tourist! Once we explained that we hid the car the guard told us he had already called the police on trespassers, but that he would call them off. This is where we got our first word on the locals including the man who lives at the facility and a neighbor who gives “tours” for “tips”. Oh really?
We headed out for an excellent breakfast at Farmer’s Restaurant (again in Eastern Market, if you’re ever in Detroit this is a must-visit location) and this turned out to be just the thing we needed. 4 cups of coffee and a plate of french toast later we were warmed up and revitalized, ready to tackle the re-shoots and the rest of the complex which we still hadn’t seen.
As we arrived back at the complex we were greeted by the same security guard and “John”, the local who gives “tours”. After hitting us up for a “tip” he explained that he had met with Fernando, the buyer of the plant, and couldn’t let us inside the building with out escorting us because that would loose him his job. Because of liability. He had even shaken Fernando’s hand, they were best buds! After much round about discussion involving John invoking himself as the be all end all of allowing people inside he finally decided that we were “Good People” and he’d let us inside so long as we promised to stay off the roof as that is a particularly dangerous area, especially in the snow and ice. Several hours later we ran into him again and he once again reassured us that we were “Good People”; this after jokingly telling us that someone had stolen our car to which Tabua Rasa and I just shrugged and Holly rather cheerfully exclaimed, “It’s gonna be a long walk home!”.
At our final exit from the complex we ran into him one last time and he regaled us with stories about his great uncle (or some such) who used to work for the Purple Gang and had a hand in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. It is relevant, see, because we’re from Chicago and it is Valentine’s weekend! He reassured us several more times that we’re “Good People” and that is why he let us in to the building unshepherded, and then pointed out it would be really nice if we were like the other people that had just pulled up and handed him a couple tall cans of beer. *sigh*
For what ever reason John decided that he wasn’t going to harass us the whole time we were there, and for that I am profoundly thankful. I don’t think that I could have survived 5 hours of his stories, tall tales, bad jokes and whatever else he had to throw at us without demonstrating that I am not always a “Good Person”.
On the other hand we had with us the the most enthusiastic cheerleader/fellow photographer we could ask for and I am very happy that she could join us on our adventure through this most massive, magnificent ruin before it (hopefully) is turned into a vital and functioning part of the neighborhood. As much as I love wandering this place with my camera I know that restoration or full demolition is the best option for the people and the city itself. Detroit is beginning to revive and heal itself after so many decades of misery and neglect and I wish them nothing but the very best in their efforts. I hope that they are able to preserve and restore the fabulous heritage of architecture they have so the coming generations can know these places as something whole and beautiful rather than as a symbol of neglect and suffering.