I caught wind of the Heidelberg Project a while back and had always wanted to check it out. We cruised over on our bikes and were stunned by how cool garbage could look. Tyree Guyton has been sort of a pioneer of art in the ghetto since the late ’80s. Tyree, some of his family members, and neighborhood kiddos cleaned up Heidelberg Street back then and used some of the trash—and treasures—they found to create interesting décor out of the abandoned houses. I guess the way he saw it was that everyone around him was moving out, and the crackheads were moving in. Tyree didn’t want to leave his neighborhood even though it was going to hell. He needed a way to keep the crack whores, junkies, and random scumbags off of his block. So he did the only thing that as an artist he knew how to do: get creative. He turned some of the houses on his block into giant sculptures by gluing stuffed animals to one of them and painting his trademark giant polka dots on another. By doing this he brought attention to the neighborhood. The more stuff he made, the more attention the area began to get. Crackheads don’t like attention. The Heidelberg Project has now spread across the city, and you can see polka dot houses dotted in random hoods.
I am certain that as more people like Tyree tap into their creativity and recycle the guts and rot of the city into tourist-luring industrial art, Detroit will rock once again. On my cruise around the neighborhoods, I noticed custom bike builders opening up here and there already, and I can’t wait to see what kind of machines they begin to churn out.
After exploring the Heidelberg, Bill showed me all of the worthwhile neighborhoods. We headed downtown to Corktown to hit a few balls on the old Tiger Stadium. The stadium is long gone, but the stadium’s actual playing field remains. I dove onto the field and parked my Victory Vision 8-Ball right on the same pitcher’s mound that Babe Ruth cracked his 700th career home run over. Danforth picked up a souvenir of a piece of roof tile from the extinct stadium only to find out later that it was a chunk of raw sewage pipe.
Detroit’s neighborhoods have very concrete borders. One block will be a post-apocalyptic mess and the next block into a different neighborhood would be Michigan’s version of 90210. Gross Pointe takes you along the shoreline of Lake St. Clair and fancy homes, like the Ford House. Nearby is Boston-Edison Park packed full of mansions and Indian Village with the homes of Mr. Dodge and Mr. Stroh. All of the roads are in perfect condition and have plenty of cops making sure the nice part of town stays safe from speeding motorists.
Belle Isle is America’s largest city-owned island park, even larger than Central Park. Bill told me not to go over the 20-mph speed limit as we cruised around the fresh black-topped island road. We stopped to check out the view of Canada across the water and scoped out the shoreline littered with various empty bottles of malt liquor.
Detroit’s transformation will no doubt be slow. Personal safety and the safety of your personal property are still huge concerns. I wanted to head out for a ride on Devil’s night, which is the night before Halloween. The eve has been a tradition in Detroit forever, and people burn homes and cause other destruction. Bill was very concerned about his abode, which is now only worth about $20,000 even though he bought it for nearly $100,000 several years ago. I was convinced he was a just being a paranoid freak. But as we drank, enjoyed the fruits of the local farm plots and watched the news with his wife, Mary Jane (yes, that is her real name), we saw video after video of flaming homes B