Let's say it's a Friday night, or any night with a special occasion attached to it. A situation that calls for a trip out to eat, a trip to a nice cinema, a unique nightclub... anything as long as it's out of the ordinary.
How often is a budgeted allowance for a one or two-hour round-trip drive taken into account? Too often? Or virtually every time? How many of the same chain restaurants do we pass on our way to that special place?
Perhaps the distance traveled may be part of the charm. Maybe it adds to the growing enthusiasm of getting there. The "Anticipation," as Carly Simon once sang. Maybe we've grown too instantaneous. Or could it be that all the years of exploding gas prices have dampened our enthusiasms? The conditions of the roads? The safety factors? All of those can be taken into account with sound explanations.
Some have wondered, however, if the extra travel is by design or, unfortunately, demographic. Why do demographics have to dictate so much about the choices we are given Downriver? What if transportation is the only thing keeping us away? (Given the historic problems with the SMART bus system, that's not too farfetched.) So it reasons that a person cannot experience a "Max & Erma's," for instance, because they live in the wrong part of town? There are "hiccups" everywhere you look... why are we mothballed?
The biggest example always crops up when word gets out of a business vacating or a building meeting the wrecking ball. On Facebook, we've read it countless times:
"It's time for Costco!" "Trader Joe's!" "Whole Foods!" "Why won't they locate here?"
Costco has become such a hot-button topic, we almost cringe when we see another mention, knowing full well how animated the conversation gets. Rumors have persisted that the old Southgate K-Mart site has been purchased by the holding company Costco uses. The amount of land may not be a factor. Maybe Sam's Club needs competition. If we knew Costco, maybe we could embrace Costco.
More often than not, the reply is always: "They will not locate here. Downriver doesn't have its preferred demographics. And they only build near freeways." From which comes the argument: "Who says? Show me the source." And then another: "Wait a minute, that's not what so-and-so told me." "Well, show me YOUR sources, then." After all that... one can see why it's cringe-worthy. I wouldn't take my car to Livonia's Costco, for instance... it may not survive the trip without breaking down.
I mention all this simply because the rumors are a fact of life in the modern stage. Yes, we want better; I am partially in agreement. To see a Wendy's, a Walgreen, a CVS, a Dollar Store on every corner, and have the issue of demographics pushed at me with blunt force, plants a somewhat segregated, more negative response than I'd ever care to know, given the choice.
Is this truly our plateau? Have we struck the limit of what we can have, or where we can go? Does Tim Horton coffee quench everyone's thirst Downriver, just because the numbers proclaim it is so? Because it's where we "group up?" Is this all they believe their Downriver public to be?
Newsflash to Corporate: we are -- by historic nature -- blue-collar. Nothing came easy to us. We had to pick and fight for what we wanted and needed. Silver platters were reserved for the northern suburbs. We were saddled many years ago by the term, "Downriver Rat." Must it be rubbed in time and again with a lower-class demographical term, inaccurate as it is?
As a historian, I would rather not buy into any of that, truth be told. We made our name by the corner store; in a day when your downtowns were all Downriver made and grown. Spare me Star Theater, MJR or Emagine... give me back the Wyandotte Theater, the Majestic, the Rialto, the Fort Georges and Jolly Rogers. I'm not one of a "bland" group; I am an individual with unique thoughts, centering on quality of service and variety thereof. We should demand that much, and wish for it to be at our fingertips, not fifty miles away on some Google Map.
Demographics alone should not determine desirability: if we long for it, if we wish it, if they build it, we will be among the first at the door. And our children will witness an enriching experience they can pass on in their reflective thoughts as they hit middle-age.
Yes... give me the personal greetings, the honest "How are you's," the theater seat that may not recline at a thirty degree angle, with leather-lined, double-wide, double-cupholder armrests... but simply one which would make me comfortable.
What did our stores provide that the "big box" cannot? A sense of importance and individualism, a sense of community, a sense of pride. And did that pride reflect on our surroundings? You bet. It did wonders for the neighborhoods, the morale of the people in them, and it did satisfy the tax base: we had adequate protection, roads and services.
Everything we wanted, more or less, was right at our fingertips. We didn't have to drive unless we wanted to. We had the variety Downriver in the businesses that we reflect on and remember today, with lasting, positive memories. You were not a demographic on a computer database survey. You were who you made yourself to be.
Alas, we cannot turn the clock back; evolution brought us here. Perhaps our grandkids will end up reflecting with nostalgia of the modern day in much the same way we do about our past.
That would be their history, after all.
But for them to bask in the warm securities of a memorable past, we must first begin by supplying a unique -- not homogenized -- present.
By MARY CROSS
Administrator, Downriver Things Facebook site
I was born in Detroit, in 1961. Lived the first three years of my life on Cicotte St, in River Rouge, then we moved to Lincoln Park. About six months after graduation, I moved to the west side of the state to further my education at a Trade School. Graduated from there, found love, and moved to Detroit, then to Macomb County. Returned to the Downriver area in about 1986, and haven't left since.
Living in Macomb County, and the west side of the state, never felt like home. My heart longed for the Downriver area the entire six years I was gone. We're surrounded by beautiful parks, beaches, historic buildings, churches, and homes.
To me, it seems as the people here have a something different about them, I've never quite figured it out, but, it's good. Sometimes I think it has something to do with pride.
I think the Downriver area has a huge potential of moving forward. But, it's going to take many people putting their heads together for it to happen. Not just our Community Leaders, but citizens as well. Many people complain and say things, but don't do anything about it. Improving the area starts at ground zero.
And ground zero is not at any particular building, park, or school. It starts where you are. If you see a garbage can rolling around as you're driving up a road, get out and put it on the curb. It doesn't matter if it's on the wrong curb, just move it from danger. As you move it, consider this, the owner may still be at work, picking up the kids from school, or may be sleeping after working a midnight shift.
The downriver area began with farms. People use to have barn raising parties when a member of the community needed help. Whether it was to build or repair a barn or home, the community came together for that family. Sometimes it was an all day event, others, it was the entire weekend. Either way, the job got done. Multiple skilled tradesmen came together. The women cooked, baked, and fed everyone. Everyone had a job to do, even kids.
Later, the auto industry, steel mills, and chemical companies moved in. Then the recession hit in the 1930's. Jobs were lost, multiple generations were living under one roof. It was tough, but the folks of the downriver area pulled through.
I can recall a story my Godmother use to tell me. She grew up in Lincoln Park, on the corner of Fort St and White. (This was before White Castles was there).
Her father was a Tailor. While the business he worked for had to let him go, he was still able to do tailoring for others. Her mom had a nice garden in their backyard. When the vegetables were ripe, my Godmother's mom use to bag them up, then she and her brother would go around the neighborhood with a wagon behind them full of veggies, and distribute them to neighbors in need.
I always loved when she would talk about that time of her life. And she loved to talk about it. There's many other stories like this, all involving the downriver area. People coming together helping one another, without hesitation, without fear of embarrassment, with love.
Since then, many communities are falling apart. But look at Wyandotte, and Woodhaven, they're growing, thriving, things are happening. Every community can do the same. But the blaming, finger pointing, things of the past needs to stop.
Our elderly folks are part of the community. They have fences in need of repair. Gutters in need of cleaning, etc. Instead of complaining about, offer your assistance. You probably won't be paid monetarily, but more than likely will be offered coffee, homemade cookies, and a smile from the heart, that money just can't buy.