Through here, in the lost boom years, came businessmen hastening to sign contracts, politicians looking for finance from business, unions or both, government contractors gearing up for war, Southern blacks and their families seeking a new life. This is to be found near where Van Dyke Avenue intersects with Mack Avenue.
Now it is a ruin, ringed by razor-wire, its windows broken, its superb arrivals hall a shadowy, chilly tomb, its many silent platforms invaded by weeds. Where prosperous, neat suburban homes once stood, pheasants flap and knee-high grass obscures the foundations of vanished homes.
Finding somewhere to have breakfast, normally easy in any American city, involves a long hunt.
‘God bless Detroit’, says one billboard, just beside another offering the alternative solution: liquor. Many clever people have spent billions of dollars trying to revive it.
Aldous Huxley’s great prophetic novel Brave New World was written on the assumption that the ideas of its founder, Henry Ford, especially that ‘history is bunk’, would one day take over the planet. Certainly, Ford’s desire for a world of vast mass-production factories in which the workers were paid enough to keep the economy going by buying their own products seems to be coming true.
Stalin wanted to copy it on the banks of the Volga, but found he couldn’t replicate its spirit – or its cars.
Most of the great buildings are ghosts: hotels that haven’t seen a guest in years, department stores where the last customer left decades ago, abandoned dentists’ surgeries where the elaborate Forties chairs moulder in echoing solitude.
Where there was optimism, there is now nothing but melancholy.
You can find it, for instance, out in Dearborn, where America’s biggest Arab Muslim community is forming, in unspoken defiance of the post-September 11 belief that their way of life is incompatible with America’s.
But they seldom cross the border into Detroit, perhaps having a heightened sense of approaching danger. As you pass the city limits a blanket of gloom, neglect and cheapness descends. The businesses, where they exist, are thrift shops and pawn shops or wretched groceries where the goods are old and tired.