Gail is at the Salvation Army Echo Grove camp north of Detroit this weekend for a youth conference.  I am her chauffeur.  Tomorrow we head home.

This morning I continued reading Jurgen Moltmann’s Ethics of Hope.  Had a long phone conversation with a Salvation Army worker who is struggling with some deep questions.  Ate falafel for lunch.

Then I drove into Detroit.

When in the Detroit area I like to visit the old neighborhood.  We worked for six years on the west side near the New Center.  The last eighteen months we were based out of a new building on West Chicago at Dexter.  But for the first four and half years we worked out of an older building at the corner of Grand River and Dundee near Livernois.

I exited the Lodge Freeway, west on Chicago Boulevard through the Boston-Edison Historic District.  On the corner of Chicago and Dexter, the new building with a prominent Red Shield.  Can’t miss it.

North on Dexter.  Stopped by the traffic signal at Tuxedo.  Bad feelings.  Twice I was stopped at this light when shots started.  This time no shots.  But it’s afternoon, the wrong time of day for gunshots.   Evening.

A few blocks up I turned east on Buena Vista.  While we served in Detroit one block of Buena Vista between Dexter and Wildemere caught my attention.  Its old brick homes were well-kept.  Yards tidy.  Older folks and a few families.  A quiet street without the drama which typified too much of the neighborhood.  Like drug sales.  Teddy bears and plastic flowers at the base of utility poles.  Drama.  This afternoon I wanted to check on Buena Vista.

Looks quiet.  But boarded up homes have appeared.  Two and I may have missed others.  I don’t like to gawk.

And I won’t take pictures.  I can’t.  It isn’t right, at least that’s the way I feel.

But here are pictures I took this afternoon of the old Salvation Army building on Dundee.

built in 1928 for the Salvation Army.  It was state of the art with a gym and an apartment for the officers on the second floor

built in 1928 for the Salvation Army. It was state of the art with a gym for young people and an apartment for the officers on the second floor

When we arrived in 1998 the signage wall was covered with a Salvation Army mural.  I wish I had a photo.  It was so Detroit.  At first I didn’t like it.  But I came to appreciate and enjoy the primitivist sign art you see everywhere all over the city.  However garish and wild it may be it all speaks for the spirit of Detroit.  Regardless of how hard things are people love life.

The entrance from Belleterre Avenue that we used for community center programs.  Artee Lewis , now at the Detroit Harbor Light, was running the center in 1998.  Carol Holloway later brought a tank of turtles that fascinated the youth, especially how they chased and ate goldfish!

The entrance from Belleterre Avenue that we used for community center programs. Artee Lewis , now at the Detroit Harbor Light, was running the center in 1998. Carol Holloway later brought a tank of turtles that fascinated the youth, especially how they chased and ate goldfish!

Things are hard in Detroit. It’s painful for anyone who loves the city to talk about it. There are photographers, writers, commentators who merely observe. Their work doesn’t speak of a love for life in the way those who have Detroit deep within. Lovely photos and elegant words. Give me primitivist sign art with glorious misspellings mispellings.

The alley in back.  Just to the right is where someone dumped dozens of old tires.  Which we hired someone to haul off as the city was writing us a ticket.  We had to pay both.

The alley in back. Just to the right is where someone dumped dozens of old tires. Which we hired someone to haul off as the city was writing us a ticket. We had to pay both.

I think you notice that this grand old building is abandoned. Not by the Army, at least technically. We (miracle of miracles) sold it to a businessman who had dreams. A church used it for a short time. Even a night club. Now it’s getting to be a real mess. I was tempted to go inside but I didn’t want to get into a mess myself.  Before I head out of town maybe tomorrow morning?

Seeing the building in this shape … I was quiet.  I was alone. But I felt quiet within. This is sobering, to see a place full of memories, of hard work and beautiful moments and wonderful people.  Frankly this building was difficult to work in.  Hardly ADA.  And in the summer it was beastly hot inside with temps usually over 90. Windows open, curtains flapping outside.

To see a city in this shape.

After dark I drove through the neighborhood.  Chenlot.  Dundee.  Nardin Park.  Over on Boston to the new building.  McQuade.  Longfellow.

During the day I could see the crumbling roofs, exterior walls stripped of bricks, burnt out ruins.  But at night it is a powerful experience.  Driving the one block long Chenlot: nobody’s home.  Dark houses on each side of the street with a lonely light on in the back of one or two.

I realize that I don’t have any business being here.  I head for Grand River.  On streets with one light per block.  On Grand River I hit a half mile section with unlit streetlights.

As I travel I realize that there’s about one person per block walking in the dark.  It is quiet.

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