June 16, 2010 by Amy Elliott Bragg
Our Sunday started thus: We had just enjoyed some bloodies (well, a Blatz for my sweetheart, who’s never taken to Queen Mary) and a big plate of breakfast at the Bronx.
Then we set out (soberly, I swear) for Delray. Our mission: Fort Wayne, Detroit’s star-shaped riverbank bulwark against British/Canadian troops that never came.
News came through the wire two weeks ago that proposed cuts in the City Council’s budget could result in the indefinite closure of Fort Wayne to the public. Since the Council overturned the Mayor’s veto, I guess that could be imminent. We wanted to get a visit in before the Fort started popping up in the Flickr feeds of ruin-creepers.
Maybe it’s already too late. When we got to Fort Wayne and drove through the gates on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, perfect for a walk around the old fortress walls, as I dug through my purse for some cash, the parking attendant told us that they weren’t open yet.
“What do you mean, yet?” we asked. “It’s 2:30 in the afternoon.”
“I mean, for the season,” she said. “We were supposed to open Memorial Day weekend. But we didn’t. And now it’s up in the air.”
So we drove back to the city center, my heart in my lap. We tried to think of another outing. He wanted to go to the museum. I wanted to take a walk by the river. We couldn’t find anywhere to park. The museum sounded stuffy. We drove back home.
Here’s the thing: Detroit has real problems. The budget is one of them. An empty 19th-century garrison post, understandably, does not rank high on the list of financial priorities, if it ranks at all. It’s not a space like Belle Isle where people go to grill, bike, fish and relax. Tucked away in Southwest, it doesn’t have the gaping majesty (or danger to pedestrians) of an abandoned tower. Any place that claims flea markets, ghost hunting and Civil War reenactments as its biggest tourist draws is probably a hard sell.
But Detroit’s ongoing failure to tend to its historical legacy is tiring. It makes me so uneasy to imagine Fort Wayne — a place Civil War soldiers returned to and, a century later, drafted Vietnam soldiers decamped — shuttered and crumbling.
Later in the day, some friends called and asked me to join them for a picnic in Palmer Park. Eager for the chance to save the day from my own storminess, I hopped on my bike, stopped at the liquor store for a bottle of champagne and pedaled south on Woodward to 7 Mile.
Palmer Park, the gorgeous, sprawling space granted to the city by Senator Thomas Witherell Palmer — on the condition that its virgin forest be left alone — was a little muddy and unkempt the last time I visited. It was early in March, so I may have been quick to judge. This summer, the park is overrun with geese and there are huge, hungry mosquitoes everywhere (thanks, at least in part, to the lagoon you see in this picture), but it’s crowded and full of activity: people out grilling, jogging, walking dogs, playing tennis and basketball, or just hanging out by their cars and blaring thumpy music through their speakers.
For a while we sat at the fountain and watched a drum circle.
(In its original setting.)
(Today. Photo by Dan Austin/BuildingsofDetroit.com)
Noah rang Senator Palmer’s Spanish bell.
Then we enjoyed some refreshments at a picnic table in the shadow of some lofty pines and an empty swimming pool.
No one actually brought any food, as it turned out, so we left Palmer Park after a few drinks and biked all the way to Mexicantown, a 10-mile trip through a corridor of burned-out buildings in Highland Park, the brick stoops of Clairmount, a long, open stretch on Rosa Parks, into Woodbridge (where I was promised GOATS! but they weren’t out) and Corktown and across the new Bagley pedestrian bridge to margaritas and taco paradise.
A day that started with defeat (OK: delicious brunch, followed by defeat) turned into one of the best, most promising days of the season.
Fort Wayne could close; Lizzie Merrill’s fountain is dry and pillaged; the Senator’s cabin is tagged-up and guarded by clouds of bloodthirsty insects.
But on Sunday evening, the sun was low and the breeze was warm. Kids rode bikes in their driveways and people sat on their porches. At Los Galanes, we watched from the patio while a couple slow-danced in the street.
Detroit’s past matters. A lot. Detroit’s future matters more. But at the risk of sounding trite and kind of drunk, sometimes you need to enjoy where you are and what you’re doing in your own present moment and let that count for something.