Most people have difficult relationships with their hometown. There’s a reason you left, but you still probably have a certain amount of love for the place, because it is home. Over the past six years I’ve been going “home” — at ever farther apart intervals — to Windsor. I still have familiar haunts and routes, and some things are still instinctive, like knowing the spot on the Dougall Avenue on-ramp to avoid lest that bump throw your car into a skid. There are also a few folks — keepers-of-home-fires — that welcome me back each time, even though I’m probably an insufferable prodigal son who moved away to Toronto only returning to complain about this-or-that Windsor landmark being torn down for a parking lot, or lament that the semi-rural area I grew up in is now the worst kind of sprawl (look at what we started).
This past Christmas was particularly difficult. Windsor has always been intimately tied to the auto industry. When it did well, Windsor was happy. When it was tanking, it was the only thing that mattered, and the only thing people talked about. And it’s not doing well at all right now. During my 5 days in Windsor I heard, over and over, about Ford’s laying off. And Chrysler’s laying off (the big companies in Windsor are always said in the possessive). My mom would ask about my high school friend Amy; “is she still at Ford’s — is her job safe?” Later I saw Chris and he tells me he hasn’t worked in 10 months at Chyrsler’s, and he expects his UI will run out soon, and he bought some expensive music gear in Detroit but hasn’t written a song yet either. When Windsor is down, it can suck everybody’s energy away.
Out one night I talked to a woman who told me Ford might be laying her off too. Her dad, a Ford-lifer, talked her into taking the job after high school. “It’s good money,” he said, but Ford might have run out of it now. She told me, with one of those happy 1990s Blur songs playing in the background, that she wasted her life away and she’s only 30 and she’s worried if she’ll be able to keep the house that Ford bought her or not. I told her that people change careers all the time, and everybody I know stops doing something and starts doing something else routinely, but people don’t see the world like that in Windsor.
Even after the the dot com bubble bust and the post September 11th recession rendered my first Toronto job non-existent just as the SARS crisis hit, this city at it’s lowest never ever felt anything like Windsor does when things are bad. Everything there balances on one single thing. There is that Yeats poem
Slouching Towards Bethlehem “The Second Coming” with the line Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold which if you read the poem might be about falconry but I’m certain it’s about Windsor. Experiencing Windsor like this and seeing it get broken up over the last few years, is heartbreaking.
So when I discovered the International Metropolis blog three days ago that excruciatingly documents the hallowing out of my home town, it felt just like being there. International Metropolis mixes photos of current Windsor happenings with archival photos and plans as well as developments in Detroit, a city with heartbreak on a scale better measured against cities destroyed by war or hurricane. We often get down on Toronto, but going back home, and now reading this blog, does put it all in perspective. This blog captures Windsor at just the right angle, and with the right amount of love and outrage that any city needs.
International Metropolis looks across the river at Detroit often, as the two cities are connected in so many ways. In a recent post, Andrew (the blogs author) visited the Detroit International Auto Show at Cobo Hall (next to famous Cobo Arena that all you Detroit Rock City fans will recognize). It was always a big yearly trip for Windsorites to go over to the show and see the fantasticly expensive displays showcasing all that is new in both cars and Midwestern ball gowns worn by the models who stood next to the cars. The entire massive multi-football-field-wide Cobo floor was covered in new carpet, turning you into a ball of static electricity, snapping painfully each time you touched a metal car or, presumably, a Midwestern ball gown. All the radio stations would broadcast live from the show too — so we’d get to see the DJ’s who up till then were just voices. WLLZ (Detroit Wheelz), the now defunct classic rock station (whose call letters were said to stand for We Love Led Zepplin) would broadcast from inside a giant trailer sized 1980s Ghetto Blaster. It’s now used by one of the hip hop stations, trading AD/DC for Jay Z.
The auto show is the last bit of glorious Windsor/Detroit that is still big and powerful and downtown. Seeing pictures of it now — after being in Toronto for so long where the idea that the car can still be the central pillar in a transportation network is absurd — is like watching an old movie. Being back in Windsor, and hearing people talk about the state of the city right now, you can feel the end of an era coming, and that’s a hard thing to wrap your head around. It feels like Gary, Indiana is around the corner. I tell my friends to get out while they can, but they don’t listen.
(Photo of the Ford generating plant on the Detroit River and plan for Dominion Forge industrial area from International Metropolis)