Will the REAL 8 Mile Road Please Stand Up,
Please Stand Up, Please Stand Up,
‘Cause All You Other Roads are Just Imitators………
It was the first summery warm and sunny day of the summer and I had been invited to golf with a lifelong friend at Plum Hollow Country Club at 9 Mile Rd. and Lahser in the city just north of Detroit. About a 20-minute drive from my downtown office near Joe Louis Arena, the MGM Casino and the Detroit River and I would be in golf heaven with a dear friend.
I’ve made the drive before several times, and have been on that stretch of road since I was a kid. But now, it’s nationally renown thanks to Marshall Mathers’ story about the real Slim Shady, Eminem. So, naturally, when I drive on the road now I think about all Mathers is trying to say and how Detroit is portrayed versus what it really is and all I’ve known it to be in the decades I’ve lived and worked here.
So, on that day, I hit the Lodge freeway and shot north from downtown to the 8 Mile exit and the beginning of miles of strip clubs, nail boutiques, eyeglass centers, industrial office buildings, fast food joints, auto supply stores and food centers divided by a boulevard upon which high-wire electric wires that run from one side of the county to the other.
And I needed cash for the day.
Once before, on the same route a year earlier, I needed water or Gatorade so I stopped at a small white food center called the Food Center (picture). AS I drove, I recalled it had an ATM so I looked for it again and pulled into the parking lot crowded with noon-time customers, spotted the big ATM letters on a sign by the automatic doors, parked and walked inside.
There were old men standing along the walkway inside the store just talking. There were blue-collar workers standing in line buying quarts of beer to go with lunch. There were old women shopping, and only a few heads turned in surprise at a middle-aged white man in Dockers and a golf shirt strolling in to their world like it was business as usual. My childhood experiences and five years as a minority in an inner-city scrap yard and years in New York city allow me to feel safe and comfortable almost anywhere and I think people sense that.
I took off my sunglasses and smiled at the few people along my path, my eyes darting around for the ATM that was advertised on a sign outside the door. Nothing in the usual spot, so I walked around the register line and got deeper into the store.
“Where is the damn thing?” I wondered, “I know it’s here somewhere…..maybe I better ask someone.”
And as I turned I saw the big orange Lotto sign and register on a counter of its own with a 20-something young woman behind it with her head in her hands and elbows on the counter. I walked towards her thinking she must have been tired or bored from lack of customers, but as I traversed the 50 feet she didn’t move or even look up — at anyone.
Quietly, I walked to the front of the counter and in as low and soft and friendly a voice so as not to intrude excused my self for interrupting her and asked if there was an ATM in the store.
She raised her head above her hands revealing big black eyes, teary, sad and wet.
“Huh?” she managed as if anything else would hurt profusely.
Those eyes…..those sad wet eyes….I looked directly into them and tried to pull the sadness from her. “I’m sorry, miss are you ok?”
“No, I’m not.” she said softly and directly but unashamedly, too. And she looked at me with a “your move” kind of look. I took the challenge to try to make her smile, just wanted her to feel better.
“Well, I don’t know why you’re not ok, ” I said with my best brotherly smile, “but a pretty woman like you should always have a smile on her face and I’m sorry you’re sad.”
She just continued to look at me….almost like she didn’t hear me or it just didn’t register.
“Anyway, miss,” I said still smiling, “could you please tell me where your ATM machine is, I just can’t seem to find it.”
And with all the softness and sadness of someone who had just lost her puppy and then was told their other dog had left home, she looked at me and only slowly and concisely said five words so perfectly sad, as if she was revealing exactly what was wrong……….
“They stole it last week!”
I said thank you and that I hoped she felt better, but by then my head was swimming from it all. Moments inside my own movie, things of my life all coming together to reveal deep meanings and answers social mysteries all wrapped up in a few short moments.
I can’t tell you how deep it was for me….that would be like a lifeguard on a beach telling you about every grain of sand, but I can tell you it was a powerful scene.
What is 8 Mile? Look at the pictures above again…closely. Notice the chipped paint on the old building, the parking lot filled with all American-made cars, the trucks and the road. It’s a combination of things you have to live to really understand. It’s people with good souls who can remain sturdy under tough circumstances. It’s folks who don’t leave when the going gets tough as so many folks did when they fled Detroit in the 60’s and 70’s. 8 Mile is folks who look out for each other and don’t rely on others to come and save them.
8 Mile Road is a road in your city — the one transitory spot where white meets black, where upper meets lower, loaded with drive-throughs, drive-by’s and just plain drive to survive. It’s the road that has it all — a microcosom of your local culture all mixed together in one spot.
What 8 Mile is not is a carnival of suburban hip-hoppers running around like Slim Shady. The psuedo suburban hop-hoppers are likley so protected from anything south of 8 Mile (except for parents taking them to Red Wing Games and such) that the urban world is only known to them through Eminem and other rappers.
But at least they’re getting a glimpse of a certain reality.
Long after Eminem and the movie 8-Mile are out of vogue and forgotten about, Food Land and the real 8 Mile Road will still be there.
And with it all our challenges as humans and all of the stories that never are told.
Next: The Vinman comments on Eminem’s two shows in Detroit this weekend — the only venue he chose in North AMerica to end his world tour.
Same bat blog, same bat blog channel……….
(c) Copyright Vincent J. Kern — 2003
All Rights reserved