By on August 22, 2010

One of the reasons why I started writing for TTAC was that, as a lifelong resident of the Detroit area I was tired of watching people with little direct knowledge of this region using stereotypes and caricatures to demean my neighbors. Typically people outside the region will describe Southeastern Michigan as a place of unemployment, indifferent workers, crime and racial disharmony. As with most prevarication, there’s an element of truth to those stereotypes, but it’s not the whole truth.

I can understand finding that kind of behavior in comment threads online, but it’s distressing when what is generally considered the leading newspaper in the country, the New York Times, lazily relies on a ‘usual Detroit template’ when covering an event in this area.

On the day before the official Woodward Dream Cruise, the NYT’s Wheels blog, had an article by Mary Chapman titled Motor City’s Woodward Dream Cruise Remains a Suburban Affair. Though the headline referred to geography, a supposed city/suburbs conflict, Chapman didn’t even make it out of her second paragraph before describing the region as “riven with racial strife”. Chapman does acknowledges that the Dream Cruise is a feel good event for most people in the region and that many people in the region, regardless of ethnicity, love cars. However, it’s clear to me that the point of Chapman’s piece really was to imply there was some kind of nefarious racial motivation for the Dream Cruise’s route, which never actually goes inside the city limits of Detroit. Chapman writes, “the cruise’s avoidance of the Motor City seems odd to some, alienating to others.”

So the only two choices are odd or alienating. Chapman proceeded to interview Detroit area blacks for their thoughts on the subject.

Chapman didn’t bother to interview the Dream Cruise’s original organizers and never gets deeply into the history of cruising on Woodward, which commenters to her article pointed out is the main reason for the route going where it goes.

Detroit is located on the Detroit River, which flows in a southwest direction (at Detroit, Canada is due south of the US). City planners laid out a neat north-south east-west grid for most of the streets, overlaid with a number of major roads radiating out from close to the river. The center spoke is Woodward Ave, which runs from the foot of the river north all the way out to Pontiac in north Oakland County. Just before Woodward exits Detroit, the street beomes boulevarded, with a wide center island and the traffic is widened to at least four lanes in each direction. From the 1950s into the early 1970s, there was a string of drive-ins and other teen hangouts starting around Nine Mile Rd in Ferndale and ending at Ted’s Restaurant out near Pontiac. Teenagers would usually take the family car, fill it with their friends, and cruise the 14 miles or so, back and forth between Ferndale and Ted’s, stopping at the various hangouts as they pleased. The multiple lanes meant they had their choice of cruising sedately in the curb lane or going faster (including street racing) in the left lanes. The fact that the road is a boulevard with numerous “Michigan turnarounds” meant that the drivers could just loop around all night long.

Starting in the late 1960s, though, municipalities started cracking down on cruising. Street racing had gotten pretty serious. Detroit being the locus of the American auto industry, there were even unofficial factory street racing teams, like the Mopar guys who ran the Silver Bullet on Woodward. Speeding and noise tickets started proliferating and some of the municipalities passed anti-loitering ordinances which made hanging out in drive-in parking lots illegal. Also, by the 1970s, youth culture was moving away from hod rods and sock hops to hippies and psychedelics. By the middle of the decade, most of the drive-ins were out of business and cruising and street racing on Woodward became of thing of the past.

Fast forward a couple of decades and those teens with their hot rods were now middle aged and affluent enough to afford special interest cars. Also, they were no longer punk teens but rather stalwarts of their communities and upstanding citizens. A group of those enthusiasts got the idea for a modern cruise on Woodward as a fundraiser for youth soccer and in a true grass roots bottom up method, the Woodward Dream Cruise developed into the biggest one day automotive event in the world. Estimates say up to 1.5 million people attend to see about 40,000 cars. Vintage, custom and special interest automobiles and motorcycles don’t just clog the cruising lanes. Parking lots and easements that line Woodward are also filled with cool cars and bikes. The WDC had become so big, in fact, that it has unofficially become a week long event. Actually, because of hotels being booked up for the Cruise, events have stretched to more than a week before the official cruise. The American Motors Owners Club had its national meet in Livonia late last week. The meet included a two hour cruise on Woodward.

In some years past, there have been Dream Cruise related events within the Detroit city limits. For a few years there was a car show at the State Fair grounds, and I believe that last year there was a car show downtown, near the river, so it’s not like the organizers have ignored Detroit. However, the primary reasons why the Dream Cruise route never goes south of Eight Mile have to do with the layout of the road (it’s hard to cruise on a street that is not a boulevard and most of Woodward inside of Detroit has no divider) and the history of cruising on Woodward. Back in the day, kids didn’t really cruise much south of Nine Mile Rd., much less Eight Mile. There just weren’t any drive-ins and hangouts that far south.

As I said above, from the article it doesn’t appear that Chapman bothered to talk to anyone involved with creating the original Dream Cruise route (three years ago the original organizers sold the event to a corporate event planner) or cruisers of any other ethnicity than African-American. Instead, Chapman went out searching for racial animus by talking to its alleged victims, black car enthusiasts

The problem is that despite her attempted slant, most of the African-Americans she spoke with didn’t really see the Cruise and its route as being racially inspired.

Chapman, to her credit, does point out that the route includes Pontiac, a city that’s at least half black and has a black mayor, but she also notes that Pontiac’s representative to the Dream Cruise is the only African-American on their board. Much as she strains to make the Dream Cruise a racial thing, she provided little evidence other than suspicions. At least a couple of the black car enthusiasts she interviewed indicated that they had, indeed, participated in the Woodward Cruise. Both Ron Scott, a community organizer, and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said that it would be good for the Cruise and the region if more blacks participated, but neither indicated that they thought there was any racial animus by Cruise organizers.

Scott’s comments, to me, argue against the point Chapman is inferring:

    “It’s not a question of whether black people mind crossing Eight Mile, because many do,” said Mr. Scott, now a community organizer in Detroit who has helped to set up small car clubs. “It’s just the fraternity and exchange of culture that you get with these other activities that allows enjoyment of more than just the car. It’s not really that we don’t feel welcome.”
    In fact, he added, many blacks participate in both the Cruise and in predominantly black gatherings of enthusiasts.

Only one person Chapman interviewed even came close to saying that the Dream Cruise route was racially inspired. Michael Farrow, a Detroit business owner who treasures his 1962 Impala ragtop expressed his reservations. “There has to be some hidden agenda why it doesn’t cross Eight Mile. I don’t hear anybody telling us to come on down.”

Just as Seinfeld’s Uncle Leo saw every slight in his life as anti-semitism, so too are some American blacks automatically suspicious of racism.

Actually, contrary to Farrow’s suspicions, Rev. Douglas Jones, Pontiac’s representative to the Dream Cruise board of directors, says that the event has genuinely reached out to black car enthusiasts. According to Chapman, Rev. Jones described the Cruise as inclusive and that the board has encouraged participation from predominantly black car clubs.

Because of the NYT’s article, when I went over to Woodward to watch the people and cars on Friday, the day before the official cruise, I made a point of asking blacks attending the event if they felt unwelcome, or thought there was anything racial in the cruise’s route. I’m not saying that I performed a scientific survey, but I did speak to about a dozen black car lovers who insisted to a person that if there’s one hobby or special interest that has nothing to do with race, it’s about cool machines with go-fast buttons. Not one felt unwelcome and they all agreed that the New York Times unfairly tarred the event in specific and Detroit in general. As one man smilingly told me, “Can’t we all just get along?”

I can’t help but wonder, if Chapman did a story about summer cruising on Belle Isle, an island park on the Detroit River, popular with city residents, if she would note the pronounced lack of anyone but black people.


I used to give Robert Farago a hard time for sniping at Autoblog and other car sites. I thought it was below TTAC’s normal standards and somewhat self-serving to attack the competition. Sometimes, though, a post at another site, as with the NYT Wheels blog discussed above, demands comment.

In its early coverage of the WDC on Thursday, Jalopnik had a story  Poorly-Worded Historical Markers Connect Woodward Dream Cruise To Its Past posted by Ben Wojdila. Ben is a good writer with a sensitive approach to Detroit and unfair criticism thereof, but I think this post feeds into that unfair criticism.

Apparently, WDC cruise organizers and sponsors had installed 20 painted signs indicating historic cruising sites that no longer existed. One of the defunct businesses was the “White Cruiser Drive In”.

I like Jalop and have cordial relations with Ray Wert, Murilee Martin and other Jalopnik staff members. Sometimes, though, I get the impression that their Gawker corporate overlords insist on a quota of articles that make it clear that their sites do not approve of anything that is either racist or could be somehow remotely twisted into being racially insensitive.

I don’t know how the sign could have been worded any better without bowdlerizing the restaurant’s name.

Had Jalopnik decided to look into the story beyond just publishing a snarky post, they would have found out that the White Cruiser had an important role in the history of Woodward and cruising on that famous street.

The White Cruiser drive-in was, according to the Ferndale Historical Society [PDF], the second oldest drive-in on Woodward, the oldest being the legendary Ted’s up by Square Lake Road, near Pontiac. Those teen hangouts at its terminal ends defined the traditional Woodward cruising route. I suppose it’s possible that in the racially insensitive 1940s and 1950s that the restaurant’s name had a racial implication, but if Mr. Farrow can suspect a hidden racial agenda in the Dream Cruise route, I’m entitled to guess that the restaurant was named after a white car.

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63 Comments on “Detroit, Race, And The Woodward Dream Cruise...”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    I lived in Southfield for two years back at the turn of the century. I attended the “Dream Cruise” once.

    I saw people of every color and creed there, both as participants and attending the event. Sure the cruise doesn’t “cruise into Detroit” but as our author pointed out, it’s dang hard to cruise in the city limits. I’m pretty sure there was an African-American Corvette Club there and the best AMCs seemed to be African-American owned. Not that it really mattered to me. Heck the event even had an all-female Harley Club! Don’t know why people need to stir things up where there’s nothing to see.

    • 0 avatar

      True. City cruising is tough to do. Remember when NASCAR used to do a drive through NYC’s Times Square? I was so thrilled to bring co-workers to see it, as if I could finally add some legitimacy to my water cooler talk about racing among all the ball and stick BS. I thought it was awesome to hear the engine sounds reverberate off the buildings. Unlike your typical Harley, there was real power behind the noise. But what a logistical nightmare. I can’t even imagine anything remotely the size of Woodward going through a major city…

      While I do thing the NYT is a good, fair paper (the news section, NOT the editorial page) they just don’t get cars.

  • avatar

    Damn but I do like that photograph. Primal industrial America, I want to go.

    • 0 avatar

      Using Google Maps, I believe that that photograph was taken at Woodward and Trowbridge/Calvert. The church with the two spires on the left side of the photo is Blessed Sacrament Cathedral. What’s sad is that if you compare the 1942 photo to what’s there now, so many of those building have been torn down and their locations are now empty land.

      If you want to compare for yourself, I grabbed a screen shot from Google and put it up on my website here:

  • avatar

    Yesterday broke cloudy and rainy so I didn’t head over to the Dream Cruise, but instead stayed an hour west in my “six square miles surrounded by reality”. Maybe next year.

    While I agree, Ronnie, that the creators of the WDC did not have racial motivations in locating the event, the historical location of the cruising stretch did, at least to some degree. I consider Detroit Metro to be the apotheosis of the history of white racism in our northern industrial cities. Based on demographic data I’ve seen, “white flight” began in earnest there in the late forties, and the money to build stately boulevards and buy cars for cruising, et cetera, went with them. I realize this is quite a simplification, so correct me if I’m way off-base here.

    It’s great that the Rev. Jones was included in the WDC board, but’s let’s realize that Pontiac is an island. You don’t have to roll far out of there before it becomes awfully white and affluent.

    • 0 avatar

      I disagree. My impression is that “white flight” did not start until the 1960s, when blacks started moving out of the central city and out into the relatively newly developed outer neighborhoods that were still within the city limits of Detroit.

      Most of that development was due to the baby boom. Families were growing and they were more affluent and didn’t want to live in a two-flat or duplex, like my mom did growing up on Pennsylvania near 12th Street (now Rosa Parks Blvd.). My parents bought a brand new house about a 1/2 mile south of the city limits in 1951-52. They moved in after my older brother was born in early 1952. Much of northwest Detroit, the northeast side, and the neighborhoods near Redford on the west side was developed after WWII.

      The inner ring suburbs started developing in the mid 1950s. The house that is now my ex-wife’s that I bought from my grandparents’ estate was built in 1955 as is about 2 miles outside of Detroit.

      It’s possible that race was a factor in people moving, but from talking to older folks of my parents’ generation, much of the decision was based on the fact that the houses and lots in the suburbs were a bit larger. Schools weren’t a factor because in the 1950s and 1960s, Detroit public schools were still outstanding. The house I grew up in in Detroit was a 3 BR colonial of about 1300 sq ft, 1 1/2 baths, no garage, on a 45′ wide lot. A typical mid 1950s suburban ranch, by comparison, would have had an additional couple hundred square feet, around 1500, a master bathroom w/ it’s own shower, a detached garage, and it’d be on a lot at least 55′ wide.

      My impression is that white flight started in earnest in the mid 1960s. In 1960, our neighborhood was mostly Irish Catholic (east of Ward – Presentation Catholic school was on Myers) and Jewish (west of Ward). US Sen. Pat McNamara was a neighbor three doors down and in the 1960 election he’d take my older sister and I campaigning in his convertible because our red hair and freckles allowed us Yidden to pass as Irish.

      When the synagogues started moving to the suburbs, it was a foregone conclusion that Detroit’s Jews would follow. Even non-orthodox Jews who drive on the Sabbath like to be reasonably close to their synagogue.

      By Feb. 1966, when we moved to Oak Park, we were the last white family not only on our block, but just about the last white family on the street for about a half mile.

      A lot of the later white flight, by the way, may have had more to do with economics than racism. As the neighborhood’s racial composition changed, the property values stagnated at best. My parents were lucky to sell their house for what they had paid for it 14 years earlier ($13,000). A lot of white families moved to the suburbs not to get away from black people but so they could salvage the equity in their home and invest it in a property that would appreciate in value.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s what I always thought, Ronnie, until I looked into the statistics a bit. The precipitating event was probably the race riots of 1943. By 1949 the “white” population percentage of Detroit was on a strongly negative slope. The Twelth St. neighborhood on the near northwest side had seen a large and rapid shift by 1950. That same year marked the peak of Detroit’s population.

    • 0 avatar

      The Twelth St. neighborhood on the near northwest side had seen a large and rapid shift by 1950. That same year marked the peak of Detroit’s population.

      Jews started moving out of the Dexter area (which included 12th St.) by the early 1950s. Most, though, stayed inside the city limits, moving to Palmer Woods, Sherwood Forest and other neighborhoods in NW Detroit like my parents did. By the time I was a small child, Dexter was already the “old neighborhood”, though there were still some Jews living in the area. My aunt and uncle lived a block off a Dexter into the 1960s. I remember them leasing their upstairs flat to Billy Bruton, the Tigers’ 2nd baseman. The Dexter-Davison grocery store (later to open branches in NW Det. and in Oak Park) was still at Dexter and Davison in the early 1960s and Yeshiva Beth Yehuda’s school building was still on Dexter. I attended summer camp in that building.

      Now, about the only sign of Jews having lived there are the stars of David and other Jewish motifs on the churches that once were synagogues (though the church that owns the synagogue building where my parents were married went out of their way to efface a star and bricked in where it was on the building’s frieze).

  • avatar

    Oh, that’s just typical New York Times spin. It’s what they do. It’s how they see the world. Any Michiganders who feel slandered by the Times should consider how they treat conservatives.

    There was a store down here called “Baptist Hardware.” Well of course, I thought, this is the Bible Belt, right? Turned out the name “Baptist” was of French origin and the family who owned the store were Catholics.

    I once hired a lady named White. She was black. I knew a guy named Black. He was white. Like that guy said, can’t we just get along?

  • avatar

    Nothing even close to this happened at the Back to the Bricks cruise here in Flint, for which you and ALL of the other car news sites ignored for yet another year.

    Races mingled gratefully and truly were as diverse as their cars.

    The only thing remotely close to racism or classism here were large rebel flags on cars and trucks, from…. well… suburban Detroit. Which, really, meant absolutely nothing and was ignored despite the grandest defiant plans.

    So, good luck with that Woodward mess and have fun this week.

    • 0 avatar

      While Back To The Bricks is a significant automotive event, the Woodward event dwarfs any other cruise in the region, including Flint and the big Gratiot Ave cruise over on the east side. Perhaps if the organizers of BTTB did some advance publicity work with the major automotive web sites they’d get more coverage.

      I only live about 3 miles from Woodward. Flint’s an hour away. Have the organizers contact me and I’ll consider going up there and write something next year.

    • 0 avatar

      fair enough.

  • avatar

    I’m no fan of the NYT’s feeble attempt to create racial strife where none exists, but since I sold my last vintage car a few years ago I’ve noticed an increased number of old cars being driven by Latinos and African Americans.

    While I’m not sure why these segments of the population were late to arrive to the old car hobby, I welcome anyone with such an interest.

    With a few exceptions you meet some of the nicest, most helpful people in these circles, and it’s a great family activity, as well. The best way to teach a young person the rewards of hard work, patience and delayed gratification is to have them help you tune a multi-carburetor engine…

  • avatar

    That is a beautiful picture, wish there were more like that on here. As far as Conderate flags in Michigan go, how stupid can you be, it’s not the South and you aren’t Southern so you have no right to use that flag and certainly no right to offend anyone who objects to it. I am very offended by it in that context.

    Last thing, the NYT is rascist because everything with them is viewed in terms of race. There was no story there and by trying to create one, they are attempting to make news instead of reporting it. Oh well, they will be gone soon enough.

    • 0 avatar

      “no right to offend anyone who objects to it“? Seriously?

    • 0 avatar

      Mike, lots of Detroit area residents, black and white, trace their ancestry to the South. Hence Taylortucky, Hazeltucky and Ypsitucky (Taylor, Hazel Park, Ypsillanti) in local parlance.

      In the novel Divine Right’s Trip, the protagonist talks of growing up in one of Detroit’s working class suburbs. His father would pile the whole family into the car every weekend for a two day visit to the homestead in KY.

    • 0 avatar

      no right to offend anyone who objects to it

      That’s almost a textbook definition of a heckler’s veto.

      The First Amendment gives us the right to be as offensive as we want to be, to whoever we want to offend.

      If you want the freedom to say “F&^K you!” you’re going to have to tolerate folks saying it to you.

      Regarding the Confederate flag, other than the UK’s Union Jack, I think it’s inappropriate to display the flag of a country that waged war on the United States, and would put the “stars & bars” in the same category as the rising sun flag of Imperial Japan.

      However, a while back I was designing some embroidered patches for bikers and realized that the graphics on the Confederate flag would work well with a Maltese cross, so I played around with it. To be fair, I also did a red, black and green (the colors that black nationalists have embraced) version.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m well aware of the Southern roots of many people in the the Dtroit area. In fact one of my uncles, passed away now worked for GM in Flint. Knowing him was enough to turn me anti-union, he was probably the worst person I’ve ever know but he thrived in the union culture.

      As for the Confererate flag, I have no problem with it as long as it is flown to respect the dead of the war. But here and everywhere else it is pretty much a sign of trash. Either some nutcase supremacy group or just stupid rednecks. Like it or not it is offensive to some and I think that ought to be respected.

  • avatar

    Paxtonland, I’d like to read more about the Back to the Bricks cruise. I just finished reading “Billy Durant: Creator of General Motors” and Flint is so integral to that history. I understand much of Flint’s automotive heritage, such as the Buick complex, is gone or much diminished, but I hope to visit someday.

    • 0 avatar

      Back to the Bricks started spontaneously about 7 years ago. It was organized about 5-6 years ago. We had about 30,000 cars this year and about 300k spectators. Goes down Saginaw St. from Grand Blanc to downtown. Most of the bricked part of Saginaw St. is barricaded for show space. Must less of a spectacle than Woodward.

      It’s usually the 3nd. week in Aug.

  • avatar

    I thought the New York Times article was fine. The bottom line in the article was that race had little or nothing to do with the Dream Cruise not going into Detroit. Nothing inflammatory in the tone of the article, either.

    It doesn’t take much looking to notice that Detroit and Oakland County are very different. Detroit, one of America’s most troubled cities. Oakland County, one of America’s most affluent areas. One, mostly black. The other, mostly white.

    The difference between them is, quite literally, black and white.

    • 0 avatar

      It doesn’t take much looking to notice that Detroit and Oakland County are very different. Detroit, one of America’s most troubled cities. Oakland County, one of America’s most affluent areas. One, mostly black. The other, mostly white.

      You’re partially correct. If you don’t look too deeply, and only notice the superficial things you’ll come up with the same facile conclusions you did.

      FWIW, Oakland County is far more racially integrated than Detroit. I live in Oakland County and the city I live in is about equally split between blacks, Chaldeans and other Middle Easterners, and Jews. Southfield HS, Ferdale HS, and Oak Park HS all have a majority black student population. There are far more likely to be all-black public schools in Detroit than all-white schools in Oakland County.

  • avatar

    When I was a kid in Dearborn back in the late sixties and seventies, I remember most of our cruising was on Telegraph. We never went near Woodward.

    In Dearborn, we had an infamous segregationist, Orville Hubbard as mayor. My memories of Southeastern Michigan at the time was that racism was rampant. I haven’t spent much time back there since, so I really don’t know what the situation is like now.

  • avatar

    Click-happy “journalism” at its finest. And isn’t even a Gawker property.

  • avatar

    You say: “Typically people outside the region will describe Southeastern Michigan as a place of unemployment, indifferent workers, crime and racial disharmony.”

    The New York Times article did not say anything like that. There was, it’s true, suggestion of separation and segregation. But to me the article seemed to be an insightful look at an issue the locals may want to keep in mind themselves rather than an uninformed and ignorant view of a place misunderstood.

    • 0 avatar

      Clearly, the local yokels in Michigan need sophisticated folks like yourself, the kind that subscribe to the NYT and take it as gospel, to tell us just how backwards and benighted our region is.

      I wonder why so many New York high school graduates with A averages and high SAT scores choose to go to the University of Michigan, since we’re such dolts around here.

      Just wondering, what part of the country do you live in? Do you live in the city, or in the suburbs?

    • 0 avatar

      I live in California, in a modest house in the suburbs near San Francisco. And I’m no fan of the New York Times. I only read the article because you linked to it.

      But to me, you seem to have taken offense from an unoffensive article. You make some good points. And the article did have that one line about “riven with racial strife.”

      But I did not see anyone here but you say anything about Southeastern Michigan being a place of unemployment, indifferent workers, crime and racial disharmony. Or about it being backwards and benighted. Or about you being dolts.

      The article sure doesn’t say that. Neither do I. If my comments led you to think I do, I take those comments back.

    • 0 avatar

      I apologize for jumping to conclusions about where you live. It’s a problem I have.

      Your use of the word “modest” is interesting, considering what median property values are in SF and surrounding suburban areas, one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country. My guess is that you could probably buy a couple of houses on my street for what you paid for yours.

      But since you live near SF, just how many minorities live within the city limits of San Francisco? I’ve seen stories that allege that many minority home buyers are simply priced out of the SF market.

      I haven’t looked closely at the Bay area, but I suppose I could probably say the same things that you said about Oakland County and Detroit (rich vs poor, black vs white), only apply them to San Francisco and Marin County on one hand and the city of Oakland. Detroit has Eight Mile, you have the Bay.

  • avatar

    The press is out of touch when it comes to racial matters, regardless of what they would like us to think.

  • avatar
    Telegraph Road

    I have never been a fan of Jalopnik–the comments there reveal that Autoblog is a confluence of profundity by comparison–but all is relative. But I do admire greatly Ben Wojdila’s inspired defense of Detroit when the NY Times derided its “massive failure” and proposed urban farming as a remedy.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not sure that I agree. I’ve seen a lot more poorly informed comments on Autoblog than on Jalopnik. More snark and junior high level comments, but for the most part they know their cars. I think Autoblog has fewer enthusiasts in their reader mix and it shows in the comments.

      Ben’s been a tireless advocate on behalf of this region, which is why I was disappointed in the post. Actually, what disappointed me most is the fact that they took the easy shot, without looking into the history and they would have found that the White Cruiser was indeed historically significant in terms of car culture.

      I see the not infrequent “flying the liberal flag” posts on Jalopnik to be more from the influence of their corporate culture via Gawker, than from Ben or Ray’s personal politics. I assume that Ray is a Democrat since he worked for Jenny Granholm. My guess is that Ben is also not a political conservative. For the most part it doesn’t intrude on their writing.

    • 0 avatar
      Telegraph Road

      Keep up the good posts Ronnie. TTAC needs more like you.

  • avatar

    As we discussed a few weeks ago with one of BBs articles, this is how the media generally treats the south east, “The South”, as many still refer to it. As an Atlanta (Decatur, GA) native, I have had to deal with ignorant stereotypes of the south by the media and individuals who, in many cases, have never even been there. And anyway, “The South” covers Texas to Virginia, Florida to Kentucky. Each state, each area, has its own local culture and southern dialect – it can’t just be grouped together as a monolithic area, “The South”. And every story by the media, whatever it is, automatically deals with racism.

    So Ronnie Schreiber, don’t feel bad. For what it’s worth, consider yourself honored that the intellectual NYT is even thinking of your area of MI.

  • avatar

    Sometimes, though, I get the impression that their Gawker corporate overlords insist on a quota of articles that make it clear that their sites do not approve of anything that is either racist or could be somehow remotely twisted into being racially insensitive.

    Ronnie Schreiber was unstarred.
    Nice article, BTW. Considering that most of my knowledge on Detroit comes from Robocop, this was a lot of new information to take in.

    • 0 avatar

      Ronnie Schreiber was unstarred.

      That’s very clever and I don’t mean it sarcastically.

      I do, however, want everyone here to know that you were kidding. I haven’t been unstarred at Jalop for this post. FWIW, I got the star from Ray for a comment that was very critical of one of their posts. Actually, I don’t comment there with my given name, but rather use my Purim persona, the Bozoer Rebbe.

      I get along with Ray Wert (I’m Jewish so I should have some sympathies for Jalop’s resident “Hebrew minx”), and I’ve made V8olvo Racing Team patches (“Your metal is weak”) for Murilee Martin. I read the site everyday, Autoblog too. Actually I read them before TTAC, just as I read the news section of the paper before the editorials.

    • 0 avatar


      I think nearly everyone on TTAC knows not to take any of my comments seriously.
      And, you’re a starred commenter?! I’m impressed. I’ve been trying to get a star on Deadspin for about 4 years now.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Meh, Gawker and most of its properties are run by bitter, snarky queers that wouldn’t know a crescent wrench from a crescent roll..

  • avatar

    I didn’t think the NYT article was nearly as bad as you made it out to be.

    I agree with you that there are “historical” reasons for not going south of 8 mile, but part of that history is white flight and staying out of “The City”. I used to go to Detroit once a month for Reserve duty and I had people tell me I was taking my life in my hands crossing 8 mile. That’s non-sense of course, but those people were white, and lived north of 8 mile. One of the problems with complaining about false racism charges is that you bring up the racism issue – and there is no denying Michigan is quite racist.

    Getting back to cars – what I’m seeing here in Lansing is Blacks and Latinos buying mid ’60s GM cars (this is a GM town -Still, kinda, sorta) and doing some mild customizing. While I personally don’t care for the donks I do like to see these old cars being fixed up – and most are daily drivers. I can go up to these guys and talk cars. It breaks the ice.

  • avatar

    “…leading newspaper in the country”

    What’s a newspaper?

    What is the average price of a home in Detroit?
    Seems homeowners can’t even give them away.

  • avatar

    Working as a “dock tech” at GM Oshawa, I’ve probably spent hundreds of hours on the phone, talking to hundreds of different people from Michigan. Every body from lift truck drivers to plant managers. With the exception of truckers coming into the plant,I had no idea what race they may have been.

    Sometimes they would laugh at my accent, eh. Sometimes I would laugh at thiers. I remmeber one lady from Sebewaing who had a great sense of humour,she could make the crappiest day better. She was a dedicated Lions fan.and she knew her NFL. She knew I was a Packer fan,and could describe every interception that Farve ever threw. I never knew her age,or her race she was just a fine person.

    When I think about it,I don’t ever recall dealing with an a$$–le from Michigan. I wish I could say the same of my fellow Canucks.

  • avatar

    Ronnie, what, if any, impact on Detroit’s decline over the years did the local income tax imposed on anyone that worked within the city limit have? From my childhood, I seem to remember more grumbling about that tax than the racial issues. Do they still have the income tax?

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, there still is a 3% income tax on residents and 1.5% on non-residents working in the city limits … and to this date all complain about it.

      Not only is there an income tax but auto insurance inside Detroit is much higher. You got a raise when you left the city.

  • avatar

    Being from the east side of Detroit, my friends and I cruised Gratiot for all the same reasons others cruised Woodward.

    We had the identical situation, a boulevard north of 8 mile, predominately white, with stops and hangouts all the way up to the tip of Mt Clemens which is predominantly black. There was nothing racist about it. Interestingly when we were old enough to go to bars, they were all inside Detroit, on Harper, Mack and wherever the original Wooly Bullys was at.

  • avatar

    Being from Saskatchewan, I don’t know much about racism of Detroit. But I took a drive thru there this summer on the way to Toronto.
    I was stunned by how devastated it looked (Michigan Ave). I thought I was in Tijuana or a third-world country.
    Granted, this was a small piece of a large area. But it was sad seeing the state of affairs that the heart of the automobile industry has sunk to.

  • avatar

    Right OldWingGuy, “small piece of large area”. Detroit city population is about 850,000 and falling about 50,000 per year. No one really knows and there is a lot of politics in the counting. Metro area pop about 4.5 million, last I saw a couple of years ago. Probably lower now. Detroit is just a bad neighborhood in a otherwise pretty nice, and until recently, affluent area. Note that the general housing price drop, outflow of people – especially renters, and the just plain dismal state of Detroit, has allowed Blacks to access more suburban homes and apartments. God bless them for getting out of that hell-hole. The most recent Mayor and City Council President are both in or nearly in jail. Plowing it over to farms seems to be the way to go.

    Note that although the Detroit Metro area is down, it is not out. While many areas of the country have lost ALL of their manufacturing, the Detroit Metro area still has at least half of theirs, as well as the center of the U.S. auto industry engineering for domestic and foreign brands, and their suppliers. Most of my friends who retired early or got laid off 2 years ago are back to work, albeit many at lower wages and longer hours.

    Think about it, what other products can you buy that are designed and primarily manufactured in the U.S.?

    I’m retired and I can move anywhere. I’m staying here – in the Detroit suburbs. No income tax on pensions, pretty low school taxes, safe neighborhood, great public schools up to and including college, good bike riding, and beautiful summer climate. Winter is time for X-country skiing in local state parks.

    I don’t expect you all to flock here – it is an acquired taste. But don’t pity us either. And please don’t think the bombed out buildings you see in Time Magazine represent the metro area any more than Bedford-Stuyvessant represents N.Y.C. or Watts represents L.A.

    • 0 avatar

      One reason why Detroit looks like it does, all the vacant land, abandoned buildings, and urban decay that attracts ruin porn, is that those 850,000 people live in a city that once held two million. Those two million people lived in a lot of single family residences and duplexes. Detroit always had a very high percentage of single family homes. Even after the suburbs developed, condos took a long time to catch on here. People like their own backyard. I remember reading that Detroit is also relatively large for a city of its 1950 era population size.

      So a city that was never really that densely populated has lost more than half its population.

  • avatar

    Oh yeah, we started in Windsor at 19 but it was a hassled crossing the border so we stopped going once we hit 21.

    • 0 avatar

      While I was away at college in Massachusetts, my friends found a solution to the border crossing problem. One of them had a boat capable of 50+ mph and they would launch it from a boat ramp on the Rouge River not far from the Ford Powertrain labs on Enterprise Dr in Allen Park/Melvindale. They could get to Canada via the Rouge in just a few minutes. This was back in the late seventies and a different time. I’m not sure if you could get away with that now.

  • avatar

    I was frequently an Anglo minority in California, especially when involved with agricultural work.

    At times, being a USA citizen made me a minority.

    Where was the publicity when I reported to the police I had to run for my life when an illegal opened fire as I was run out of “their” section of town?

    Where was the news reporting when eight Chicano gang bangers decided to “teach me a lesson”?

    Other events from minor to major.

    Just another day in California’s Central Valley.

    But, since the source was non-White and the recipient a dreaded Gringo…. no problemo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Still, I perceive the “race thing” is over-played and promulgated by those who have made a career out of the social phenomena.

    And many benefit by an industry that allows unskilled lazy blow-hards to reap sizable rewards. Sharpton, Jackson and others?

    The politically correct have fallen hard for the indoctrination.

    I remain convinced the vast majority of USA citizens judge behavior, not skin pigmentation.

    But, so what if somebody doesn’t want to be around a group of folks for whatever reason?

    As long as you do not impede them or deny them their rights and freedoms……………..

    isn’t nay-saying somebody for following a personal belief or desire that does not impinge upon others a form of “thought crime”?

    I shunned the California Chicanos in general due to bad past experiences, that included attempted murder and a rather severe beating as well as a culture that tends to be much noisier than I prefer with excess noise permeating the neighborhood 24 hours a day.

    I prefer quiet so to obtain it I knew from many years of real-life experience to avoid certain areas.

    I suppose in the minds of the politically correct that makes me a “racist” though Chicanos can be one of several “races” or multi-racial.

    As for Woodward, many of the muscle car magazines cover the events their quite well and several histories about the area have been written over the years.

  • avatar
    Jerry Sutherland

    I’m not surprised that this article had to justify the spin-that’s chapter and verse strategy in 21st Century journalism whether it’s the NY Times or the Gopher Hill Daily News.

    My concern is more mundane-perhaps even superficial.I watched the Woodward Dream Cruise on Detroit TV for about 5 minutes-that’s how long it took me to lose interest in a parade of brand new SUVs, Japanese cars and Big 3 minivans punctuated by the occasional vintage Mustang, Chevy SS or Roadrunner.

    Dream cruise? That’s the most boring dream that I’ve ever seen…

  • avatar


    Exactly. ‘Tis only a ‘dream’ if you lack any sort of imagination.

    If it is 1969 and your “dream” is a Mustang instead of a Muira S, you have a genetic issue that Darwin needs to deal with.

    Lowered expectations are killing our country…

    • 0 avatar

      Wanting a car that actually works instead of a unreliable, impossible-to-repair exotic is now a genetic issue? Who knew…

    • 0 avatar

      C’mon Geeber,

      The ‘Stang was a POS that broke down all the time.

      While neither may have been terribly reliable by current standards, at least the Muira looked good and sounded like a real car. And it went fast.

      The ‘Stang sounded like a Briggs&Stratton-mobile, and looked like it was drawn by a retarded third grader by comparison.

  • avatar

    “Detroit being the locus of the American auto industry, there were even unofficial factory street racing teams, like the Mopar guys who ran the Silver Bullet on Woodward.”I’m not sure the Silver Bullet was ‘factory’ sponsored. I’d read that ‘Father of the Hemi’ Chrysler engineer Tom Hoover’s car was actually a dark green 1966 Hemi Coronet.

    By the time Jimmy Addison and the Silver Bullet became well-known, although he surely knew Hoover and the two likely helped each other out, I don’t think Addison’s ’67 GTX was really much of a factor during the height of the Detroit factory musclecar ‘street wars’. By then, it was the early seventies and the factories had all but abandoned musclecars. The silver GTX was king of the Woodward street scene, but it was largely an independent operation after the fact during the seventies.

    A much better example of unofficial factory sponsorship of street racing was Jim Wangers. He worked for GM marketing (really the guy behind the GTO, not DeLorean) and would ride along on street racing excursions up until GM pulled the plug.

    Ford, likewise, was none-too-subtle when their engineers would show up with stuff like inline 4-barrel carbs on 428 CobraJet Mustangs.

  • avatar

    ‘One of the defunct businesses was the “White Cruiser Drive In”.’

    In South Jersey where I grew up we have a Black Horse Pike (Rt. 168) and a White Horse Pike (Rt. 30). I have driven both and never felt unwelcome on either route. /sarcasm

    I wonder what the NYT would write about that?

  • avatar

    As a life-long suburban resident of the Detroit area, I agree 100% that your article needed to be written. In fact, I wish the NYT had the balls to publish it in response to their article.

    One thing that should also be mentioned. During the heyday of the cruising Woodward era, many of the cruisers came from south of Eight Mile (Detroit City limits) to cruise in the suburbs north of Eight Mile. Up until the early 70s, many residents in the Detroit neighborhoods near Woodward were predominantly white. The “white flight”, as it was called, didn’t really start until the late 60s (after the riots) and did’t go into full-swing until the mid-70s.

    So the WDC route is based on the history of what everyone remembers as the true route. It’s one of the reasons that the Thirteen Mile intersection is the epicenter of it all with the biggest traffic-jam and foot traffic. It’s why parking costs the most there.

    Including the city of Detroit in the festivities makes the whole thing seem artificial and contrived. There are plenty of blacks, residents and non-residents of Detroit-proper, that not only attend the WDC, but are out there ever weekend all summer long. They are never made to feel unwelcome. Car people (real car people) are car people. The color ever discussed is the color painted on the car.

    Also, since you mentioned it, cruising on Belle Isle is not really a car-related event. I’ve been there and that is a place that no real car guy feels welcome. It’s more a gathering of thug-life and other sorts that cruise Belle Isle. Most of the crime that happens there, during their cruising, goes unreported. If it was about the cars it would be much different, but unfortunately it’s not. Woodward summer cruising is all about the cars. That’s what makes it what it is.

  • avatar

    Unfortunately, NYT’s is a legend only in its own mind. It has long since given up any real credibility with those who have an interest in honest news reporting. It’s also questionable whether it has any worthwhile reporters left on staff, or if they are just a bunch of sheep following the party line. Most people I know consider the NYT a second rate, at best, source of reliable information, sad to say.

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