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Media

Myth busters

A handy guide to the true and false tales of Motown

MT illustration: Suzanne Baumann
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Published 2/1/2006

Poor, misunderstood Detroit. If America were a high school, Detroit would be the weird, loner arty kid defacing the picnic tables with a butterfly knife — bursting with creativity and untapped potential, yet treated as an outcast and punching bag by New York and Chicago. Surely, we can win as the most misunderstood city in the nation, and we've taken our share of beatings from the media over the years — but that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger ... or meaner. Thanks to the '80s, our sullied reputation as Murder Capital of the nation has stuck, despite all our efforts to show the rest of the country that we're not such a bad place after all (um, cough, the Motor City, Motown, the White Stripes, any of that ring a bell?).

So, as thousands of visitors flood our fair metropolis, we at Metro Times thought we'd take it upon ourselves to do a public service and debunk some of the many myths — some strange, some funny and some plain nasty — that have plagued us over the years. Here's your handy guide to Detroit legends — true, false.

Don't you guys burn down your city every Halloween?

In 1984, more than 800 fires were set on the night before Halloween, better known as Devil's Night. Although mischief-making on that night was a longstanding tradition, things got a little out of hand in Detroit in the '80s, and national media pounced on the city's apparent desire to self-incinerate — the idea was further cemented by the film The Crow, which depicted half the city ablaze on the night in question (and the fires orchestrated by an elite, Mafia-like, mostly white crime ring) and the 1991 book Devil's Night and Other True Tales of Detroit by Ze'ev Chafets. As any Detroiter will tell, the '80s weren't exactly our shining hour, but thankfully, Halloween arson is mostly just a bad memory. To combat the phenomenon, the city instituted a huge volunteer force of patrollers, and stiff curfews for kids. In 1995, the city rechristened the occasion Angel's Night. Though many Detroiters still scoff at the cloyingly sweet name, thanks to the volunteers, we haven't had a serious rash of fires on the night in question since.

Eight Mile is a thriving tourist destination

For years, Detroiters have recognized Eight Mile as both the literal and figurative separation between the city proper and the burbs. But thanks to Eminem's loosely autobiographical 2002 film 8 Mile, the rest of the nation suddenly knew all about our famous mile road. And curiously enough, they wanted to see it. Locals were befuddled and perplexed when our friends visiting from out of town asked to see not the Fist, or the Ren Cen, but Eight Mile. All we could think was, why?

A few things to consider: Eight Mile is really not that interesting. Really. For one thing, it's long as hell, so you'd never want to travel the entire thing. Secondly, it's a very ugly stretch, mostly populated by fast food restaurants, party stores, wig shops and titty bars (sure, there are a few hookers, but most of them are on McNichols — just kidding! ... Kinda).

Furthermore, reports of Eight Mile being the most crime-ridden stretch of road in Detroit are exaggerated (no, that's Seven Mile! Again, kidding! ... Kinda). But Eight Mile can be dangerous — mostly because conventional speed limits don't seem to apply. Eight Mile is one of the only major streets where traffic is as fast as the freeway. Be warned.

Will I get shot/mugged/carjacked?

News flash, guys: We're not the most dangerous city in America anymore. No, we're No. 2! Woo-hoo! Morgan Quitno Press, an independent research and publishing company, put us in the runner-up slot this year, but we haven't been No. 1 in years (although we're consistently listed in the top five). Though most of those media-produced "most dangerous city" and "highest crime" lists are unscientific media buzz bullshit, FBI crime stats do show plenty of problems. We're not going to blow sunshine up your ass and suggest you go skipping through the streets naked with $100 bills taped to your butt. Like any big city, we have issues of crime — but comparing us to say, Baghdad, is way off base and insulting to the hundreds of thousands of Detroiters who live, work and play in the city every day without being attacked by roving gangs of thugs. It's a big city, so be smart. Don't run around flashing your money in the open, don't drive or walk around unfamiliar areas without a map, don't act like a drunk dumbass, and you'll probably be fine. Really.

Foreign cars get vandalized

Detroit is home of the Big Three — and for years suburbanites whispered that anyone committing the high crime of driving, say, a Toyota, was asking for a crowbar through their windshield. But not so — given the ever-fluctuating auto market and the Big Three's increasing slip in the national market, driving a foreign car in Detroit isn't such a no-no anymore (much to the chagrin of GM et al.). However, it's still an extremely touchy subject, so we wouldn't bring it up if we were you. Not to mention the fact that a Ford plant manager recently decreed that you'd better be driving a Ford to work — or you'll have to park across the street.

Is Detroit a breeding ground for white rappers?

Despite the high profile media hype of Eminem, Kid Rock and the Insane Clown Posse, Detroit does have a plethora of multi-cultural talented hip-hop artists who actually live and perform in the city proper — among them Tre Little, Slum Village, Miz Korona and King Gordy.

What's up with the People Mover?

Why does it go in a circle?

It was visionary at the time it went into operation in 1987. Really. It was originally envisioned as the final loop of a miles-long system out Woodward to Pontiac. But it was never built. It's like we planned for a puppy but only got a wagging tail.

Lafayette Coney is the ideal meal at 3 a.m.

One of the greatest Detroit traditions is the coney island — known to outsiders as a chili dog. And perhaps the best place to enjoy one of these toxic little gut bombs is Lafayette Coney Island (118 W. Lafayette, Detroit; 313-964-8198), the quintessentially quirky eatery. They don't write down your orders, they just yell them. Ask for a salad or something low-carb and you're likely to be tossed out. And with Lafayette, the later the better — the all-night eatery becomes truly, blessedly, brilliantly surreal in the wee hours, and hipster bar crawlers mix with shift workers and off-duty cops.

But be forewarned — if you're visiting Lafayette after a hard night at the bar, proceed with caution. Depending on how much you've had to drink, the coney can actually act as a solid form of syrup of ipecac and induce vomiting (or frequent and unpleasant trips to the bathroom the following day).

Don't you call your soft drinks "pop"?

Yes, and we'd advise you not to make fun of us for it.

The best Super Bowl party in town is at the Manoogian, right?

No! The city said so!

Witness the only urban legend that was officially sanctioned by the city. There was absotively posilutely no wild party at the mayor's mansion — and the city knows, because officials dumped a boatload of taxpayer money into investigating the matter.

Are you really throwing a party for all the homeless people?

Yes. Screw the Maxim party — this is the only shindig in town where you get free food, big screen TVs and a bed. Sweet!

Where's the pine forest/gothic architecture/big tiki bar with a rap show?

Sorry to burst your Hollywood bubble, but there're no cyborg police (as in Robocop), no lush green forest in Midtown (as in Assault on Precinct 13), no hoppin' tiki bar that Eminem freestyles at (as in 8 Mile).

The White Stripes recorded at the Hotel Yorba so I should stay there, right?

Uh, we wouldn't advise it. Really.

Sarah Klein is the culture editor of Metro Times. Send comments to sklein@metrotimes.com.

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