For many years in the suburbs of Detroit there were roads kids were told not to cross. These are our borders. One is Eminem’s old stomping ground, 8 Mile, which separates a whirling strip mall frenzy from a fledgling row of houses and churches within Detroit city limits. Another is a few blocks from where I am typing, and isolates the heavily patrolled Grosse Pointe Park from patches of harder times within Detroit City limits. It’s called Alter Road. It doesn’t have a famous movie (yet) but it’s got it’s own set of stories.
According to the book Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States, Alter Road is “[t]he most conspicuous city-suburban contrast in the United States…”.
From this you might think that for four consecutive miles one side of the road is all mansions and the other is a blazing crack den. Not exactly. But in some spots this is definitely true and the class divide is abundant and really disappointing.
Lots of people in the area have stories about Alter Road. Tales of adventurous crossings from both sides!
I have a few favorite spots on Alter Road.
One is on the Grosse Pointe side of Charlevoix Street. Just as you approach Alter Road on your right you will probably miss a very small sign with smaller green type reading “Welcome to Detroit. Founded 1701.” It’s as if it’s afraid to let you know Grosse Pointe is about to end. It is simple and sweet and charming and every time I see it I smile. I am happy to be entering Detroit. I am happy to be a new person in this very old, rich, and beautiful city. I like our humble sign.
About a mile south of this sign you’ll hit a pretty marina park off Windmill Drive. It’s called Windmill Pointe and is the Grosse Pointe Park park on Lake St. Clair. They have a movie theater, swimming pool, and plenty of picnic tables.
Someone told me a few days ago why it is called Windmill Pointe. Apparently there used to be many windmills in these parts and their old blades (lots of them) found their way into the water, just off the point on the edge of the the Fox Creek canal, at the end of Alter Road. You have to be careful in your boat there. Fathers take sons and daughters to see it and tell them how it came to be and each time the tale will probably be a little different, more or less embellished. The kind of story that adds a little magic to a Saturday afternoon.
You can’t find this information on Wikipedia. It’s the kind of story you only hear from a person who has spent a lot of time fishing these rare Detroit canals and the kind of story that needs people to pass it on. Live, in person.
It’s a big part of why we are doing what we are doing. Thank you for offering some of yourself today, for backing the project and helping us find more ways to connect people. You are the thread. And the magic too.