The Corktown parade is always on the Sunday before St. Patrick's Day. Corktown is Detroit's oldest surviving neighborhood, and is the city's old Irish quarter...most of whose settlers came from County Cork (hence the name) 200 years ago. The heart of Corktown is along Michigan Avenue heading towards downtown, and embraced both Tiger Stadium and MCS.
Much of what used to be Corktown is now Mexican Village, including Ste. Anne's neighborhood. I use a loose rule of thumb: If you can see the back of the train station, you're in Mexican Village; if you can see the front of the train station, you're in Corktown. You can tell it was never an upscale part of town, and since it was all Irish that made it a good place to plop a dirty, noisy train station in 1910.
In fact it is quite the sight...redbrick-paved streets lined with nothing but weathered Victorian storefronts, ancient wooden streetlamps, and barren lots where buildings used to be. It could almost be a scene out of Dublin itself, were it not so spacious and worse for the wear. Ever since the Tigers moved to the new stadium downtown, this neighborhood pretty much dried up, except for the few old codgers who still cling to their barstools at the Gaelic League (that is, until the recent regentrification--as of 2010, I was officially priced out of ever being able to live in Corktown).
The parade itself consists of various clans and families of the city's Irish, bagpipers in full regalia, obscure leagues and dignitaries no one ever heard of, high school marching bands, Knights of Columbus in full regalia, and this particular year, the Deptartment of Homeland Spook-curity tactical command bus. I don't know what the intended effect of this was supposed to be, but driving their big ugly mobile oppression unit down the middle of the parade brought a strange hush to the crowd. Talk about a f#$%n buzz kill...I think we were supposed to feel pride and/or appreciation at the sight of the "Big Brother Mobile," and it's one thing to have police or firemen march in a parade (which they did), but nobody cheered for this. I could hear people muttering things like "what a waste of f@#%n money," etc.
If there's any one group in this city that has unswervingly and uncomplainingly shouldered the burden of preserving and defending this city in these dark times, it is the DFD. Under the worst of conditions and making the least hubbub about it, they have done their job tirelessly and effectively, which is a far cry from what I see most other city officials doing today.
But I guess somebody got a wee bit impatient and launched his maglite through the glass front doors like some Scottish hurling contest. In fact, the car that always sat out front as a decoy was now freshly graffitied and smashed up (see photo below). Even though I was passing out with a bottle of booze in my lap at the time it was mentioned, I heard enough of the discussion to know that more would be going on tomorrow than just a parade.
This was probably the freshest abandoned building I had ever been in. I could still hear the clock ticking in the lobby, and there were newsstands in there that bore headlines of Kid Rock's marriage to Pam Anderson. The building was spic & span...I mean, it was cleaner than my house. The beds were all made up, and the linen probably still smelled laundry-fresh (I didn't sniff).
Looks like there was a "code brown" here, though:
Looks like there was a "code brown" here, though:
Turns out that the reason this place is such a time capsule is because it closed down, I believe, in the midst of a huge financial scandal where the president of the hospital was caught funneling money directly into his pockets or something along those lines, driving the entire enterprise into bankruptcy.
Nothing, so I tried searching...to no avail. I even left notes to them in the three stairwells with the time and date, letting them know I was inside. This I would later regret doing...
I was already up, silently darting back to the stairs, and Chisel went his own way. I was already exhausted from walking around all day with an acute head cold, and not consuming anything except Guiness all day long. I had been in fact ready to leave for the day so I could rest, but not wanting to be in a rap video, I (quietly) hauled ass back up to the 4th floor where I knew I could hide easily, and–if need be–lock myself in one of the patient bathrooms with the heavy deadbolts.
By the time I got there again I was so out of breath I could barely stand, and my heart was pounding so hard that my whole body was pulsating noticeably with every beat...it was like someone was rhythmically thumping me in the chest with a sledge hammer, or like my heart was testing the tensile strength of my arteries. I didn't know what had become of Chisel down below; it sounded like he only made it as far as the 2nd floor before he went quiet. Either that or he had been busted, but I heard no sounds of struggle, only silence.
All I could do was sit and listen at the stairwell. Eventually I looked out the window again, and the Escalade was still there. More time and silence went by. Probably 15 minutes later, I looked out the window again to see Chisel casually walking out the front back to his car, where he then hung around for a bit, seemingly waiting for me. I thought, "Okay, cool, either the Escalade guys didn't care about us, or they had caught Chisel and merely escorted him out." A minute later I saw what had to be Bumshit and Hank standing out by Michigan Avenue again, obviously waving to Chisel. What was going on...?
I realized that by some rare coincidence I had a cellphone with me, and called Chisel, who told me that I had two options: Try to walk out the front doors or wait it out, which might not be a good idea since the Escalade guys were still sitting there, obviously waiting for the police, or...someone to arrive.
It occurred to me that this was to my benefit since they faced the sides of the building that were not visible to anyone parked out front. However I didn't know how far the drop to the ground would be...so I silently crept down to the bottom landing, not knowing where in the building the goons were, or if they were searching for me. I noticed immediately that the door onto the first floor was now closed, where before it had been propped open by a chair. Someone had kicked the chair out...was it the goons, trying to lock us in, or was it Chisel trying to cover his own escape? Either way it prevented me from hearing any goings-on on the main floor, but it also covered any sound that I might make in going through that round window on the landing.
I crawled back into the stairwell and thought of perhaps finding a bed sheet to tie around the window latch and use as a rope to climb down...how classic is that? Or maybe find an attractive blonde Resusci-Annie with really long braids...? I ran back upstairs, urgency now mounting by the second, to grab a bed sheet. After all, I had seen tons of made-up beds in here. But wouldn't you know I couldn't find a single motherfucking bed, now that I needed one. In a hospital, I couldn't find a bed. I ran up and down looking for one, and thoroughly pissed off I finally gave up and went back to the window. Chisel called me again, but I told I him I had to go because I was about to jump out a window, and hung up. He of course was a little alarmed at this, probably envisioning something off of Faces of Death.
I knew it was do or die (or...do and maybe die), and I crawled to the edge of the porthole to poke my head out and look down again. I winced, but I forced myself to turn around and stick my feet out. The wall outside was brushed stainless and very smooth, and there was a nice lip in the window frame for me to plant my fingers. I was absolutely parched. I lowered myself to full arm-extension and paused, cringing at the fact that I was still nowhere near the ground. But I then realized that due to the slipperiness of the stainless steel wall I had no prayer of climbing back in now.
I let go. I was falling long enough for a good stout wind to build up around me as I accelerated toward the cement, and relaxed my legs and balanced my body so as to land paratrooper style. I landed surprisingly softly, on both feet, and that was that. I'd had harder landings from half that height. Holy shit Redwing boots are awesome. If you explore and you don't own some--what is wrong with you?! I felt those beautiful shock absorbing soles expand under me to perhaps twice their normal width, and rebound smartly. It was like landing on Flubber.
I immediately resumed composure and began glibly walking away from the scene of the crime, circling the long way around the building toward my car, hoping that I could get up to Michigan Avenue and act like I was just some random passerby. Otherwise I would be walking directly into the Escalade's line of sight down the building. They would surely drive up and confront me, get my plate number, or even try to block me in. (Again, Detroit Police could probably give a f--- on a regular day–not to mention they were now up to their donut-holes in drunken white people in Corktown–but I still did not want to risk the chance). It was a long walk, so I called Chisel again to let him know I had survived the fall, haha.
I needed some f#$%n water, some food, and some NyQuil; I had been on my feet all day and was completely spent. Plus I had to work the next day. As I rounded the opposite corner of the hospital, I could see that there were actually two vehicles parked by the entrance (besides the vandalized dummy car), one of which–a Jaguar–was now starting up and pulling out directly toward me. I ignored him and went about my innocent passerby business, giving the driver a brief disinterested glance as he drove directly in front of me to merge onto Michigan (and undoubtedly to see who I was). Luckily for me he kept going, and I (after circling the block) went to my car and sped off downtown. The boys in the Escalade were none the wiser.
* * *
Segregation in America resulted in the founding of black owned and operated hospitals, because most hospitals naturally discriminated against black patients and black doctors. Many could not afford to go to a hospital anyway. So several black hospitals were organized in Detroit, as you might imagine--almost 20 in fact. As the industry changed and modernized, smaller hospitals merged into larger ones; the Southwest Detroit Hospital resulted from the amalgamation of four such hospitals, two of which were black-owned.
It opened in 1974 and closed in 1991. According to the Detroit Architecture AIA Guide Revised Edition (1971) by Meyer & McElroy, this building was projected to nearly double in size over time. The building's materials were "selected for lightness due to low bearing capacity of the soil and to resist industrial fumes generated nearby."
Viewed in 2017 from the roof of the Hammond-Standish slaughterhouse across the train tracks, the Southwest Detroit Hospital has been buffed of graffiti, and is being gutted.