Gateway Project at 75-80%!

I think when I got to catch a glimpse of the progress board on-site it said 80%, but MDOT’s site says the Project is 75% complete. I’m still not walking long distances, but luckily the light turned red so I was able to snap a couple pics from the car.

The Bagley Pedestrian Bridge, viewed from the Vernor overpass.

The Bagley Pedestrian Bridge, viewed from the Vernor overpass.

View from the corner of W. Vernor & Southbound 75 service drive

View from the corner of W. Vernor & Southbound 75 service drive

Fighting the “It’s just—” Attitude, Part I

Let’s say you’re in Downtown Detroit, perhaps on your way to the Auto Show at Cobo Hall, and you’ve just finished eating a candy bar. What do you do with the wrapper?

A. Keep it in your coat pocket until you can throw it away at home.

B. Keep it in your coat pocket until you find a garbage can somewhere.

C. Throw it on the street–it’s just Detroit, after all.

D. Eat it–it’s got chocolate on it!

I hope most people would pick ‘A’ or ‘B’. I assume ‘D’ isn’t a good idea, but I’m not a doctor. (ハハハ) It’s ‘C’ that bothers me. Litter bugs the crap out of me because it makes places look dreadful, yet is so easy to prevent. Litter Downtown really bugs me because there is at least one garbage can per block on Woodward and the other major streets that radiate out from Downtown. There are probably different reasons why people litter, but the “It’s just Detroit” attitude is, I think, one of the major ones. And it really, really irks me, because the people littering are the same ones who live and/or work here, or live nearby in the suburbs.

Here’s why I hate the “It’s just–” attitude: if something, someplace, or someone is looked down on, and you have the power to change things for the better, why not use that power, rather than say “It’s just–” and go along with a crappy situation? If you live in Detroit, how can you disrespect yourself like that? And if you live in the less famous suburbs, why are you willing to let outsiders look down on you simply because you can turn a blind eye to Detroit’s condition? You may say to yourself, “Not littering or picking up litter isn’t going to change the massive economic and social problems Detroit has.” But I’d say you’re wrong. Because when people see a dirty, litter choked area, they think, “these people don’t deserve to be helped.” When residents think that nobody cares, they feel powerless to change things, even when they do have power. Even abandoned lots don’t look nearly as bad when there’s no litter on them.

There’s a small park near my house, recently built, that I walk through as a shortcut. It has a community garden. It’s a really nice place, and the only park in this neighborhood (until about 10 years ago, this wasn’t a residential area). It made me angry when people graffitied the playscape with their idiotic “Pookie loves JJ” or “F*** Joe” nonsense. About two years ago gang signs appeared, and that made me even angrier. Thankfully, someone in the community must’ve had some QuikCrete or something, because the gang signs on the sidewalk were quickly covered over with it. But, I can understand the gangbanger’s ill-conceived desire to tag stuff. It’s not excusable, but it is understandable. The following, however, is not.

One day in 2006 as I walked through the park I noticed that the garden’s sitting area was particularly trashed. There were beer bottles everywhere, the boxes they had come in where there, plastic plates, cups, forks, knives and cups strewn about, specialty napkins, and a birthday cake box. Someone had had a birthday party in the park and left the mess there! Unbelievable! The park’s single garbage can was overflowing, and the people had brought a big garbage bag which was likewise overflowing, but more importantly, it was still there! They had come to enjoy the clean park, but had left a mess, preventing others from doing the same. I even found the receipt for the birthday cake! It was purchased at the supermarket a couple blocks from the park, so I think it’s likely that whoever left that mess lives in the neighborhood.

I’m not one to bitch without doing anything. I was so angry I went home and got a bunch of plastic bags. I tied them on my hands like gloves, went back to the park, and picked all that shit up. (I’m getting angry just thinking about it!) I didn’t like having to put all that mess in my house’s waste bin, but the thought of having my neighborhood park in such a disgraceful state was even more odious. My neighbors happened to drive by, and waved, but had a funny look on their faces. Perhaps they thought I was doing court-ordered community service. (Which is another thing that bugs me. Why do we use bettering the community as punishment? What kind of message does that send?) But I didn’t care. I had the power to change things for the better and I used it. I even taped a sign to a post to the effect of, “This is our park, it is our only park, it’s up to us to keep it clean.”

The part not covered by tape was torn off within two days. That ticked me off, but I would’ve done it again. I felt like I had made a ripple of positivity. And, maybe it was just a coincidence, but a month or two after that, permanent signs were installed that said pretty much the same thing my sign had said. I still pick up random pieces of trash. Even if it’s just one. If people see me, maybe they’ll be inspired to do the same, and even better, to stop littering.

It’s not “just Detroit.” It’s my city. It’s my home. It’s your city and your home, too. It’s your metro area, your region.

Who has the right to complain about the way things are that does nothing to change them?

Of Gyoza and the Gateway Project

Who can resist the urge to alliterate when gyoza is involved? ^_^

Ever since I was introduced to gyoza (Japanese-style Chinese dumplings) in 2004, I went on a search around the City of Detroit to find a restaurant that served them. Alas, back then there were no Japanese restaurants within city limits, so 20-30 minutes (on a good day) of being on the freeway stood between me and those succulent little pockets of soy-sauce dipped joy. The closest I could get were the dumplings served at Chinese restaurants. Don’t get me wrong, those are good too (especially the ones from Great Wall on Michigan Ave. near Trumbull) but they weren’t the delicately crisp sensation I longed for. Then back in December I heard one student remark to another that there was a Japanese & Korean restaurant on Woodward across from the Main Library and my heart jumped! Could it be? Could I finally have gyoza within walking distance?!

And indeed! There is now a Korean & Japanese (the order matters) restaurant on Woodward kitty-corner from the Main Library inside of the Park Shelton. It’s called Wasabi. I was a bit intimidated because it says it’s a “luxury” restaurant, but it has a laid-back atmosphere that’s classy without being classist. There’s a decent price range, so even frugal college students like me can go treat themselves every once in a while (but watch out for the ‘tea for two’…$4 is a bit much, thinks I). My middle brother loves their sushi. I really like their Tofu Yakisoba, however, it does seem to have what I assume is a Korean slant; it’s got a huge variety of vegetables in it unlike any yakisoba I’ve had at Japanese restaurants. Not that it bothers me. Delicious is as delicious does. And yes! They have gyoza! It’s still not quite what I expected. You could say Wasabi’s gyoza is the missing link between the dumplings at Chinese restaurants and the gyoza at Japanese restaurants. Makes sense, geographically speaking.

As for the second half of the title…I’m very happy to report that the Gateway Project is at 70% complete! I didn’t have my camera when I went by it, so I took the liberty of doodling on the photo I took at 60%:

Dramatization.  It's not really red.  ^_^

Dramatization. Bridge not actually red.

Ah, I love being a dork. ^_^ I can’t exactly tell what part of the bridge this is, I think it’s the base of the west parapet. I was so happy when I saw that something was spanning the width of the freeway. So exciting! When that bridge is complete, I’ll be able to walk straight down Bagley to my favorite bakery (La Gloria) and my favorite Mexican restaurant (Lupita’s…virtual shout out to the Travelers! Even if you don’t see this I’m sending you all positive cyber-chi!) without having to snake around on Vernor and the service drive. I can’t wait to see what artist will get to make a piece of public art for the bridge. *Giddy!*

Central American Food in Mexicantown!

I’ve lived in Southwest Detroit, AKA Mexicantown, for most of my life. When my family first moved here that name rang true; the overwhelming majority of Hispanic people in town were either of Mexican descent or fresh immigrants, with a few Puerto Ricans mixed in. People from Central America, like myself, were rare. But slowly, there has been an increase in the visibility of Central Americans, particularly of people from El Salvador and Honduras. When I went to the Cinco de Mayo parade two years ago, I even saw an Honduran flag or two amidst all the Mexican and Puerto Rican ones. However, as far as I knew there still weren’t any Central American restaurants in Mexicantown, until very recently.

The first one that popped up (as far as I know), Pupuseria Mama Tita, specialized in that quintessential Central American food, the pupusa, which is basically a tortilla stuffed with your choice of filling, usually topped with pickled vegetables not unlike kimchi. The most common ones are pupusas with beans, cheese and loroco (a type of plant), or a mix of beans and pork. Unfortunately, Mama Tita didn’t do too well, and went out of business after a year or maybe less. My family and I had gotten used to being able to eat fresh cooked pupusas, so we were upset. Goya does make some you can buy frozen, but it’s not the same (though they are good). Where were we to get our pupusa fix?!

Fortunately I spotted a teeny weeny ad in the free weekly La Jornada Latina (formerly La Jornada Detroit) for La Cuscatleca. I don’t know when they came to the neighborhood, but I’m glad we found them! La Cuscatleca is actually a combined restaurant and market. Their products mainly come from El Salvador, but they also have some Honduran products. Likewise the food has a Salvadoran lean, but it’s very similar to Honduran food. And best of all, they serve a wide variety of foods, not just pupusas. Their tamales, pupusas, and platano frito (fried plantain) are absolutely Delicious! There’s also this desert, Atol de elote, which is like a puree of sweet corn with cinnamon, served in a gourd bowl. The Quesadilla Salvadoreña is also to die for. (Note that this quesadilla is not at all like the Tex-Mex food most people know; instead it’s a bread with Parmesan cheese baked in.)

Atol de elote in the foreground, tamal in the background.

Atol de elote in the foreground, tamal in the background.

If you’re interested in going, please be advised that this is not the usual “restaurant” atmosphere. I don’t know if the people there speak English, since they specialize in catering to the Central American minority, but I think it’s safe to assume they know some. If you speak Spanish, though, even better.

La Cuscatleca is located at 6343 Michigan Avenue in Detroit (48210), a few steps west of Livernois.

¡Buen provecho!

Gateway Project 60% Complete!

On my way to do some errands in the heart of Southwest Detroit, I could see clear signs that the Gateway Project–a massive construction undertaking to widen I-75, have better access to the Ambassador Bridge, and build a pedestrian bridge reuniting East and West Mexicantown (so happy about this one!)–is really rockin’ and rollin’. For a long time the eastbound half of the Vernor/I-75 overpass had been closed and eventually cut off; now it is fully rebuilt and open. So now it’s the westbound half’s turn. The central pillar of the pedestrian bridge gets higher each day I see it. Even though the area still looks like complete mayhem, the order is starting to emerge. It’s hard to tell from the photo I took, but trust me. ^_^

The high thing to the left is the Pedestrian Bridge's Central Pillar, way in the background to the right of it you can see the twin spires of Ste. Anne, and all the way to the left, the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit to Windsor, Canada.

The high thing to the left is the center pillar of the Pedestrian Bridge, way in the background to its right is Ste. Anne, and to the left you can see a bit of the Ambassador Bride, which connects Detroit to Windsor, Ontario (Canada).

On a side note, I’d like to give a quick shout out to the Spirit of Detroit, which turned 50 today. There was actually a re-dedication ceremony for it today, but I didn’t know about it until today, so I didn’t go. (I blame the local media which wastes time telling me what’s coming up next on their show rather than what’s coming up next in real life. Well, the “news” has become that all over the country, hasn’t it?) There’s an interesting article about the Spirit’s sculptor here, and an article with pictures of the cleaned Spirit (the tarnish was removed) here.