DETROIT—Twenty-nine years ago, I stood in the driveway at 15285 Coram in the northeast corner of Detroit and said good-bye to my parents—and to my hometown. The end was just beginning for both the industrial era and the newspaper industry. The only job I could find was in Hot Springs, Ark.
My mother was raised across the street from 15285 Coram. My father grew up three doors down. Their fathers, uncles, aunts, and cousins all lived nearby and worked for the Big Three. Their families were lifted into the middle class by union wages that grew decade after decade until the 1980s, when I left Detroit.
"Be good," Dad said. I was 22, a University of Detroit graduate who had not traveled outside metro Detroit except for a high school trip to Iowa and time spent at the family cottage in nearby Canada. Everybody, it seemed, had a cottage those days. The American Dream roared to life in Detroit every Friday afternoon, when factory workers—riding cars they built and bought—steered "up north" to their second homes. "You'll do great," Mom smiled. As I ducked into my overstuffed Ford Escort, she quickly added, "and you'll move back to Detroit."
Some memories soothe. That one aches—on this day, anyway, because I'm in town to attend the "Detroit Homecoming," a conference of 120 native Detroiters who left the city years ago. I arrive several hours early and drive to the old neighborhood. From that same driveway, I can see the lot where my mom's childhood home once stood; a victim of arson a decade or so ago, its charred, wooden skeleton is buried beneath a thicket of wild flowers and brush. Dad's old house is still in good shape, the only one on the block to look habitable for a middle-class family.