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In Motown, Stop in the Name of Hope

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Detroit, Michigan
By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 22, 2008

I saw it first by night. A metropolis unveiled in viewfinder snapshots through the smudged windows of an elevated train. Gothic towers crowded close, proud detail etched on gray stone. A beaming stadium full of red-capped baseball fans, its front side left open as if to console the devoted others it couldn't quite hold. A neon neighborhood of revelers, trying their luck with the cards and with each other. A river that bounced fractured glints of the city back toward the heavens.

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It was beguilingly authentic -- gritty and romantic -- and it was decided: I would side with Mary.

Mary, the smiling lady of the hotel lobby, not Alexandro, the cab driver who brought me to her.

"Is this your first time in Detroit?" Mary inquired. "You're going to love it! It's just like Paris."

Minutes earlier Alexandro laughed incredulously when I told him what I'd come here to find.

"Happiness?" he scoffed. "I can't really see it. Everybody's just so miserable."

Which is what Forbes magazine said, too; the Most Miserable City in America, it claimed in a report earlier this year. "Imagine living in a city with the country's highest rate for violent crime and the second-highest unemployment rate," the article proposes, by way of introduction.

But after riding the looping downtown train -- slickly named the People Mover -- and stepping into the Greektown section of the city, where I was met by saxophones singing from opposite corners and a scene that looked like the quaint, Hollywood version of a 1940s gambling town, it was over.

Alexandro said he bought his house for $200. Really $1,700, after taxes. He didn't mention the figure as a bragging point, but it started to seem like an enticing investment plan. That was just my price point, and who wouldn't want their own pied-á-terre in this Paris of Lake Erie?

I could be happy here. I already was.

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