By Alan Madlane
Robert Przygocki knows Hamtramck well.
Yes, he spent his earliest school years here; yes, his parents were from here.
But then there’s the fact that he spent good parts of this past summer walking every street in this town.
Yep – every one.
Interested in what new perspective he might have gleaned from such an endeavor – or what old perspective he might have sharpened – we had a phone chat with him this past Sunday afternoon. Here are some of the highlights of that conversation.
The Review: So, is this the first time you’ve attempted anything along this line?
Przygocki: Yes. I’d heard of people doing it in other cities; there was a well-publicized case of a man walking all 8,000 miles of New York City streets some time back. I knew these areas already, having been here as a youth, and I know Detroit quite well.
When you walk, you get more detail, more “granularity.” Since we’ve had the virus to deal with, it seemed like something that could be done.
The Review: How long did it take you?
Przygocki: I started around May 30, and finished up about Aug. 1 so just over two months. It was about – I’m not exactly sure, something like 30 miles.
The Review: What gave you the idea to begin with?
Przygocki: I consider myself fortunate; I worked in the oil and gas industry, so my career was in the south with some overseas, including a five-year assignment in Germany. We traveled Europe, and especially enjoyed smaller, less touristy towns, so, to get to know them, one would walk. When you walk, you notice a lot more about the make-up of a place.
My wife has a house in New Orleans — another wonderful city to walk — where we spend part of the year. The rest of the time, we’re up here on Lake St. Clair, on Anchor Bay.
The Review: Have you had any issues on Lake St. Clair with water rising?
Przygocki: To my knowledge, we’re the only house on the block with flood insurance. Having been in New Orleans and Houston both, I know what can happen. I take water very seriously!
The Review: So, did you plan out your excursions in great detail, or just take a more laid-back approach?
Przygocki: I essentially used Google Earth. I created a set of Power Points, overlapped in a mosaic, and then marked the streets off as I completed them. I started at Carpenter, and then worked my way south from there. I tended to work my way in, ending up at St. Florian.
The Review: Did anything surprise you on your trek, or did you “learn” anything?
Przygocki: Not especially. Again, I knew the area; my grandmother lived in her house here until she passed in 1994. I will say that I got a real understanding of how the industrial areas meld into the commercial and residential parts here.
I couldn’t believe the work being done around town. The alleys! They’re such an important part of things here. The sidewalks were looking better – it’s just a surprising level of investment in the city. I thought “It looks almost as good as its 50s heyday.”
Knowing how it has changed, I was still surprised to see the mix of cultures; young white kids, a lot of hipster types around; and black families too. And then of course, the many signs of Muslim culture. It’s so interesting to get a feel for how well everyone seems to coexist.
My mother grew up near Trowbridge and Lumpkin, and my dad near Comstock and Buffalo. My grandfather had a tool and die shop on Buffalo, a block north of Hamtramck.
Now, I’m happy to see a young Cranbrook-trained artist named Chris Schank — who makes aluminum furniture and sculptures with a local staff of hipsters — and Bangladeshi women, using that building.
I went to kindergarten at Pulaski Elementary, and then first and second grade at St. Lad’s. Houses I remember being rough-looking, even back then, some are getting rehabbed now. A lot of effort goes in, you can tell. Gardens, everything.
The Review: Did you stop people to talk, or did anyone approach you?
Przygocki: No, I pretty much kept to myself, out of respect for the social distancing being practiced. Perhaps saying ‘hi’ to people on their porches.
After my day’s walk, I sometimes got takeout from one of the numerous unique small ethnic restaurants, and then would eat in the park across from City Hall (Zussman). I was very impressed with how many people I saw wearing masks.
Hamtramck has, for generations, offered a safe, stable and affordable point of entry for many immigrant groups, where they can raise their families, acquire skills, and perhaps start businesses. And, as different as they may initially seem, yes, they will over time become just as American as those groups that preceded them.
I guess some of the old Polish folks, they resent what they see the city becoming, but if you go live in Sterling Heights, don’t complain!
If things improve for the 2021 summer, my next cultural exploration may be to visit every bar in the city!
We thank Robert Przygocki for taking the time to talk about his interesting, and thoroughly Hamtramck, project with us.
Let’s hope for a better summer next year all the way around, and then we’ll look forward to another interview about the bar walk.
Sept. 25, 2020