The phone in the corner rang once, and stopped. That was the tip-off. The coversations floating about the dim room ended abruptly, and the dozen or so patrons looked about uneasily. It was called a 'speak-easy,' but right now no one was talking. Franky threw down the towel he'd been using to wipe the bar and began gathering up the bottles from down below. With a load of gin and whiskey under one arm and me under the other, he dragged me up to my bedroom. Our family lived in the 2-bedroom apartment over the dingey bar on Livernois. I knew the drill. Without a word I laid down in my bed while my big brother stacked the bottles around me. I closed my eyes and tried to relax while he thundered downstairs for the second load. Five minutes later every bottle in the joint was in bed next to me, the covers pulled up over the lot of us. Franky was fast. The customers' glasses had all been washed, hot sludge in the guise of coffee was served, and he was back behind the bar, towel in hand, when I heard the sleigh bells on the front door jingle and several sets of heavy footfalls from down below. I held my breath, and tried not to let the bottles clink.
I've heard that story more times than I can remember. The girl in the story was my grandmother. She was born in 1916, and her family really did live above a blind pig on Cambell Avenue in Detroit, Michigan. When she was a little girl during prohibition, her father and brothers would stash the booze in bed with her, because it was the one place the cops wouldn't check. They were never caught. Prohibition was promptly followed by the Great Depression, and my grandmother's family were the only people on the street not standing in soup lines, because they had made out like bandits bringing in booze from Canada during the 1920s.
I was thinking about all this yesterday as we were driving home down I-94. My family drove into Detroit yesterday afternoon to have dinner at our favourite resturaunt in Greektown, the Hellas. The place has been in business for 103 years, and my mom's been eating there regularly for over 40 of them. It's become a family tradition. As we were heading home, I happened to look out the window up as we were passing Cambell Ave. The freeway runs right past Cambell, and you can still see Franky's old bar. To our collective sorrow, it has recently suffered a serious fire, and looks like it will probably be torn down. The whole upper story at the back of the building was completely gone, and the rest of the structure was chared and sagging. Kitchen fire, probably.
Now, our family sold that bar over 40 years ago, and none of our relatives live in the city of Detroit any longer. The city's been going downhill since the 60s, and our family got out ahead of the rush. Still, there was a shocking finality to seeing the blackened skeleton of that old bar last night. Even though I've never lived in Detroit or set foot in that building, I shared my family's sense of finality. The last tie to the old city has been lost, and there is no longer any reason to return to Cambell Avenue.