What up, Doe?
Updated: Nov 19, 2021
The Rolling Stones played here in Detroit, this week. I didn’t go to the show. I’m still avoiding large gatherings. Plus, I’m not a huge fan of arena shows anymore.
You can never get a decent seat unless you pay fucking TicketMaster a buttload. I hate shitty seats but I refuse to pay $500 for a concert ticket. Even if someday, by some sort of cosmic hiccup, I become filthy rich I would never pay that kind of money for a concert ticket. It would just go against some of my most fundamental principles and I’d like to think that even if I were rolling in the gravy I’d maintain some semblance of my inner fuck-that-ness.
I have seen the Stones before, though. It was in 1998, right before I left Chicago. I had been doing a bunch of work with a music house and they got me the tickets. The concert was at Soldier Field and the main stage had an extension that went out into the crowd. At the end of the extension, in the middle of the main floor, was a smaller stage that I was sitting right in front of.
About halfway through the concert the band played a 3 song set on that stage and I was front row for it. Mick Jagger was right in my face. Keith was so close that I could smell the cigarette he had smoldering between the strings at the very top of his guitar. That’s how a gentleman sees the Rolling Stones. Up close and personal.
Man, do I miss working with music houses. Those guys always had the best tickets. One time, after I had done quite a bit of work with a different music house here in Detroit, they got me tickets to see Beck at the Detroit Opera House— second row. The Flaming Lips opened up and then stayed on as the back-up band for Beck. At one point I looked behind me and two rows back are Jack and Meg White. I had better fucking tickets than the motherfucking White Stripes. That, was a damned good show.
So, I didn’t go see the Rolling Stones this time but I heard it was a great concert. And as they seem to be doing a lot of on this tour, each member of the band took some time to go out and see the city they were playing in. Soak up a bit of local flavor. And bring a bit of it back with them to the show that night.
Ronnie Wood went to the Motown Museum, which is sort of a no-brainer but worth the trip. There was a picture of Mick Jagger in front of the Joe Louis Fist. And if you believe his stage banter, then supposedly, he hit up both Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island. They didn’t say where Keith went. The Rolling Stones have played Detroit 21 times since 1964, I’m sure Keef has got some friends around town.
But the thing that stood out to me, when I was reading the review of the show in The Metro Times, was the report of Mick Jagger’s greeting to the crowd as he and the band took the stage at Ford Field.
He said, “What up, Doe?”
And the crowd, without hesitation, reportedly roared it right back at him.
Detroit is a very unique place. It’s an amazing city, with an unusually rich amount of culture and history that is literally all around you, everywhere you go. Both the good and the bad.
It also has its own particular way of doing things. When I first moved here, I had a lot to learn.
First of all, you can’t turn left.
You can’t turn left.
It’s the craziest fucking thing in the world and nobody told me about it, so when I drove here from Chicago with all of my shit packed into the back of a used Nissan Sentra, I was confused to say the least.
It’s called a Michigan left and you basically always go past the light and then there will be a place for you to make a U-turn and come back to the intersection where you will then turn right. To do what you intended to do in the first place. Which was turn left.
So, there’s that. But this next one will blow your mind.
In Detroit, you drive south to get to Canada.
Yep. I shit you not. It's weird. But it's true. Here's how it breaks down.
I live in the suburbs. I like the suburbs. I'm a child of the suburbs. It's where things operate the way I'm most used to. And the suburbs of Detroit are absolutely lovely. So that's where I live.
To get to the city, I've got a multitude of routes to choose from. There're a few different freeways I can take and a variety of streets but they all have one thing in common. They head south. And if you stay on any of them for long enough, in no time at all you will reach the city of Detroit. Stick with it and you'll wind up at the Detroit River. That's as far as you can go.
You'd have to be driving pretty late at night or in some seriously dense fog not to notice that on the other side of that river, is Canada. Windsor, Ontario to be precise. You can take the bridge or you can take the tunnel to get there. Doesn't matter. Either one, you'll need to continue heading south to make the crossing. Which is about a mile wide.
And that's where it gets even more interesting. Because if it were about 250 years ago and you were a black slave that had traveled the long and grueling underground railroad to reach freedom, if everything went according to plan, there's a damn good chance you would have wound up right here. Just one mile away from it. Hell, you could swim it if you wanted.
But most of them waited for the right night, got into a small boat and under the cover of darkness escaped to a new life in a new country. You can drive east along the river and soon you'll get to Grosse Pointe. There are some amazing houses along the water. Some of them are very old. And a few of them have hidden passages, false walls and even escape tunnels. This is where people stayed until that perfect, dark night when the tides were low and the current slowed to allow safe passage.
This geographical convenience was also taken advantage of during prohibition. Bootleggers would use it in the winter when the river froze solid and they too would wait for a dark night. Only instead of using a small boat it was a stripped down car referred to as a Whiskey Six because of their smaller and lighter 6 cylinder engines. To this day, there are several down at the bottom of that river.
Then there’s the whole Coney Island thing. That’s what Mick was referring to. Yes, it’s a hotdog. But in Detroit, it’s much more. In Detroit, we don’t have diners. Which is nutso because I love diners. I would eat every meal of my life in a diner if I could. But like I said, in Detroit we don’t have them. Instead, we have Coney Islands. Everything that you would normally get in any other city at a diner—when you’re in Detroit— you will instead get them at a place called a Coney Island.
You want a ham and cheese omelet with hash browns and toast? Go to a Coney Island. You want a club sandwich? A quick burger and fries? Meatloaf and mashed potatoes? Coney Island all of the above. And then they’ll also, of course, have Coney Island hotdogs. Which are wonderful.
The two oldest Coney Islands are downtown. One is called Lafayette Coney Island and the other one is called American Coney Island. They’re kinda Coney Island rivals. It’s like the two cheesesteak places in Philadelphia. Or the two famous pizza places in New Haven, Connecticut.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that when it comes to those two Coney Islands, in particular, people here choose sides. They don’t get both, Mick.
We also don’t have convenience stores. We have party stores. And if you really want to fit in, you’ll learn how to do the hard “A” when you say the word “party”. The hard “A” is crucial to the Michigan accent. You’ve got to put a small, little “y” in front of the “a” and then say the entire word through your nose instead of your mouth. It’s tricky but it’s fun. My kids have lived here pretty much their whole lives so they’ve got the accent. It’s fucking adorable.
These were all things that I had no idea about when I moved here but I picked up on quickly. There are many other things that are unique to this wonderful place. And because I love it so, I thought I had gotten to know them all.
But I hadn’t.
Thanks to Mick Jagger.
The 78 year old white guy from Dartford, England who alerted me to the fact that the phrase “What up, Doe?”—most commonly used in hip hop songs and on the streets of black communities was born right here in Detroit.
It originated in the 1980s among drug dealers, as a reference to how much “dough” they were making. It was the title of a rap song by Detroit rapper Danny Brown. And it’s used at least three times by nearly every character in the movie 8 Mile.
“What up, Doe?” can mean different things. It’s like “Forget about it” in New York. Its meaning has a lot to do with how it’s said and the context in which it's said. It can be a greeting. It can be a challenge. It can be code. Or it can just be a way of sizing someone up based on how they react to it.
Regardless, it’s 100% Detroit.
It might not sound like a big deal. But every place has their own special things. People think all American cities are pretty much the same but they’re not—and it’s because all of them have these special little things that make them unique.
But every once in a while, one of those special little things somehow works its way out of its town or neighborhood, leaves home and goes out into the world. Like some stupid kid with all of his shit packed into the back of a used Nissan Sentra.
That’s “What up, Doe?”.
Come back soon. Next time I’ll try not to miss ‘ya.
Thanks for reading, everybody. I'll see you again, real soon.