Out of nowhere, five police cars with black-tinted windows swarmed a passing driver. The cops boxed him in, drew their guns, yanked him from his car and started searching every crevice of the vehicle. A few onlookers gathered on nearby sidewalks and stared at the commotion.
The lunchtime diners inside John’s Grill on West Chicago near Wyoming watched the drama through the windows. The owner, however, didn’t bother to look. He’d seen this kind of thing enough times before. He kept on cooking.
“There’s always some kind of action going on out there,” said Jovica Trpcevski, the diner’s 58-year-old owner and sole cook, as he flipped burgers on the grill.
After all, this Detroit ZIP code — 48204 — made news a few years ago when it was named by something called NeighborhoodScout.com as the single most dangerous neighborhood in the entire country. The group collects crime and census data about every city in the country, and its 2013 report, based on FBI statistics, said one in seven people in this neighborhood will be either murdered, raped, robbed or assaulted.
Trpcevski didn’t need stats to tell him things had gotten bad around here.
“Man, I’m telling you if I could put a life-size face on the wall out there of everybody that had been coming in here who I seen get killed over the years that I’ve been here, there wouldn’t be enough room on my wall,” said Trpcevski, known as John around here. “And a lot of these kids were good kids. A lot of them got killed over nothing.”
Since he opened, this west-side neighborhood has undergone a four-decade collapse into crime and abandonment. But he never reacted to the changes.
There’s no bulletproof glass in his restaurant. Customers can reach out and touch him as he cooks. They eat in an open dining room in booths or at the long counter.
In an area like this, where the only places left to eat at are coney islands that are built like fortresses designed to barricade their workers from those they serve, and where several small-business owners have been shot and killed in their shops over the years, this is unheard of.