There’s an added travel opportunity when you have friends out of town. This Wednesday I packed a bag and filled up the Civic with way too expensive gas, headed for Detroit, MI to visit my friend B. Fair.
I hadn’t been to the “D” since late in 2011, so thought it’d be great to spend a day or two, since its only about a 3.5 hour drive from Cincinnati. What should have been a 3.5 hour trip turned into a 4.5 hour trip due to lane closings in two cities on the way.
I passed into Ecorse at around 8:30pm in the evening and after driving around in circles trying to find 10th street, which is a one way, I finally made it to B’s humble abode. After spending four and a half hours driving, stressed about whether I was speeding or not, since the speedometer in the Civic is broken, I was ready to sit down, relax and get a good nights sleep.
But instead we ended up at Applebees, catching up and conversing about life, the universe, and personal growth, as often happens with my philosophical friend.
We capped off the evening by enjoying some tea, a shared favorite beverage and watching The Long Kiss Goodnight with Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson (for its heavy undertone of conspiracy of course).
The following morning, after a good nights sleep, we hit the road for some breakfast at one of Detroit’s Coney Islands. Detroit is famous for its Coney Islands. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Coney Islands are a unique type of Greek American Restaurant, with a menu centered around the Coney Island Hotdog (Cincinnati, thank the Greeks for your Cheese Coneys!). Coney Islands are known for serving Greek and Greek-American dishes as well as American fare such as burgers, sandwiches, breakfast and dessert. The two most well known Coney Islands are the Lafayette and the American Coney Island established by brothers Bill and Gus Keros in 1914. Located next to one another in downtown detroit, these Coney Islands are still in business today. I photographed these buildings before I knew their history, and wikipedia and I share a common photo (although mines better).
After an amazing and way too filling breakfast at Leo’s Coney Island, which has a stunning reproduction of Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge that spans the whole restaurant cooking area, we headed off on a hunt for some of Detroits best photo-ops.
On the road from Ecorse to downtown Detroit, I spotted a giant metal statue of a dog. It sits happily with its perky metal tail in the air, in the middle of the lawn of Baker College in Allen Park. Ritch Branstrom, the creator of this sculpture created Rusty in the summer of 2011 for the ARTprize competition in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Utilizing bent ‘dogleg’ trees for hind legs and cast-off automotive and farm parts, this dog weighs 3,100 lbs and stands 12′ high with a length of 19′ tip to tail.
First stop in downtown Detroit; The abandoned Michigan Central Station, built in 1912 for the Michigan Central Railroad. In its day, it was the tallest rail station in the world! When Amtrak service ceased in 1988, this building was left empty and still stands, hollow and mysterious today. Talks of restoration have floated through Detroit but none have come to fruition. Unfortunately the building is gated shut, so there’s no way to enter and photograph the inside, but it was still really cool to stand in front of a building with so much history that now holds only memories of the past.
The day was windy, and chilly. By windy I mean gusts so hard they stung my face. Not an ideal day for photographing Detroit, but I was determined, and no amount of wind was going to stop me. Along the streets on the backside of the station were cement walls lined with amazing graffiti art. Turns out, the “D” is full of talented graffiti artists!
Downtown, I photographed the square where I met B and our friendship began nearly 4 years ago.
We visited Bell Isle (beautiful Island in french), a historic island park with an amazing fountain in the center, although it wasn’t on for the winter season. You can read about the insteresting history of Bell Isle here. We drove by the Bell Isle Conservatory, a greenhouse and botanical gardens that is free to the public. Unfortunately it was already closed for the day.
As B shared with me, stories of his past, growing up, at Bell Isle, we drove past an open, or more, knocked down, gate. The gate guarded the abandon Detroit Zoo, which opened in 1895. We wandered in, in the spirit of adventure (and trespassing). Every building and enclosure chokes with overgrown plants. Dead trees have fallen to crush the boardwalk in places, but the buildings are mostly intact. The zoo was overhauled in the 1980’s with its current design, which has its visitors (or lack there of now) walking on wooden boardwalks raised above the animal enclosures. 22 years later, the mayor called for its closing to save the city money. Although the city overwhelmingly disagreed, the mayor stuck by his decision and opened the Nature Zoo on the same island, leaving the Detroit Zoo abandoned to overgrowth.
What remains is simply a sight to see. It’s haunting, mysterious, and somewhat apocalyptic. I was waiting for the walking dead to creep from under the boardwalk. The zoo was a reminder that without human interference, nature will continue to thrive. The buildings will eventually be swallowed up by plant life, the wooden structures returned to the earth.
We rounded out the evening with a visit to meet a very awesome and special little guy; B’s Nephew, Roger Jr, or as B refers to him, Little Buddy. What an amazingly smart and vibrant little boy. And what a boy he is! Full of energy. Uncle B and Buddy have an amazing connection and it was really cool to see them interact and play together. Such an honor when friends allow you an intimate look into their lives.
After arriving back at the house, I gathered my belongings and prepared for the (pain in the ass) drive back to Cincinnati. I brewed some tea and we started watching LA Confidential to kill some time before I had to leave. I planned to leave in enough time to get home and get a good nights sleep before work the next morning. Exhausted from the day, I nodded off, and when I woke up it was nearly 20 minutes past time to leave. I bid B adieu, and headed for home.
Every time I travel, I have the feeling that I wish I could stay gone. Forever adventuring, forever experiencing new and extraordinary places, forever calling the road home.
But for now, Cincinnati it is.