Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Last Stop: Motor City

Our last stop on this road trip included a few nights in Detroit to stay with our aunt and uncle (actually our great-aunt and great-uncle, but sometimes I forget that). I have stopped over many times to visit them in Grosse Ile, which is actually just south of Detroit but this was the first time I had a chance to stay longer than just one night.

Uncle Don, Aunt Lee and Matthew (their grandson, our cousin)
We crossed the bridge into the city from Canada at 9:00p on Monday and my sister pulled over into a gas station so we could get our bearings and type in the address on my GPS (we hadn't had cell signals since we left Maine on Thursday).  We were followed into the station by a green SUV, which was then followed by a police car.  Within two minutes the guys in the SUV were taken out and cuffed. After looking around we realized we may not have chosen the best location to stop...we quickly put ANY address into the GPS and left.

Detroit has taken a huge hit from the loss of jobs and the economic downturn, particularly in the auto industry and we learned that unlike most cities there is actually a shift going and people are leaving the inner city.  The city is essentially hollowing out as the economy is changing.  In order to counteract this shift, the government has taken a unique stance and they are encouraging "urban farming." (A few of the names I came across as I was looking into this are: Hantz Farms, Urban Farming, and Earthworks Urban Farm in case anyone is interested in more information).  It was fascinating and encouraging for me to learn the government was thinking outside of the box.

1956 Thunderbird in the museum
This leads me to my quintessential Detroit: the auto industry. My family has told me for years that I should visit the Henry Ford museum and each year I had to pass due to time constraints.  Well not this year and now I wish I had found the time sooner.  The museum is a huge building that masterfully brings visitors into the excitement of trains, planes and automobiles (and this coming from someone that looks at a car and usually just sees a car, not a piece of art). Although it's a massive building it's separated into sections to help you view what is of interest. Volunteers are spread throughout the museum to help you understand more about what you are seeing and in some cases they allow you to get right up close (I sat in a 1917 Overland and on the same seat where Rosa Parks refused to yield on the infamous bus).

Lydia driving the 1917 Overland
We spent much of the day exploring and wandering the area and we didn't even make it to the "village" where they have re-built famous buildings (nail for nail) from America's past including the home where Webster wrote his first American dictionary, and Edison created the light bulb, or where Lincoln practiced law.

At the end of our visit we each shared our favorite from the museum (we had split up during the day to focus on what we wanted to see).  It was interesting to hear how five different people had been in the same place and found so many different things to explore.

Lydia and I arriving back in Chicago
It all came full circle when I realized that my own car, which has taken me more than 3500 miles around the country on this trip, was also a Ford ('99 Escort) and had roots in this city as well. How fitting that this was the last stop on my trip before getting home.

Next stop:  Colorado over Labor Day week

Author's Note: Thank you to all of my wonderful family and friends who opened up their homes to me (and my sister) while we went on this fun journey.  I am happy to be home in Chicago now, but I am happier that I had time to spend with you all after so many years (because it was long before I left for New Zealand that I last saw many of you). To those that I haven't seen yet...my traveling is never really over...

My grandfather sent me some interesting numbers to help with the image of Detroit's population. I thought I would share them with you:
  • in 1900 Detroit had a population of 300,000.
  • in 1950 Detroit had a population of 1,000,000.
  • in 2010 Detroit has a population of 300,000.

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