This year, we decided that our summer road trip would be to the city of Detroit. Our plan was to drive across Pennsylvania, then across northern Ohio and then make our way up to Detroit, where we would have several days to explore. And should you be wondering, why Detroit? The simple answer is that we were intrigued at the possibility of checking out a storied American city that may appear to be well past its past glory days. But I was also motivated by the rich history, including an amazing musical and arts history, of this place. And on that note, the mix CDs we made for this trip included lots of Motown and blues classics, as well as a bit of techno, gospel and lots of Stooges, MC5, White Stripes, Bob Seger, and Mitch Ryder, among others. I’ll thus post here about the destination part of this trip and later Jolie will be posting about some of our adventures on the way there and back.
So, in a sense, here is a group that was a catalyst for taking a trip to the Motor City. Their music inspires me, and the story that they represent, that is, of the merging of both black and white working class communities around art, music and social change is something that I wanted to learn more about.
So, with a real sense of openness to the multiple possibilities of what we might find, we arrived midweek, stopping first in Ann Arbor before arriving later that night at our airport (which was on the outskirts of the Detroit Metro Airport). Ann Arbor is of course the home of the University of Michigan main campus, and as we drove through its neighborhoods, it seemed pretty studenty. We drove past what appeared to be the UM Medical School.
We found our way to the main downtown, parking next to a terminal that was set up for a farmers’ market, which was more or less shutting down for the day when we arrived. Also nearby was a marketplace (Kerrytown Market and Shops) which was inside of a refurbished old brick building.
Our plan was to basically walk around and to see what was there, and then to find a place to eat before heading to our hotel to check in. Toward this end, we totally lucked out, as we encountered a really cool, crowded street fair and then found a fantastic eatery.
First some images from the street fair.
We walked around this and checked out the various stands and items for sale for about an hour. The vibe was friendly and engaging, and we also wound up chatting a bit with a few of the political tables there – the entire political spectrum was being represented there.
Then, deciding on a restaurant, we both agreed that we were in the mood for something different, that is, for a cuisine that we may not have ever experienced before. And Ann Arbor being a university town, we were pretty sure that we could find something unique. It didn’t take long to find a place that specialized in Ethiopian cuisine. It looked interesting, so in we went.
After a slight bit of confusion about the menu (all items come on a large serving platter accompanied by a healthy amount of soft, pancake-like bread, which substitutes for utensils, and which is essentially either with or without meat and a few additional side dishes) we ordered our feast – it arrived, and it was amazing!
Each of these items had such a great texture and taste, and using the bread as a utensil was fun, but very filling after a while. Periodically, the server would come over and inquire as to whether we would like any additions of any particular items. We ordered a few additional bits, but really filled up and wound up with take out trays. Anyway, this is what eating this lovely food looks like.
So full after this!
Nonetheless, after a bit more walking, we still managed to find room in our digestive systems for a bit of ice cream.
So, the verdict on Ann Arbor – a fun place, with a lot going on! We looked forward to a return trip to check it out some more. Oh, and one other anecdote; as we returned to our car, there was a group of mostly men and they were doing a kind of drill march/step dance routine, right there next to the parking lot.
Finally, though, after a long day of travel, we very much looked forward to checking in to the hotel and climbing into this.
It looks comfy, right? It was, and it was good to sleep and to rest up for the next day, our first in Detroit.
The next morning, it was a bit drizzly out, and we decided that our first destination would be the Detroit Institute of Arts.
One of the things that we had wanted to see was the special exhibit there of photos taken by Patti Smith, known mainly for her music and her poetry. But the entire museum and its contents sounded very worthwhile, and were.
We also grabbed a bit of breakfast here, in their cafe.
Then, we checked out the Patti Smith photo exhibit.
Photography – while allowed in much of the museum – was not allowed in this particular gallery. The photos here, simple black and white images taken by Patti Smith using a fairly simple Polaroid camera, were mainly of persons or of singular iconic objects, and I found the whole presentation deeply moving and inspiring. In fact, I recently ordered the book Camera Solo and have been enjoying looking at it on a fairly regular basis since it arrived in our mailbox.
Some more images from the DIA:
A nice little lounge area:
The museum also had a special exhibit of prints and drawings by the artists Matisse and Picasso, and it was wonderful. It was very happy given that Picasso has long been one of my favorite artists. Here is Jolie with a bit of cubist signage.
Finally, after a few very enjoyable hours here, it was time to head out. The rain had stopped when we went back outside, though it was still a bit overcast.
Our next stop – Dearborn, MI and the Henry Ford Museum. This was Ford territory, for sure.
First, a stop for lunch, at the landmark Buddy’s Pizza.
While this was not the original Detroit location, it was carrying on a tradition from the past. The place was homey and friendly and the pizza was excellent. We enjoyed it a lot. The wait staff was also really impressed that we had chosen to come to Detroit for a visit (we got that reaction a lot during the visit), and they encouraged me to walk around and check out the various sports and historical artwork and memorabilia, which I gladly did.
As far as the pizza? It was truly delicious!
After lunch, we found a used record/CD shop called Dearborn Music.
I can easily spend hours in places like these; but, given that we still had a full list of places to check out, our time in here was brief.
Our next stop: The Henry Ford Museum
The Ford Museum wound up being so much more and better than I imagined it would be. I was expecting a museum simply about cars, and it was this. But it was so much more. It was about the manufacturing of modernity and of a consumer society. This certainly appealed, deeply, to my sociological side. We spent hours here and took a ton of photos. Here are a few images from the Ford Museum.
Reagan’s Presidential limo (one of many there)
miscellaneous road signs
And along with this Holiday Inn sign, there was a replica of a motel room, exactly as one might have encountered it while on the road in the 1950s 0r 6os.
Lots of infrastructure on display here, including this recreation of an old toll booth
Also, this replica of an old gas station – it reminded me of the old station in New Jersey where my dad and uncle both worked.
There were also large trains in the museum,
as well as some historically significant airplanes, such as this used for Admiral Byrd’s arctic explorations.
Among my favorite displays here were those showing the evolution of the typical, middle class American kitchen.
So, these were some of the highlights. Of course, while certain things about this history – such as Henry Ford’s very conservative and nationalistic philosophy, his assembly line procedures, and the politics of labor vs. management struggles were pretty conspicuously absent, the museum’s many artifacts were truly fascinating. The visit here was thus very worthwhile.
Our next stop? Back to downtown Detroit to check out Comerica Park, where the Detroit Tigers play, and to see the surrounding neighborhood.
A view, approaching this, of the downtown skyline.
And then, some shots of the stadium and surrounding spots.
And of course, various Ty Cobb references to be found here.
At one point, I was standing in front of the stadium, having my picture taken, when one of the employees approached us. He was very friendly. I thought that maybe he was going to chase us away or perhaps he might let us in and onto the field. Instead, he offered us some beautiful images from his cell phone camera; unfortunately, we didn’t have our cell phone with us, so we couldn’t receive his offer. But it was very nice of him.
A short walk from Comerica Park was the landmark Fox Theater, so we went over to take a look. we only saw it from the outside, as it was closed during this visit.
The Fox is truly a Detroit landmark. It was opened way back in 1928 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989. As one can see here, it is still very much used for performance events, just as it was when the various Motown acts performed there in the 1960s. And as with the theaters in Times Square in NYC, the Fox apparently survived Detroit’s economic decline in the 1970s by programming its share of kung fu and blaxploitation films – it would probably be a blast to travel back to that era for a showing of Cleopatra Jones or Enter the Dragon at the Fox. That said, it is very good to see it going strong now.
a few more images from Downtown:
Then, as night began approaching, we wound up in a neighborhood known as Corktown.
Our intent here was to grab dinner at a place which is highly acclaimed by locals – Slows Bar-B-Q.
Unfortunately, they were pretty full and we were told that it would likely be a 2-3 hour wait for a table. The place wasn’t very big, and there was music playing, as well as all the chairs, even the bar chairs, filled. There were even some guys sitting outside who seemed to have gotten some food to go. So, while the food there looked very good, we opted to look elsewhere. Fortunately, we were able to find another barbecue place; that was what we were in the mood for. We actually went back close to the Downtown location where we earlier were and ate at R.U.B. BBQ Pub, and it was just fine.
Here I am enjoying a nice cold IPA with which to wash down my ribs.
After such a long, busy day, we were glad to get back to the hotel.
The next day’s main plan – visiting the Motown Museum.
But before describing the Museum, I should preface by saying that both of us love Motown and grew up on the artists associated with it: Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, the Four Tops, Temptations, Martha and the Vandellas, Supremes, Jackson Five, etc. Their music is so much a part of the life of everyone who grew up in the postwar era. In anticipating going to the Motown Museum, which is of course the site where Berry Gordy lived, worked and recorded all of these great artists, we knew that we would be touching very hallowed ground. So we were really excited about it.
First though, a few random images from our morning of driving back into the neighborhoods of Detroit, including some random and fantastic encounters with some fairly abstract street art, as well as signs of a Latin presence in Detroit.
and, tragically, various signs of obvious urban blight and neglect. Truly, the collapsed housing market has hit Detroit and other cities like it especially hard.
As the Greek philosopher Plato once wrote, “Any city, however small, is in fact divided into two, one the city of the poor, the other of the rich; these are at war with one another.” Be that as it may, seeing scenes such as these was a grim reminder of the growing class divide. I mention this and show these images because they are raw and they are real, and they are an undeniable aspect of a visit to a city like Detroit; but I’d chose a vacation trip to a Detroit or any other place that is real over an “escapist” Club Med style or Disneyesque vacation, any day.
Okay, enough editorializing. And onto the Motown Museum.
While photos were not allowed on the inside, I managed to get this shot of us in the hallway, which conveys just how happy we were to be there on this hallowed ground.
We were joined, on the tour, with various other tourists, including a very large number of members of a large, extended, very nice African-American family members who were there as part of a family reunion celebration (though two of their members, apparently unhappy that they couldn’t all tour with only family members, opted to wait outside). As far as the tour, it was great. We watched a short film about Motown and it was filled with much that was familiar. But when we were led upstairs to a central hallway, the tour really came to life. We had the most engaging tour guide you could ever possibly ask for. The Museum was filled with a variety of Motown artifacts. And while we were told a lot about Berry Gordy and his family, not much was said about the residential part of the house, even though we walked past open doors looking into rooms that remained looking as if it were still 1964 and the home of a young entrepreneurial family. Finally, we were led down into the basement recording studio, which still had an old mixing board, various old office supplies (including a candy vending machine; we were told not to use it but were also given an anecdote about which candy selection was preferred by a young Stevie Wonder. And in seeing where the house band (Funk Brothers) and singers set up to record, namely in a refurbished garage, you couldn’t help but be awed at how small and intimate a setting it must have been, and thus at how much it lent itself to the high quality of the music. You also cannot help but to think about how much more cold and processed so much commercial music is today, by contrast. I am grateful to have had this music of my childhood in my life and am thrilled knowing I got to see where it was made.
After the tour, we sort of lingered for a bit outside the Motown buildings.
As you probably noticed, this last shot shows the image of the late, great Marvin Gaye, whose presence was very much felt on this tour and in this house. Jolie and I have both long loved his music; here is a fine example of him performing it.
Following the tour, our lunch was at a local greasy spoon for something as basic and hearty as chili dogs. These hit the spot, for sure.
And after this, we went to the site of another Detroit music shrine, namely, the Grande Ballroom. The Grande, which is now closed, is little more than a shell. But once upon a time in the later 1960s and into the 1970s, it was the premiere rock palace in Detroit. It is, for example, where the MC5 recorded their first album, Kick Out the Jams, back in the Fall of 1968. Just the day before, I had seen Fred Sonic Smith’s electric guitar, which was part of the photo exhibit as part of wife, Patti Smith’s, artwork. And here I was, at the place where the legends of Detroit rock, such as the MC5 and Stooges made their mark.
It was sad seeing such a historically significant place in such disrepair. One can only hope that someone – Iggy Pop, perhaps? – may eventually buy it and fix it up and perhaps even restore it to its past use.
As an aside, here is a video of the MC5 playing their anthem – lots of blue collar Detroit energy in this performance.
Finally, before heading back to our hotel to chill for a while, we wanted to check out one of Detroit’s historic districts, and went to the one near Wayne State University (which was also close to where we were the day before when we went to the art museum). We got to thus see some very magnificent works of architecture which have been well-preserved to the present day.
Oh, and speaking of Iggy, after a brief rest at the hotel, we wound up driving through his childhood hometown, Ypsilanti, MI.
I had been expecting, for some reason, that Ypsilanti would be run down, but it was actually pleasant and seemed lively. one description I had read of it had compared it to Brooklyn, NY, i.e., artsy, filled with twentysomethings,and revitalized. That may have been the case; we only drove through it, but didn’t get a chance to get out and walk around to see it.
Anyway, having enjoyed Ann Arbor so much the night before, dinner was at Palm Palace, as we were decided on wanting some Middle Eastern food. This was a good call; we had a great time here, enjoying meals of Moroccan chicken and marinated beef.
Once again, we left a restaurant with leftovers.
We then drove back to the Farmers Market parking location, as we remembered the location. This being the start of a weekend, Ann Arbor now seemed a lot busier. As we walked around, we realized how pleasant and attractive looking Ann Arbor is; here are a variety of images.
As we were walking, two students approached us; they were friendly. One of them asked if we would like to have a painting that he had made.
He may have been joking around in approaching us on this, but we accepted it and thanked him for it. I’ve had this in my car for the past two months; I actually do sort of like this.
Being that we had a full day of travel the next day, we decided to make an early night of it and to return to the hotel to try to get a good night’s sleep.
The next morning, after checking out, we headed to our final Detroit destination: an experimental arts site known as the Heidelberg Project.
The Heidelberg Project is essentially a large scale, neighborhood based art project which entails using paints, various materials, and reclaimed objects so as to turn an entire neighborhood (the McDougall-Hunt neighborhood on the city’s east side) into a type of art canvas. It was initiated in 1986 by artist Tyree Guyton. When we were there, we met one of the other artists as well as volunteers, residents and tourists (one from as far away as France). Many of the images has a kind of quasi-religious folk art quality to them. Many also had a political message. The experience was a unique one, for sure, and helped us to conceptualize art in a whole new way.
Here are some images from this visit.
Finally, as we were leaving, we met one of the residents, who genuinely welcomed us into her neighborhood and who invited us up on to her porch, I asked her if I could take her photo, and she smiled for me.
So, thanks Detroit for a memorable and inspiring visit. One day we’ll be back!