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A trip through the Motor City

Parker, Colorado
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A trip through the Motor City

I was born (1941) and raised (1941 through 1966 when I went into the Army) in Flint, Michigan. My father worked for Buick. When I graduated from Ferris in 1964 I worked at Chevrolet Saginaw Transmission. My wife and I are coming to Michigan for a circle drive from Chicago to Big Rapids to Travers City, Mackinaw Island, Oscoda and down into Frankenmuth. We are not staying in Flint, but we will come down from Frankenmuth for a drive through old places of memory, Coney dogs at Angelo's, more driving through old haunts and finally a deluxe with olives at Bill Thomas' Halo Burger, formerly Kewpie's.

I am not an expert on Detroit, but have been to town often (nearly 50 years ago), Hudson's for everyone's first ride on an escalator, Hamtramck, Bloomfield Hills, Greenfield Village (for a look at the history of Ford), Dearborn, the GM Proving Grounds, through the tunnel for good buys on scotch, to various friends here and there, Gross Point and the GM buildings.

I want to drive through Detroit for a personal view of the reality distinguishable from the perspective of national news for the last 30 years. My memory is driving to the Dort Highway and turning South. Then the Dixie Highway down past Heron Lake and Dixie and Deer Lakes, through Pontiac onto Woodward Avenue. Woodward took me through Bloomfield Hills (and past Jimmy Hoffa's point of no return) and down to the beginning of the wide broad mile markers, 12 mile, 11 Mile, Ferndale, Highland Park and Hamtramck (Basketball that light up Ferris State for several years) and then Downtown.

Where do I go to see the reality of a great city gone bad, a great city preparing for an invasion by the accountants of Lansing who always know best. Where do I go to see the bad, the ugly and the good that must be there somewhere. I will be coming down the route just remembered above and then turning West at some point to head back to Chicago for a return flight to Denver and Parker where I now enjoy the beautiful mountains of Colorado backlit by wonderful sunsets.

I would be grateful for streets and routs that will show me what Detroit and environs is really like today.

Oh, ....and one more thing. Where can I get a great Coney Island in the Motor City?

Thank you all.

Richard Cook

Parker, Colorado

St. Clair Shores, MI
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1. Re: A trip through the Motor City

Lafayette, or American Coney Island for a dog fix.

A bit out of the way from your drive down Woodward, but you could enjoy a nice view of Lake St Clair by driving Lake Shore Drive (Jefferson Ave) through the Grosse Pointes.

Detroit, MI
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2. Re: A trip through the Motor City

Upfront warning - my route below will take you through some rough neighborhoods. I would stick to daylight hours and always be aware of your surroundings. Don't wander into abandoned buildings.

Woodward is a good choice if you want to see the contrast of the good and bad in Detroit. Your old time route is going to be very slow and take you through a lot of non exciting strip malls and suburban sprawl. If time is an issue, I would take I-75 to Big Beaver (16 mile) and head west to Woodward. This will bring you to Birmingham (upscale trendy suburb). Head south through Royal Oak and Ferndale (also now trendy suburbs).

At Eight Mile you will hit Detroit and the now abandoned State Fair Grounds. The Palmer Woods historic district is north of 7 Mile on the west side of Woodward.

At Davison I would consider detouring east to Hamtramck. Take Davison east to Joseph Campeau and turn south. Stop at the Polish Village Cafe or Polonia (both on Yemens) if you are hungry.

From there I would probably take Holbrook back west to Woodward to continue South. You will come to the vibrant area starting at the New Center area at Grand Boulevard. Continuing south you will come to Wayne State University and the Cultural Center. Next is the Midtown (Cass Corridor), which is much improved over 20 years ago.

If it is a Saturday morning, I would detour east again at Mack and tour Eastern Market. Back on Woodward, keep heading south. You will have a short stretch of abandonment again, but this area is probably going to be the site of the new Red Wings (hopefully Pistons too) arena. You will see the Motor City Casino to the west, but save a detour their until the Corktown tour.

Crossing I-75 you will hit Foxtown and the Stadium district which is basically the start of "downtown". Take some time to wander the entire area bounded by I-75, I-375, The Lodge (M-10) and the river. Explore Greektown, Bricktown, etc. Walk the riverfront if it is a nice day. Get a coney at Lafayette Coney Island.

After the downtown tour, if you still have plenty of time, I would take Jefferson east along the river through the Grosse Pointes. This will show you where the richest live Stop and drive around Belle Isle on the way. At 11 mile, head west to Gratiot and take that back to downtown - showing much of the poorest and a lot of desolation.

From Downtown again, take Michigan Avenue west. Explore Corktown which is staring to come back and become a trendy neighborhood. Stop at Nemo's (Michigan and 8th) for a great burger. The site of Tiger Stadium is at Michigan and Trumbull, but all that is left is the center field flagpole and a volunteer maintained diamond. Slows BBQ, the Irish American Club and Mercury bar are all a couple blocks farther west.

Continuing West on Michigan Avenue will take through more urban blight, the to Dearborn (Ford HQ, Greenfield Village, etc.). You can then pick up I-94 back to Chicago, or just take Michigan Ave (US-12) the entire way if you have time.

Other than abandoned buildings, you are not likely to see much of the government financial meltdown as a short term visitor unless you need to wait on a police/EMS call for 20 minutes. Most of that pain is felt by the residents who are suffering with pitiful city services and dysfunctional elected officials.

Parker, Colorado
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3. Re: A trip through the Motor City

Thanks, JimmyK64

Last night while reading in bed, at about midnight, I got up to make some notes to my travel folder and while at the computer, did a search for "Best Coney Islands." Up popped John Gonzo of Michigan Live and his investigation of the 10 Best Michigan Coney Dogs. Fortunately, Angelo's just made the list at #10, but at the top of the list were both American and Lafayette. I am glad to see both you and tev9999 agree. Both being side by side will be my Coney stop while driving through Detroit.

I also like the lake shore drive branch, something done long ago and that should be added to my trip.

Regards, Richard

Parker, Colorado
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4. Re: A trip through the Motor City

And thank you tev for the very detailed and through itinerary. The drive will tell, but at this time I can't imagine taking a different route from the one you suggest. I have already planned to overnight in Ann Arbor so I don't have to rush to much on the Chicago leg of the trip. American and Lafayette have both been added to my Coney Island fix list.

Regards,

Richard

St. Clair Shores, MI
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5. Re: A trip through the Motor City

Richard, tev's suggestion that you loop to Gratiot and take it downtown is a good one because it allows you to pick up one of the most significant and startling art installations in North America. Awesome photo ops.

Tyree Guyton started this project almost on a whim and it continues to evolve. Here's a link:

http://www.heidelberg.org/

Word of caution, don't exit your car anywhere in this neighborhood unless there are hundreds of feet on the ground to melt into.

Edited: 03 March 2013, 22:17
Parker, Colorado
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6. Re: A trip through the Motor City

jimmyk64

Sounds like a wonderful idea.

Is it at least worthy of a drive by?

Richard

St. Clair Shores, MI
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7. Re: A trip through the Motor City

Yes.

Livonia, MI
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8. Re: A trip through the Motor City

If you are here when the weather is nice you can get out of your car on Heidelberg. There will be a lot of people roaming around looking at the display. I’ve never had an issue. The artist is in Switzerland at the moment but he is often seen on the street in the summer as well as some other artists that participate. Otherwise go with what Jimmy says and stay in the car and just do a drive down the street. I can guarantee you have never seen anything like it. I used to work a few blocks away and have some “interesting” stories of the area.

Bay City, Michigan
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9. Re: A trip through the Motor City

Wonderful information from all of you. I am going to save this post and try it out at some later date, in warm weather-;). Thanks for the great details of the drive, Tev.

10. Re: A trip through the Motor City

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