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Fast, Cars

August 15, 2016

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What an odd day Sunday turned out to be.

We knew long in advance it was not going to be an ordinary day because Sunday was Tisha B’Av, a Jewish day of mourning that is observed through the performance of many rituals, the most well-known of which is a full-day fast.

Before the day even started, though, we ran into all sorts of trouble. At about midnight Saturday night I realized that the air conditioning in our hotel room was no longer working. With no maintenance staff available so late at night, the hotel moved us to a different room. We got settled in the new room just before 1 a.m., only to realize that the new room had one king bed instead of two doubles. Sam fell asleep pretty quickly, but it took me hours, and when I finally fell asleep Sam woke me repeatedly by sleeping restlessly, flailing arms and legs into me repeatedly. At one point he actually punched me in the neck.

When we checked out the hotel apologized again and didn’t charge us at all for the night, but the damage was done.

We had planned a pretty ambitious Detroit itinerary, but we were both fasting and I was working on just a few hours of sleep. Needless to say we didn’t get to everything on our list.

Detroit is known for two things: the auto industry, and urban blight. Of the two, we decided to start with cars. Ford factory tours leave from the massive Henry Ford Museum in nearby Dearborn, Michigan, but not on Sundays. So instead we simply explored the museum, which is fantastic. We almost left it off our list, but once we got there we both quickly saw the error of our thinking. If you are ever in the Detroit area, do not miss this museum.

The museum is home to dozens of cars, of course, among many fascinating other exhibits. But the most impressive and interesting are not Fords. We headed straight to the exhibit of Presidential motorcade cars. The most modern of them is Reagan’s Presidential limo, but the real draw is JFK’s convertible–yes, the one he was riding in Dallas when he was shot.

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Without necessarily setting out to, we have now been to the spot where he was assassinated, to the book depository where the shots were fired, and to the grassy knoll where other shots were or weren’t fired, and we’ve seen the car he was riding in and walked through the Air Force One plane that brought his body back to Washington.

Other Presidential cars in the museum were Eisenhower’s freaky bubbletop limo that let the crowds see him without touching …

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FDR’s ultra-stylish convertible limo …

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and Teddy Roosevelt’s horse-drawn Brougham carriage.

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There were plenty of other extraordinary cars of all ages, manufacturers, and styles, but the one we got excited for was the 1952 Oscar Mayer Weinermobile.

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There was actually a whole display about the Weinermobile in addition to the car, showing various vintage memorabilia and even an opportunity to turn yourself into a hot dog, which Sam did enthusiastically.

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It was about this time when we went to the museum’s huge movie theater to see a 3D movie about one of our favorite road-trip-related subjects, the National Parks. The theater was absolutely freezing and most people in it were munching fragrant popcorn that they bought at the concession stand, but we still enjoyed the movie, especially when it showed cool footage of parks we’ve been to and we could reminisce about seeing the things in person that the rest of the audience was seeing for the first time on screen.

The real highlight came as we were leaving, and we walked past a kid who was maybe 8 or 10 years old saying, “Dad, we gotta travel! We should go on a road trip and see some National Parks!” Sam and I exchanged a knowing look and smiled.

We could have spent all day in the museum, but we had other places to be, so we focused on only a few more things. Of the many interactive exhibits, we chose the one where you can design, build, and test your own paper airplanes.

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We rushed through the exhibit about freedom in America, but stopped to spend a couple of minutes in the actual bus Rosa Parks was riding when she got arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man.

 

We each took a turn sitting in the exact seat she refused to give up.

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This was especially meaningful after having learned all about Parks and her protest when we visited the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery on road trip #2 (hence Sam’s solemn face in the photo).

We then breezed through the exhibit on historic furniture, but I lingered over two pieces that had special meaning to me: the former writing desks of Edgar Allen Poe and Mark Twain.

 

Having seen the cars, it was now time to see the urban blight. We chose to do this by viewing the Heidelberg Project, a 30-year-old art project that has turned a particularly dilapidated city block (Heidelberg Street) in a particularly poor neighborhood into an outdoor art project. The exteriors of a few abandoned houses on the block have been decorated, and the trees, sidewalks, and empty lots on the block have been largely covered with various pieces of strange artwork.

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You may have noticed some odd-looking clocks here and there in the photos. That barely scratches the surface, as clocks are clearly an important motif and were thus everywhere.

 

There are a few houses on the block that are occupied by ordinary residents and are thus not part of the project. One resident has chosen to capitalize on the attention, turning her house into a money-making work of art. She sits on her porch selling cold drinks and encouraging passersby to pay a dollar for the privilege of writing their names on her house, which she calls a living guestbook. I did, of course.

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Gotta get that plug in anywhere I can!

 

 

Other neighbors are not so pleased with the additional foot traffic and prying tourists.

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One guy, named Tim Burke, is a little of both, as he is an artist himself who loudly declares that his property is not part of the Heidelberg Project but has turned it into a similar work of public art.

 

Sam, having heard about how dangerous Detroit can be, was a bit unnerved by being in such a rundown neighborhood and insisted on staying inside the car while I got out to inspect the art a bit more closely. It’s too bad, because he missed seeing some interesting stuff, as well as the great conversations I had with the Yellow House lady and with the competing artist.

Next up was a more traditional sight-seeing destination: the Motown Museum, located at the site of Berry Gordy’s original house / Motown Records recording studio.

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They don’t allow photos inside, so I can’t show you any of the cool stuff like the original furniture, the original vending machine where Baby Ruth bars were always in the same slot so that Little Stevie Wonder could always find his favorite candy bar when he came in for a recording session. The coolest part of the tour was the end, when we went down into Studio A, the original (and untouched) recording studio where every one of Motown’s hits were recorded. Our enthusiastic tour guide, Shantelle, told us about how the only thing that’s changed in the room is the innards of the 1877 Steinway piano, because, when Paul McCartney came for a visit several years ago, he tried to play it but it didn’t work. So he paid to ship it to Steinway in New York and had them refurbish the inside while leaving the outside alone, which took two years and $100,000, but the piano is now back home and in perfect working order. We weren’t allowed to touch it, but we did all join together to sing the Temptations’ hit “My Girl” in the very studio where it was first recorded. We even did the Temptations’ famous shovel walk as we sang, and the other people on the tour wre very impressed that Sam knew all the words.

We had a few more stops planned, but at this point it was almost 5 p.m. and the fast was starting to hit us pretty hard. We had a long drive ahead of us, so we decided to skip the rest of Detroit and hit the road.

There’s a common trivia question about Detroit: If you leave Detroit heading due south, what is the first foreign country you’ll reach? We demonstrated the answer ourselves, driving through the short tunnel into Windsor, Canada.

We are now really in the home stretch, with a few Canadian cities to visit before ending up back in our home state of New York later this week. Despite my fatigue I was able to do a lot of conversion math in my head as we figured out what the speed limits really meant and how much further we had to go. We made it most of the way to Toronto, found a motel just as it was getting dark, and finally had something to eat.

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