Michigan – The “Mitten State”, (Detroit, Part One)

I discovered in a recent trip to visit my cousin in Ferndale, a very close suburb to Detroit, that since Michigan is shaped like a mitten, the locals identify their city by throwing up their hand to show what part of the “mitten” they live in!  And also to show where they plan to go that day or suggest we visit later!  Maybe you already knew that – it was news to me!

I also did not realize that given a rough recent past, Detroit residents have a strong survivors attitude that is palpable.  They never give up.

The narrative about Detroit’s decline usually covers the landmark events of over a half-century ago – factory closings, race riots, urban renewals, segregation, crime, etc.  These events produced a catastrophic population loss.  But it doesn’t take a visitor long to recognize that though Detroit has faced a lot of hardships, they’re in rebuild mode and it’s only looking up from here.
Detroiters exude pride in feeling that their hometown is amazing!  The Lonely Planet, respected top travel company, released its rankings for “Best In Travel,” and Detroit was named one of the best cities to visit in the world in 2018!

I am on a mission to visit all 30 of the major league baseball parks. I started in 1998, and I have been close to finishing for some time, yet darn it – they keep building new ones! I had been to the old Detroit Tiger Stadium in 1998, when I initially started my quest.  So, as is my modus operandi, when a new stadium is built – It’s back on my list.  Bonus – my cousin, Leslie, lives in the Detroit area and so I more easily justified this trip since something besides baseball is involved – namely, Family!


I flew in on a Wednesday and did not want to disrupt the “every day life” of my relatives just because I happened to swing into town! However, my Cuz took Thursday off, and already had Friday, Saturday and Sunday available outside of “work” – and was motivated to carve out time for me!  I felt so special and validated!  Not to mention we had a ton of fun!


Not wanting to insinuate myself too much, I chose to stay at an awesome Airbnb for the first three nights in Ferndale (within the “Dale” district given all the streets end in “dale” – I was on Flowerdale Street).


“A visit to Ferndale, Michigan,  can mean anything from axe-throwing to fine (or funky) dining.  Just north of 8 Mile, Ferndale is a destination known for art, music and DIY culture. Its small-but-mighty downtown has earned awards as a Great American Main Street for a reason. Ferndale offers independent shops, support for local makers, and has a diverse and vibrant food scene. Located at Woodward Avenue and 9 Mile Road it is easily accessible across the metro Detroit region, too.” (visitdetroit.com)  Ferndale is very progressive and honestly reminded me very much of my beloved Kirkland, Washington –  being so walkable to everything one needs to enjoy a varied and vibrant life!  We too have received a similar “Great Streets” award,  issued by the American Planning Association in 2017.  Old and new architecture, towering trees and mature landscapes and boy were the chipmunks and three different varieties of squirrels everywhere enjoying and packing away the abundance of fallen acorns!


Some other fun facts I learned in my most enjoyable week spent in Ferndale and Detroit (and from the website onlyinyourstate.com):
A “Michigan Left” is basically a U-turn. The name comes from how the roads have been designed to allow for U-Turns at intersections where vehicles can’t make a left. Right after making a U-turn, drivers usually make the next right.
Detroiters love to shout the “Born and raised in South Detroit” line of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin,’” even though they know very well know there isn’t such thing as “South Detroit.”
“Most people don’t immediately think ‘art’ when they picture Detroit, but we’re proud of our city’s artistic prowess. From the DIA to the city-commissioned graffiti along the Dequindre Cut, there’s something here to impress every sort of art enthusiast. We love showing off the talents of our fellow Detroiters to out-of-town friends. Many of Detroit’s previously abandoned properties have been reinvigorated and brought to life via artistic endeavors, business investments, and more.” (onlyinyourstate.com)
In my visit I stumbled upon works that are a part of The Detroit Institute of Arts’ popular program, Inside|Out.  From the dia.org website, this program “returns for its tenth year, which brings high-quality reproductions from the DIA’s collection to outdoor venues throughout metro Detroit. The reproductions will be on view in four communities from April to July, and eight others from July to October. Each community will display approximately seven to 12 images clustered within walking or biking distance. Inside|Out is a popular component of the DIA’s community engagement efforts. Over the past 10 years, the museum has partnered with more than 100 communities and engaged tens of thousands of residents with art in places where they live, work and play.”  Such a Great idea and a treat to experience!
And, speaking of the The Dequindre Cut Greenway (well, at least a couple of paragraphs ago), what a cool railway-turned-greenway thoroughfare so perfect for biking, running, walking, and seeing downtown Detroit!  And also plenty of urban art to discover along the way!

Luckily we started our day with a hearty breakfast at the Flytrap – a “finer diner” in Ferndale with specials referred to as “the daily buzz”, to go orders “on the fly” and you can probably imagine the art – right down to several fright evoking vintage movie posters of the 1950’s scare flicks in the bathrooms! They have also been featured on the Food Network’s, “Diner’s, Drive-ins and Dives”!


I am sure one can literally spend an entire day on the Detroit International Riverfront given all of the parks, restaurants, shopping opportunities, the marina dock, and even a riverboat cruise!  My cousin and I walked nearly nine miles along this pleasant pathway and I thoroughly enjoyed gorgeous views of the City, wetlands and floral landscaping – including the added bonus of some gigantic, provocative mural art!  And you can actually see Canada beyond the Ambassador suspension Bridge across the Detroit River connecting Detroit with Windsor, Ontario.  Detroit is the only state in the contiguous 48 that can look southward into Canada. Fun fact: The bridge is the busiest single border crossing in North America!  Well, in terms of trade volume, carrying more than 25% of all merchandise trade between the United States and Canada. (Wikipedia).


We concluded our foray by popping into one of the United States’ “Landmark Skyscrapers,” the Guardian Building, built in 1927.  My eyes popped too when I beheld the interwoven Southwest Native American and Art Deco designs and styles upon walls and cathedral ceilings bejeweled with jaw dropping mosaics!  I was so happy to be surprised by this unexpected glory!  Unfortunately there were no tours available to see beyond the lobby.


So much to share that I’ve decided I’ll come back with more in a “Part 2” segment!!


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