I like Detroit. (Yeah, I'm shocked too.) As a native New Yorker I
have my prejudices against working class industrial midwestern towns.
But spending a week in Detroit for a trade show gave me a chance to
appreciate some of the city's virtues. Which include some awfully
nice people, some terrific restaurants and some beautifully restored
buildings. And after a visit to Atlanta
a few weeks earlier it was nice to see a place that would rather
celebrate its architecture than run a bulldozer over it.
Downtown is full of small ethnic neighborhoods. My hotel was in
Greektown, home to a lot of bars, restaurants and bakeries. Not all
of them are Greek; there's everything from pizza to Ethiopian food
within a couple of blocks. There's also a small shopping mall that
looks like it was carved out of a former warehouse. The effect is
nice with all that old brick; imagine the effect with a few more
businesses and a few more people.
Your tax dollars at work: the Detroit People Mover. Built with a lot
of Federal transportation funds, the People Mover is a modern elevated
railroad that runs from downtown Detroit all the way to downtown
Detroit. The plan was to run a line to the airport and then on to Ann
Arbor, but the incredible expense of the thing forced them to scale
back. So what we have is a single line in one direction that does a
loop of downtown in about fifteen minutes. The People Mover is great
if you're staying in one of the hotels within range of a station,
since Cobo Hall is one of the stops. (In fact, the tracks run right
through the convention center.) But for the vast majority of
Detroit's populace this is an example of government waste at its
Twenty miles or so west of downtown is the suburb of Dearborn,
headquarters to Ford Motor Company and home to the Henry Ford Museum.
As you might expect, the museum is home to an impressive collection of
cars and other modes of transportation. What you might not expect (at
least I didn't) is that it also chronicles other aspects of American
manufacturing, from industrial power plants to housewares and
On the left is Chrysler's abortive attempt to develop a turbine-driven car during the 1960s. In theory the turbine is simpler and more reliable; in practice it wasn't a different story. (Which didn't stop Chrysler from offering a turbine-driven design for the XM-1 tank just a few years ago, despite problems with dust that required regular filter replacements during combat. Oh, these wacky military contractors!) I remember the turbine car for two reasons: first because it was part of Chrysler's exhibit at the New York World's Fair (including a chance to win a model of the car); and second because it figured heavily in the plot of a faux-Elvis racing movie of the time called The Lively Set starring James Darrin and Pamela Tiffen. Whatever became of them?
Speaking of movies, here's a particularly good
souvenir: the Spirit of
St. Louis that James Stewart flew to Paris in the movie of the same
name. I remember doing a doubletake the first time I saw it here.
Surely the original is in the Air & Space Museum at the
Smithsonian! The museum doesn't seem to mind the confusion, having
placed Lindbergh's real motorcycle right next to his movie aircraft.
I enjoyed the nonautomotive exhibits almost as much as the cars. Like
the collection of primitive office equipment, with printing presses,
mimeograph machines, mechanical calculators and this early word
processor. At least I think that's what it is. The keyboard
is certainly familiar, although the lack of a display leaves me
confused. The device on the right brings me back to my childhood. My
father worked in New York's garment center and always had an
industrial-quality sewing machine in the basement. They were big,
black, solid and heavy like this one. No microprocessor-driven toy
for my dad! (Well, not in those days. Now he has a modern Singer
with more processing power than my first computer. We all get dragged
into the twentieth eventually, some of us more willingly than others.)
Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California