What up, doe!
A barbecue hosted by one of my travel communities provided me with an opportunity to visit the city of Detroit for the first time. I struck up a conversation with a Detroit native in the New Orleans airport on the way to Detroit, and he grew excited when I told him I was headed to his hometown. He spoke on the “new Detroit” I would be witnessing – a Detroit vastly different from the one that hit rock bottom five years ago with a bankruptcy. The economic resurgence made it a great time to travel to the D, and he was thrilled for me.
There was a meet and greet at the host hotel when I arrived, but I was in no mood to attend. Instead I relaxed in my room before taking public transportation to dinner. The People Mover station felt very sketchy to me because it wasn’t brightly lit, and there were no security officers around. Actually, I was the only person at the station until the train arrived. After that experience, I decided to Uber everywhere at night, and walk as much I could during the day. The locals I met shared my sentiments. They reiterated that although Detroit was improving, it had a long way to go and I shouldn’t let my guard down.
I had dinner at Savannah Blue with a few local members of the travel community and a group of ladies from Charlotte and Philadelphia. Savannah Blue is a black-owned restaurant in Downtown Detroit that had a friendly atmosphere and jazzy vibes. I ordered the crab cakes, but everyone’s food looked great as well. There was not one single complaint. We chatted about all things travel while eating a good meal.
It was great to hear the locals perspectives about the way things had been changing in Detroit. While one was unimpressed by Dan Gilbert’s efforts to revitalize the city, another was thankful for the opportunities and grants made available for small business owners via Demo Day. They shared the importance of having the Detroit Pistons back in the city, when it had been in out in the suburbs since the late 1970s. It was great for the Detroit natives who didn’t have access to the games.
Next, we all headed downtown. The Detroit Tigers hosted a baseball game everyday that weekend, so the downtown crowd was a bit hectic. We arrived at a rooftop party at 3Fifty Terrace as the baseball game ended and the fireworks burst in celebration. It was a beautiful way to start the night, and weather felt perfect.
The weather was to die for! I would never want to be in the D during the winter months, but the summer was gorgeous! The low was 60 and the high was 80. The humidity was low, and there was a breeze to be caught. No rain and only a few clouds. I don’t think I could have asked for a better weekend weather wise. I’m a Louisiana girl, so I oftentimes forget there can be summers that aren’t miserably hot.
Saturday morning started early with a Historic Tour of Detroit with Ken Coleman. Mr. Coleman is a historian and journalist based in Detroit. He led a group of us on a fantastic tour to points of interest like Phelps Lounge, Bell Broadcasting Building, Lewis College of Business, and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. My favorite stop was at the Detroit Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. The story was Dr. Rosa Gragg wanted to purchase the club house on a corner lot of Ferry and Brush St., but Detroit prevented black people from purchasing homes on Ferry St. Filled with wit, Dr. Gragg bricked in the door of the Ferry St. home, and added a door on the other side of the home on Brush St. Since the address was now Brush St., she was able to purchase the club house.
Detroit has been filled with “slum tourism,” which I try not to participate in, but the blight of Detroit was inevitable. We made a few stops and Mr. Coleman pointed out a few neighborhoods that were currently in dismay. The interesting thing about Detroit and it’s abandoned buildings is that most of them are made of strong brick foundations. Homes were still selling for less than $10,000, but one had to consider the cost of heating such large homes because those Detroit winters were brutal.
Mr. Colemen pointed out lots of urban gardening areas in some neighborhoods in the city. Outside of the city center, Detroit seemed to be a food desert. Mr. Coleman confirmed several neighborhoods in Detroit lacked grocery stores.
Once the tour was over, we proceeded to Belle Isle Park for the barbecue. Belle Isle is a huge and gorgeous island between Michigan and Ontario, and I wish I would have set aside more time to explore it. In addition to our barbecue, there were a couple of weddings and family reunions occurring.
At the barbecue our travel community was hosting a non-profit fundraiser for Wendell Brown, a former CFL player and native Detroiter. Brown taught football in China, and was handed a four-year prison sentence after he defended someone in an altercation with a drunken man. Recently a new judge was assigned the case, and this new judge may allow him to settle the case and be released.
I left the barbecue early to head the Motown Museum. It was lackluster experience, I must say. Last year they announced an expansion, but there was no word on when this was supposed to break ground. The hourlong tour began with a film presentation that lasted nearly 20 minutes. Another 20 minutes was spent on one floor viewing a small number of artifacts. Then we walked down to the studio, and sang a rendition of “My Girl” as a group before the tour ended. I wouldn’t say it was worth the ticket price. The best part of it was in front of the house, and there is no cost to take photos on the front lawn.
While the official group was having a pub crawl around the city later in the night. I decided to go with a group to Flood’s Bar and Grille for dinner and live music. Flood’s is another black-owned restaurant in Downtown Detroit, and I am still thinking about those lamb chops that had me singing praises to God and those drinks that had me leaning to the side. It was a great night with great people and great food.
I’m an awkward introvert, and I had been more social than I felt like being that weekend. I wanted to spend my Sunday alone. The group originally planned to have brunch at the Cadillac Square Beer Garden, so I decided I’d go by myself to brunch at The Block, another black-owned restaurant. At the last minute, the group decided to have brunch at The Block as well. I was adamant about eating alone, so I went to brunch at Dime Store. I sat at the bar and had an awesome bartender who seemed like he was born for that profession.
So I received some great news the day before I left for Detroit. As a celebratory gift to myself, I headed to Shinola’s flagship store here in Detroit and purchased my very first Shinola watch. Shinola is an American made watch, and they are working to make more and more of their products specifically made in Detroit. I’d been eyeing Shinola watches for four years, hoping someone would gift me one. No one ever did and I never felt the urge to buy one until then. I was able to use the Willard Program to create a custom timepiece, and I’m happy with my first purchase.
When that was over, it was time to head to the airport. Although it was only a weekend trip, Detroit left its mark on me. The city is transforming, but it certainly has a long way to go. I look forward to visiting again.
Detroit felt very southern to me. People spoke as they passed me on the street. They have collard greens on the menu. I must say I didn’t have a bad meal in Detroit. I knew Detroit was a major city for the Great Migration, the journey of southern blacks to northern cities for a better life. What I didn’t know is Detroit held so much of southern life still. Other cities such as Chicago and LA were also a part of the Great Migration, but they didn’t hold on to those southern roots.