In the span of one week, I have gone from the Caribbean Sea to the Andaman Sea with intermediate stops along the Detroit and Niagara Rivers.
After a relaxing week in Cancún (point A on map below), I flew to Detroit (B) on April 19 for a two-day visit. On April 21, I drove from Detroit to Buffalo (C) to get together with many former colleagues and to catch a Sabres game. I left Buffalo just after 11 a.m. on April 23 on a series of flights, first to Chicago (D), then to Tokyo (E), and finally to Bangkok (F) where I arrived at 11 p.m. on April 24. On the morning of the 25th, I was back at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport for a business trip to Phuket (G) where I stayed until the 27th.
Seven days and six nights aside the Caribbean with blue skies, pristine beaches, warm water, and temperatures in the mid 80s can recharge anyone. With the exception of an enjoyable two-hour visit to Museo Maya de Cancún, the recently opened archeology museum, Theresa and I primarily spent the week poolside. The museum opened last November and it traces the history of the Mesoamerican civilizations from 1000 BC to the Spanish invasion in the sixteenth century. Unfortunately, most of the exhibits have only Spanish language descriptions so it was a bit difficult to understand the significance of the artifacts that were on display.
The major decision of the day was where we would go to dinner in the evening. We dined outside each night and most evenings we saw the sun set over the Nichupte lagoon. At Savio’s restaurant, we sat on a narrow deck above the lagoon and several large (10-12 feet long) crocodiles silently came up to the shoreline while we ate. They seemed very patient and well fed, likely because they are so patient.
Last weekend, my sister joined me for a short visit to the Motor City. The highlight of our quick trip was a tour put together by a friend, a native Detroiter, and an avid bicyclist who has ridden extensively through the city’s neighborhoods. Our four-hour long excursion with him gave us not just an understanding of how Detroit has changed over the past decades but also allowed us to see some signs of revitalization. While the population in the seven county metro area — Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Livingston, St. Clair, Washtenaw, and Monroe — has held relatively flat since 1970, the population in the city has shrunk to around 700,000 residents in 2010, down more than 60% from the peak of 1.85 million in 1950.
As people have left the city, thousands and thousands of homes have been abandoned. These empty properties have become prime targets for strippers who steal recyclable copper, aluminum, iron, and brass from them; for vandals who break the windows; and for arsonists who set them on fire. While there are many neighborhoods with just a few houses standing, throughout the city an estimated 70 to 100 thousand deserted and unwanted homes still need to be demolished.
We began with a quick stop at the Avalon Bakery in the Cass Corridor. This business was founded in 1997 and has clearly become a successful and stabilizing force in the Wayne State neighborhood. After picking up a quick breakfast, we were on our way to Piquette Avenue, arguably the manufacturing hub of the early 20th century because of its proximity to the Milwaukee Junction where the Michigan Central and Grand Trunk railroads met. The railway infrastructure was vital to bring parts in and then ship completed vehicles out to the rest of the nation.
Henry Ford built his first greenfield plant on Piquette in 1904, less than a year after the company’s founding. Front the front, the plant looks quite small but a side view shows how large it was. On the third floor of the plant, Ford and his engineers designed the Model T in 1907 with production commencing in 1908. The affordable car proved so popular that Ford built a new plant in Highland Park, a city surrounded by Detroit, in 1910. This plant is where Ford perfected the moving assembly line, an innovation that cut the time to produce a vehicle from over 12 hours to just 93 minutes with a new vehicle rolling off the line every three minutes. By the time production ended in 1927, Ford Motor had produced 15 million Model Ts in plants in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Argentina, England, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, and Australia.
In 1906, Wayne Automotive built a factory next to the Ford plant and Studebaker took over this facility in 1910 after it merged with E-M-F Company, which was created in 1908 by the combination of Wayne and Northern Motor Car. Studebaker manufactured cars on Piquette until 1925 when it relocated its production to South Bend. Cadillac, Dodge, and Regal Motors also had plants in this area.
Fisher Body, a supplier to virtually every early automaker, had two large plants just down the street from the Ford and Studebaker factories. The Fisher Body Plant 21 was built in 1919 using structurally reinforced concrete rather than the wooden infrastructure previously used in most plants. Building with wooden floors and supports were very susceptible to fires as spilled chemicals, oils, and grease from the manufacturing process soaked into the timbers. Albert Kahn, the architect of Detroit, designed this six-story, half-million square foot plant as well as Ford’s Highland Park plant, its massive Rouge River plant, the home of Edsel and Eleanor Ford, GM’s world headquarters, the Art Deco Fisher Building skyscraper, much of the University of Michigan, and buildings for Detroit’s three major newspapers — the News, the Free Press, and the Times.
Our journey continued through many of Detroit’s former working class neighborhoods and ethnic enclaves. We visited Belle Isle, a 982 acre island park in the Detroit River; the deserted Michigan Central Station, the city’s main passenger rail depot from 1913 through 1988; and the Heidelberg project, an outdoor art project on the city’s east side. The Heidelberg project dates back to 1986 when Tyree Guyton began painting vacant houses with dots and attaching items salvaged from the streets of the city. In an ongoing debate as to whether this was art or junk, the city demolished parts of the project in 1991 and again in 1999. While the Heidelberg project is now recognized internationally and is undoubtedly a tourist attraction, I still question whether the art vs. junk debate is truly settled.
On Sunday morning, I dropped my sister at Detroit’s Metro Airport and then drove five hours through Canada to visit with former colleagues and current friends in Buffalo. Three bridges connect Ontario and Western New York — the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge at Niagara-on-the-Lake, the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls, and the Peace Bridge at Buffalo. While I have seen Niagara Falls countless times in my life, I nevertheless felt compelled to stop one more time to experience the awe and power of this natural wonder.
Niagara Falls is composed of the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls, and the Bridal Veil Falls. On average, four million cubic feet of water — 30 million gallons — from the Niagara River plunge over the falls every minute with 90% of the water going over the Horseshoe Falls.
On Monday, I joined with several friends to see the Buffalo Sabres play the Winnipeg Jets. While I had hoped that this game would have playoff implications, the Sabres were eliminated in an embarrassing 8-4 loss to the NY Rangers on Friday evening. The team played better on Monday, but the ultimate outcome was no different.
As has been typical for most of the season, the team was out shot by nearly two to one and this was reflected in the 2-1 final score. After another tough year for Sabres fans, the spate of trades at the March deadline, additional likely trades during the summer, and player retirements will result in a much-needed new rooster for the 2013-14 season. Lindy Ruff, the coach for the past 16 years, was let go earlier in the season and I wonder when management will finally decide that the GM, who ultimately builds the team, should also be replaced.
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2013 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.