Headed North to Detroit

We got back on the road after Nashville and after some serious discussion about the route we would take to meet Kyle’s mom and brother in Chicago, we decided to head straight for Detroit. Although this wasn’t a popular decision based on the responses we received on social media, we wanted to see Detroit for ourselves.

The first stop we made on the way up was Louisville, Kentucky: the city of a million pronunciations. We’re reasonably sure there’s a fun section of town with great food and cool bars. Unfortunately though, we never found it. We did, however, find an interesting section of town with a bunch of Irish pubs blaring T.I. and Nelly; patios lined with wife beater clad gents clearly on the prowl for their female counterparts. We shared fish and chips. We drank Jameson to 50 Cent B sides. We went back to the van and called it an early night. Not to bash Louisville or anyone who can fashionably sport a ribbed tank, but that’s really all we have to report.

We have an app called Roadtrippers that helps us locate all sorts of interesting attractions on our route from place to place. Driving through Ohio, we used the app to find this really serene place called Charleston Falls Preserve in Tipp City. We hiked all through its waterfalls, badlands, and meadows. Meatball even made it all the way through the trail and got to take a dip in the river. Although it was a short detour, it was still a nice break from being in cities and on the road so much the previous couple weeks. If ever on your way northbound though Ohio on I-75, it’s definitely worth a stop.

waterfall at charleston falls preserve in tipp city ohio

We made it to Detroit in the late afternoon on a very rainy Sunday. Aside from a small knowledge base picked up at random on social media and Reddit, we really didn’t know what to expect from the city. A friend recommended a small suburb called Royal Oak, so we started there.

Royal Oak has a very quaint Main Street dotted with bars, restaurants and shops. Eager to stretch our legs, we braved the rain and did a tour while drinking some of their finest beers. The next morning, we worked at a little coffee shop and then headed out to explore the city. We did a brief stint in Greektown, but it’s quite touristy, the biggest draw being it’s casinos. Neither of us are much into gambling, so we decided to head to the abandoned Michigan Central Station to take photos.

michigan central station photo by kate marotta
Michigan Central Station by Kate
Michigan Central Station by Kyle Clark
Michigan Central Station by Kyle

While the train station is out of commission, the nearby Corktown area seems to be doing quite well. Much of Detroit is sort of salt and peppered like this, with several abandoned blocks that look like they’re straight out of a zombie apocalypse movie abbreviated by thriving areas boasting expensive stores, hip bars, coffee shops, and community gardens.

The Cass Corridor was one of these ares and we would almost go as far as calling it affluent. Third Man Records calls the Cass Corridor home to its store front and pressing plant. It was probably the only store we could afford to step foot in for a couple of blocks.

Like many cities, you take the bad with the good. Unfortunately for Detroit, their “bad” areas have a tendency to outshine the good for those who don’t take the initiative to look under the surface. Personally, we were taken aback by the great efforts made to enrich the community through music, art, and cooperative projects. It’s safe to say that most American cities could learn a thing or two from Detroit when it comes to making the most of a situation and taking pride in the place they call home.

One of the most interesting examples of this “trash to treasure” type attitude is The Heidelberg Project. This installation spans a couple of blocks in a neighborhood where Heidelberg along with other artists collected trash to make some very abstract dada-esque pieces on empty lots in-between houses. Some of the houses have even been incorporated as pieces of art themselves.

The Heidelberg Project by Kate Marotta
The Heidelberg Project by Kate
abstract shopping carts photo by kyle clark
Photo by Kyle
abstract blue shoes in condemned house photo by kate marotta
Photo by Kate
heidelberg project house photo by kate marotta
Heidelberg house by Kyle
polka dot house heidelberg project photo by kate marotta
Heidelberg house by Kate

While photographing the area, we got the opportunity to chat with a local woman who lived on the block. She said that she appreciated the attention that her neighborhood was receiving from the art, rationalizing that positive attention was beneficial for the community. She told us that some of the neighbors didn’t share her outlook, however, and were resentful of the project.

While we can understand both sides, benefits from the traffic can certainly be seen all around. A women in a neighboring house was collecting donations for her collapsed porch roof from passerby’s, for example. Such requests seem warranted and dignified, considering that her and her neighbors were offering a piece of their neighborhood for others’ enjoyment. Press on the Heidelberg Project has also brought additional awareness to the decrepit state of many of Detroit’s neighborhoods and the collective effort to make something out of nothing. We’d venture as far as to say that the art gives the neighborhood an air of respect that might not otherwise exist. But, aesthetically pleasing garbage is still garbage and, while thought-provoking and bizarre and strangely beautiful, the Heidelberg is an awful lot of trash for any one neighborhood.

abstract doors heidelberg project photo by kate marotta
Photo by Kate
depressed owl stuffed animal heidelberg project photo by kyle clark
Photo by Kyle
abstract mannequin legs in tree heidelberg project photo by kate marotta
Photo by Kate

After Detroit, we set our sails west. First stop was Warren Dunes State Park to see exactly what “going to the beach” meant in Michigan. The dunes were beautiful. We especially liked when someone took the time to write SEND NUDES out of fallen tree branches in humongous letters on the side of one of them!

1988 ford econoline van in front of giant lake michigan sand dune

Calm, cool water lapped on a beach made of sand and tiny pebbles spanning into infinity in both directions. Despite being a lake, there is a very very tiny tide that pulls in and out like the ocean. We had a little debate about it, but the internet in fact confirmed that Lake Michigan has a tide due to how massive it is (Kyle lost). All and all, the experience was pretty wild coming from Florida and having spent so much time on the east coast. To us, Lake Michigan feels more like a very pleasant alien ocean than a lake. Would also like to add that beach naps are awesome here because the air is cool and the sun doesn’t assault you like it does in Florida 😉

sun bathing on lake michigan beach

4 Responses

  • So glad you guys got to explore Royal Oak! That’s where I was born and my parents grew up. Justin and I are flying to Michigan in October. I can’t wait to show him around and let him step foot on the Great Lakes 🙂 I could cry at the fact you guys found the beauty in such a tragic story that is Detroit. It really is wonderful if you just take the time to appreciate it. Keep truckin’ guys! Xoxo

    • Both of us were so pleased with our decision to go. Royal Oak is sweet and beautiful just like you! Immense beauty can come from tragedy and thats very apparent in Detroit.

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