Driving, to Walk and See Michigan

Seeing the disparate sites throughout the Motor City is an adventure that requires automobile access. Appropriately enough, curious drivers who get the opportunity to site-see around Detroit can pay homage to the very spot where the model machine that made the automobile accessible to the masses was first manufactured: the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant.


The invention of the Model T was undoubtedly innovative during the early 20th Century; the classic car remains emblematic today. However, today, the building of the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant serves as a cultural relic, its historical significance explained in texts posted upon outdoor placards. The former factory is now in the midst of a vast, desolate cityscape that’s comprised of the bustling factories and inhabited houses of yesteryear. Presently, forces of gravity and decay have noticeably transformed the forlorn two-story homes while the external remnants of a giant, boxy industrial structure have become an enormous canvas for spray paint.


Some unfavorably liken the admiration of the abandoned buildings aesthetic as “ruin porn.” Voyeurs ogle over the cave-ins and collapses of formerly functioning architecture, fetishizing over the imagery of shattered glass windows or little weeds that pop out of the gritty cracks between wooden panes. Perhaps I’m myself guilty of having a peeled paint or cracked pavement fetish while scaling these exposed, vulnerable structures.


Taking a casual drive downtown isn’t something you’ll commonly hear of here in New York City. To me, the thought of heading downtown is synonymous with riding the subway. In Detroit, however, the idea of driving downtown did not sound strange at all.

We drove downtown indeed. We parallel parked on the city street to then stroll to the Renaissance Center, the ensemble of seven slick skyscrapers. We dubbed them the “Robocop towers” in reference to the film’s scenes where greedy executive leaders or flakey marketing pitchsters would schematically conjure their controlling intentions or devise outlandish outreach schemes while looking down over Detroit.


Ascending to the top floor of landmark skyscrapers is never something I do in New York (unless you count a kindergarten day-trip to the top of the World Trade Center circa late 1991). Nevertheless, I rode the elevator from the 3rd to the 72nd floor of the Renaissance Center to leisurely look out over the Detroit area.

There, the most immediate sites visible through the carousel of glass windows were Belle Isle sitting on the river, Canada stretching across the river, and the nearby sports bowl stadium where the Tigers play ball. On a greater scale, gauging the elevated panoramic scenery proved how extensively and consistently flat the landscape’s topography really was.

A more immediate component of the tower’s view, down on the 71st story, was the sets of seating arrangements and shapes that shadows formed.


The next destination was a marvel of modern ruin, the Michigan Central Train Station. Off we drove from downtown to the defunct terminal where a train has not passed in over 27 years.


Sure, I’d seen numerous depictions of the Michigan Central Train Station, in numerous photos where the shambled state of the structure was back dropped by the downtown Detroit skyline. I still wanted to see the building my very own eyes and document it with my personal devices.


We parked in front of the fenced-off former station and studied its cracked building blocks. I strolled into a nearby small garden of what looked like wheat to get a wider perspective. Cicadas buzzed eerily as the garden’s stalks whipped and rolled with the breeze. I paced through the path of gaps that divided the patches, but failed, after several attempts, to capture a quality shot.

That night, we partook in a quintessential American car-centric entertainment activity, in driving to the suburban city Dearborn, Michigan, and parking in drive-in theater to watch a mainstream movie.

Since Michigan is a big place that of course means there is more to drive through than just the Detroit metro area. So, we ventured off to Grand Rapids, the state’s second biggest city, then to Holland, a quaint, semi-touristic village lined with candy stores and other gift shops. We then traveled as far west as we could possibly reach in the bounds of the state’s Lower Peninsula. We parked. We walked down a dune, strolled across the beach stretch, sat upon the sand, and then swam into to the great Lake Michigan.


While retreating back to the Detroit area, we stopped in Ann Arbor for lunch, a Michigan city I was admittedly ignorant of except for knowing that’s where Iggy Pop was from. Ann Arbor turned out a pleasant college town that reminded me of several I’d seen (like Eugene and Ithaca) with similar commercial establishments (like local health food stores and book shops).

My favorite part of Ann Arbor wasn’t the eating or shopping, but the tubing and boating. I did neither of these activities, but partook in wading the shallow river while more equipped visitors floated by in tubes or boats.


Naturally, the car was necessary throughout the trip, but the best and most unexpected parts of it took place on foot, after parking.

West and North

IMG_0815[1]Cramped in the big city with towering structures and clustered traffic, short buildings with wide, vast skies and empty parking lots offer a sense of accessible spatial freedom.

IMG_0814[1]A usual motel in Tonawanda, New York, can provide this unintended refuge after driving North, and then West, along New York State.

IMG_0816[1]Heading further North, and further West, into Niagara Falls, we journeyed to cross the national border to enter Ontario territory.

IMG_0820[1]As usual, they studied, but did not stamp our passports, to admit us into the land of wide, long highways.

IMG_0819[1]And tall, symmetrical structures of power.

IMG_0821[1]In Barrie, Ontario, we walked into the Spirit Catcher, quite imposing from up top.


To balance it out, we came across an unimposing feline, a novel member of its species that appeared to been bred half hairless, half hairy and fully wrinkled.

IMG_0831[1]Another trip landed us at Wasaga Beach, the world’s largest freshwater sandy stretch.

IMG_0832[1]Though it was not so bustling on a cool weekday.


But to find peace anywhere, there is always the natural environment. To be inquisitive in the woods, you can always ponder about the age of it, such as the abundance of short, thin trees show a sign of a young forest (without actually cutting a trunk to count the rings).









101 and Beach Rocks

Another factor of my recent excursion was going throughout the Southern Oregon Coast via US Route 101. This route is set up on the Pacific Coast of this country, and a lot of its course almost touches the ocean, but some of it is a bit inland. As there is nothing like this road on the East Coast, this magical route is still a novelty for me, and I love exploring it in new sections  each time I am near the ocean.

We drove up Route 101 from Arcata, California, to the Oregon border, where we stopped in the small town of Brookings. An elderly gas station attendant recommended us to follow the signs to a coast guard station in order to access the beach.

We backtracked on 101 over a bridge, and drove down the hill to a small parking lot loaded with RVs and trucks. Some people were enjoying barbecues under awnings, and others were comparing stories about their traveling dogs. With all of these large vehicles, I thought it looked very American.

Of course the salty breeze, cold waters, rigid rock formations and sandy surface were extremely refreshing after a long car ride, but the most interesting part of this beach was this weird overlook area on top of a cliff. There was a lighthouse, two American flags, and a statue that seemed to replicate the over-arching Jesus I have seen in photos from some famous park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I was a fan of this unusual combination.

After the big cat zoo, we also stopped by the coastal part of Bandon, Oregon. The arching geological formations looked very sharp, the air was cold and strong, and some of the rocks were engulfed by shellfish on their surfaces. It was definitely not much of a tourist spot, and seemed to be frequented by locals and their canine companions who came out dressed in outer wear, trained to protect themselves from the elements.

We also stopped in some area around Coos Bay, Oregon, which I’ve seen as a designated dot on state maps many times before. It took a while to get to an actual beach spot, with a lot of winding through commercial strips with stores all closed for Sunday, followed by sharp turns that led us to roads lined with different RV parks.

We finally got to some small beach enclosure. There were a few women actually going into the shallow cold water, who appeared to be shivering in their bikinis and huddling into themselves for warmth.

We went off to a rock formation area, and I was happy I decided to wear my hiking boots, as its hard surface was all caked with holes of surprise mud. Though very aesthetically stimulating, it smelled somewhat like rotted seaweed and the oil from canned anchovies. Nevertheless, we were able to ignore the stench, climb up a rock and enjoy lunch with a view.

Driving to Cali

For this year’s birthday, I took a trip down to Northern California, amongst new frontiers. I’ve seen the entrance into this part of the country driving south via I-5, through excessively trashy Redding, California, to extremely impressive Mount Shasta. This time, we took a new route that will always stand out to me.

My friend in Humboldt told my boyfriend and I of a girl who was driving down from Portland to Arcata, California. We found out that she bought a car, and was driving her old Rodeo truck and her new 1983 Honda Accord southward and westward, to where we wanted to be. We at first went along the familiar way down the greenery and mountainous territory of Oregon, from the clustered traffic jams on suspended freeway ramps, to get out of Portland during rush hour, through boring Salem and then through youthful Eugene. We stopped in Eugene, and then got back on the road and enjoyed the steep inclines and declines that this sprawl-less little city exhibits when it goes straight from the compact college town to lush rural and forested areas.

Strange rest areas came about southward, with little pregnant, mewing cats and passing-through people going to relieve themselves or stretch, checking you out to guess your story while you observe them to think of why they are in such a strange place on this freeway in the middle of nowhere. Driving down through exits I hardly recognized and hill formations I vaguely knew that I became impressed by in the past; it was so interesting to travel by car again. Trapped in the city I usually am, bound by my bicycle and Trimet transit services, put off by flat tires or expired transfers. My boyfriend and I switched off driving sessions, accelerating and decelerating, hitting the brakes and the gas, and changing CDs.

Pass on through California through new territory, and get that friendly inter-state inspection of police officers asking if you have any fruits, vegetables or produce in your vehicle.

Magically, once you cross the Oregon-California border, all of the clouds go away and the sun starts shining!

Through new mountains, new pine trees and new rock formations that resemble Oregon but are highlighted differently by the obvious sunshine. Trying to decide if this territory actually looks different from back home or if my perspective has become tainted by the drab, constant overcast. Forward through the Redwood Forests, not sure if I’ve ever seen a Redwood in the past, but now sure that I do see them passing by on the left and right of my vision out of the simple white station wagon.

Down to the coast, through Crescent City, meet the 101 Pacific Highway and continue on. See the sunny and sandy and windy ocean beaches full of humans and leashless dogs that no one really tells you about, or what a foreigner would initially think of California to be like. Keep the window cracked a little, keep the CD selection diverse, follow the girl in the Rodeo truck in front of us to finish our temporary western odyssey.