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.

Detroit and Independence Day

I’d heard a lot about the place but never been. As such, this year’s July 4th weekend ended up being the perfect time to finally go into and around Detroit.


First thing’s first on a national holiday weekend, and that’s entertainment. At mid-day on the Friday before Independence Day, the best entertainment around Farmington Hills, Michigan, is found at Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum. Tucked in the back part of a suburban stripmall, this hokey enclave is stocked with all sorts of coin-operated arcade games, mechanical puppet ensembles, and animatronic fortune-telling figures that have no reservations calling you dumb (or even a schmuck). Naturally, the kistch Marvin has collected and curated is superb.


Belle Isle, the recreational river island park between the US and Canada, was the next destination for Independence Day eve. The onsite Conservatory proved largely green and leafy within its Tropical House–but also detailed in a floral manner, with orchids, and with a fruity touch, with pineapples.


Appropriately, the Fernery section was replete with ferns, while the Cactus House was more arid in atmosphere and (often) spiky on its plants’ surfaces.


Because the Detroit Institute of Arts is currently featuring Frida Kahlo’s art, the Conservatory placed placards by select flora to indicate which plants were native to Mexico.


Belle Isle proved an easy-going place to tour. While there, we also visited its aquarium and nature zoo, then walked down a long dock and passed by a small beach. Additionally, the island was a pleasant vantage point to observe the urban skyscrapers.

On the actual day of July 4th, we decided that Greenfield Village, an outdoor museum complex full of historical structures (many of which were collected by Henry Ford), was the best spot to pay homage to American heritage. Greenville Village hosts attractions like the house where Wright brothers grew up and the bicycle shop where they worked.


Hailing from 17th Century Cape Cod, Farris Mill, what is said to be America’s oldest windmill, now stands mightily at Greenfield Village.


The upper level of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory offers quite the cornucopia of jarred chemicals. Except apparently a number of scientific materials were confiscated for being unsafe several decades ago, so a decent deal of empty glass bottles remain on the shelves. The days of freely tinkering with mercury are long gone.


Such was the case in Greenfield Village’s tintype studio. Tintypes were a photographic medium that were popular prior to film, and mercury was used to develop images. While the onsite darkroom is no longer functional, present-day visitors are still welcome to sit in the spot where sitters of days past sat, sunned by the ethereal rays of natural lights, to have their digital portraits instantly taken.

The night of July 4th we spent cruising through town, eventually parking the car and walking to a lawn that surrounded a suburban shopping plaza’s parking lot in time to see the fireworks show. Traditions are traditions, and it’s comforting to learn that one like colorful explosives in the night sky is preserved across the different states.


For the 5th, we visited the city’s Midtown district to go to the Detroit Institute of Arts. While we didn’t make the Frida Kahlo/Diego Rivera special show due to long waiting times and frightful lines, we did check out the latter artist’s permanent murals that he painted around the Rivera Court.


The settings were crowded, but museum patrons could still hone in on the infinite details that comprised these massive works, be it managers’ greedy facial expressions or fiery backdrops of industrial production.

From cruising across the multi-lane highway roads to walking through the preserved domestic settings of domestic inventors to sampling bits of of foreign culture, the Detroit metro area ended up being a region that was full of educational opportunities and American representation.

Minor Water Bodies


At times, ordinary household objects are taken out of their context, where they look deliberately removed. For instance, a small coffee pot I purchased at a Halal supermarket in Bay Ridge looks entirely different along the perimeter of a campfire bed. Perhaps the novelty of the vessel’s removed presentation makes it look even more attractive than when placed atop a domestic stove top.


Alas, a natural pond looks different from whatever micro pond a faucet may create in a kitchen.


The first use this tent received was to keep us high and dry in the Catskill Mountains, in an area close to Livingston Manor, NY.


Water flowed around the field.


Removed from distractions of society, aquatic motion is always a go-to for nature’s entertainment.


Though, when more water fell from the sky, that’s a different story.


Out of the woods we fled, another water universe we found: a fish hatchery. It might be hard to see in this photo, but the image placed on the truck was meant to promote tours by writing “Fish are Photogenic”. I wonder what the fish would think.


Off to another camping spot, we purchased a gallon of water to avoid the iodine process the adjacent stream would require.


Though the stream’s water appeared to offer its own feedings for local life forms.


Asian Cat Photography

Cat cafe on a winter day, Ulsan, South Korea.

A leashed kitten in Ulsan, South Korea.

An Indonesian biker kitten.

Black cat on the streets of Tokyo, Japan.

Kittens cooling off under a bench in Malacca, Malaysia.

Fluffy cat battles fluffy toy in Taipei, Taiwan.

Cat resting in a restaurant booth in Taipei.

Friendly calico in the Philippines.

Variations of the same cat in Lake Toba, Indonesia.

Three kittens in Penang, Malaysia.

Cats forming a pleasing color scheme in Penang.

Sometimes, they reposition.

Tabby cat resting by newspapers in Penang.

Cat bored by the nighttime street action in Bangkok, Thailand.

Cat trying to sell some bootleg DVDs and microphones in Bangkok.

Cozy black kitten in southern Vietnam.

Laotian cat resting on its dirt floor, and simultaneously matching it.