Today I enjoyed a leisurely 30-mile-ish bike ride around downtown Detroit on the Tour de Troit. We started at Roosevelt Park, by the amazing ruined Michigan Central Station, whizzed downtown and through Campus Martius by the Compuware building, crossed the Belle Isle Bridge and spun around the circumference of Belle Isle before stopping in Gabriel Richard park for a break. We then went down Jefferson Avenue, wandered through the gracious tree-lined streets of Indian Village, and then eventually through the Wayne State/Medical Center Campus.
The Detroit Free Press said there would be over 2,000 riders. I really can’t say, but it seemed like there were a lot of cyclists. The police escort was great. They blocked the roads for us and zoomed up and down the line on their motorcycles. With their support, we cyclists enjoyed the roads all to ourselves – no fear, no stoplights, easy biking. It was an easy pace, sometimes we were quite slow in the pack, or held by police at a particularly busy intersection, and other times we got to speed along once the pack was stretched out. The experience was one of light effort (except at the end, when I was tired and cold) and a fizzy joy in the freedom of the streets.
Along the route, I saw many things, and noticed a few other gaps.
The foremost highlight was the Belle Isle Bridge, which is still lovely, and of which I’m inordinately proud as my great grandfather and I think his brothers moved to Michigan from Wisconsin to work on it. Greiling Brothers Construction Company was part of that project.
I noticed the absence of the old Uniroyal plant, which was just to the south of the bridge on Jefferson Avenue. It had striking “mural” of tires on its walls. Now it is a field – apparently a quite polluted one at that (though there’s now a cleanup plan). I also looked for the Mexican restaurant, Armando’s I think, we frequented when I was young. I think the building was still there, but no longer a restaurant.
I thought of more family history in that areqa, vague to me now. I think we had fancy relatives who lived in or near Indian Village. I recalled a family friend who lived in the Whittier apartment building on Detroit’s Gold Coast of high rises overlooking the Detroit River and Windsor. We went by the Roostertail on Jefferson Avenue, site of my senior prom. Memories flooded back of family stories and of time spent with family driving from our home in Grosse Pointe to downtown Detroit along Jefferson Avenue. We came to festivals at Hart Plaza, we came to dine, we came for ballet class for me and my sister, we went to dance events, and we came to go to church.
As we cycled through Detroit, we passed by neighborhoods that were new to me – new subdivisions just off of Jefferson Avenue. We passed through neighborhoods that looked passably prosperous such as Indian Village. And we passed through neighborhoods with trees circling houses no longer there, burned out houses, empty lots, and rough looking homes and commercial buildings. We saw lots of liquor stores and dry cleaners. I don’t think I saw a grocery store. I’m not sure all of the dry cleaners were open. We saw urban gardens in reclaimed plots in the Woodbridge neighborhood.
Some of it seemed very ordinary. Just people going about their Saturday. We saw folks mowing and weed whacking lawns, three football games, and one basketball game on a desolate lot overlooking a manufacturing plant. We saw lots of kids waving frantically as the parade of bikes went past, thrilled when we waved back. Many adults waved too. Most of the other passers by were either happy or amused to see us. Only a handful were laughing at us. I witnessed only two incidents of negativity, both by irate drivers annoyed by having to wait for the cyclists to pass.
We ended the ride back at Roosevelt Park, in front of the ruined Michigan Central Station building. A great day. Lots of memories, and some signs of hope to savor.