Detroit to Toronto

Detroit to Toronto
Detroit, MI

Detroit, MI

I jogged back from the parkrun and checked out of the hotel. I had thought there might be a bus line going from Livonia to the city centre, but not that I could find, not from near where I was. I had three hours, but with a 45 minute walk to get back to the bus I’d come in on, timing started to look tight and I opted for a cab. The driver was a grizzled silver-haired bear of a local, and we talked briefly about travels before he tried me on sports. “Do you follow sports?” is both a generic and nicely open question, but it occurred to me that, despite his admiration for rugby, we are nations separated by both our common language and our totally diverged sports cultures. Athletics is about the only one that we compete in at similar levels-having so few popular sports in common is surely uncommon for us around the world. Whatever the truth of that, I wasn’t far from a resounding “how about that local sports team, eh?”

Brutal architecture in Detroit
Stalinist block.

I had two hours to kill before my bus, and wandered into downtown Detroit for lunch at a diner. It is as post-apocalyptic as the rumours suggest. Lonely Planet is absolutely right in saying that Americans will greet news that you’re heading to Detroit with a raised eyebrow and some crack about drugs and/or death, though the guidebook is at pains to point out that many exciting things are happening.

Not yet in downtown, they’re not. The atmosphere was set mainly by the huge Stalinist block that towered over the view as I looked into the city. Had I not been distracted by that, mind, I might have spotted the huge warehouse behind the bus station. From a distance, when I did spot it, I wasn’t convinced that a used and rare book store would really be operating from those premises, but up closer the new sign saying they were named “#2 bookshop in the world, 2014” is bright, a nice counterpoint to the faded lettering around the top of the building. That is four stories up, mind, so no small task to repaint.

There were very few people around, and those that were didn’t exactly have a sense of purpose. Other, perhaps, than the man in the deli, trying to get served. He resorted to approaching the cashier in the fortified central bunker; “just ring the bell.” He had. “He’ll be right out. ROGER!” It’s a place where everyone looks like they might be homeless, which is what I’d thought of that man at first, but I think that’s the air of decay speaking.

Spotting that huge block made me wonder just how similar American and Russian cities were in the middle of the twentieth century – did they try to outcompete each other in austere architecture, even while American consumers were enjoying the products of greater wealth? Detroit, at least, could easily be a Russian city.

Times Square, Detroit; quiet and concrete
Times Square here is a little different.

I spotted a diner that looked uncrowded and walked round it, so as to comply with the instruction to ‘enter through the Leland’. The latter is a formerly grand old hotel that looks to be begging to be explored. It is very faded, not very welcoming as you enter at street level, with reception up the grimy stairs, and looks as though it is being used as much for housing as hotelling. The welcome at the diner was warm, though. After my burger and a quick listen to the conversation between owner and customer: “it weren’t more’n thirteen dollars” “mmm-hmmm,” I scuttled back to the greyhound station, which was warmer than being outside, Detroit’s long streets and empty plots provide little shelter from a cutting wind. The station was pretty full, but most people were waiting for other, delayed buses-just 7 of us got on for the Toronto trip, though more were to join in Windsor. For the first time I was asked more than a few questions at the border; where are you going, why, what do you do, when were you last in Canada, do you know anyone there, have you ever been arrested? But they let me in.

We picked up people in Windsor, sat around there for a while then headed on, for Chatham-Kent, London and then Toronto.

I checked in to my hostel and the poor tired French-Canadian girl who checked me in just about managed to tell me about the place and find the right room-at the second time of asking. By the luggage store she said that “when you checkout you should bring your **** down”, which I thought was overly colloquial until she added “the **** and pillow cover and duvet cover”. Oh, that ****.

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