I had slept in compared to everyone else in my dorm. It seemed like I was the only one in the hostel, so, I luckily didn’t have to wait to get a shower. I took my time, luxuriating in the fact no one was knocking on the door to rush me. I got ready quickly, eager to explore. It was then that I met Cody, he was my age with messy brown hair and a distinctive, cool dress sense. He was on the iMac next to the common space, I wrongly assumed he was staff at the hostel. He was attending the conference like most people at the hostel and was typing up his notes from the previous day. Cody suggested we have brunch together and I took him up on the offer.
I felt connected to him, immediately at ease with one another. Cody had also noticed the considerable number of large metal fences next to the roads. He shared my view that they were there to prevent jumpers which was scary to think that this is something this city had had to do to protect its citizens. I haven’t researched why they are there but this is the impression they give.
We walked towards downtown and came across a few cute places to eat before settling on ‘Brooklyn Local’. I ordered a vegan Reuben sandwich with vegan poutine as a side. I had wanted to try both of these dishes for so long and obviously hadn’t until now as both would traditionally contain meat and aren’t easily found in the UK. The Reuben had house made seitan – I love seitan, it has such a distinctive flavour and can be charred in a way that most veggie substitutes can’t. It was thinly sliced and paired with sauerkraut, daiya cheese, and Russian dressing in fresh rye bread. The bread had an attractive marbled effect. It was a deep sandwich. It was delicious although there was a little too much sauerkraut for a first timer. Perhaps, I’ll develop a craving for it and no amount of sauerkraut will sate me. The poutine was a revelation, I questioned why I had never added cheese to my gravy and chips previously. They were seasoned, fresh cut fries with a mushroom gravy and more daiya cheese. Oh my god. I could have ate a full size portion of it, it was so savoury, the umami flavours and just incredibly satisfying. I can’t remember what Cody ordered as I was too focussed on my own plate! We shared funny stories whilst we ate, Cody had a particular way with trade.
We continued walking downtown, the sun was bright and welcoming; though there still weren’t many people around. We saw few cars and buses as we started walking amongst the sky scrapers. It was becoming unnerving that we had seen so few people, we decided to peer into one building and didn’t even see anyone in the lobby. Cody was a great guide, he told me about the history of several buildings including Detroit city hall and how it had been abandoned due to upkeep costs. Cody was wanting to attend some of the afternoon sessions of the conference and we decided that if I wore his lanyard whilst he carried his tote bag with the conference logo on then I might be able to sneak in.
Surprisingly, it worked! I had a coffee with small powdered doughnuts in the lobby of the opera house before we made our way into the auditorium for the lecture. It was beautiful inside, gold everywhere. The outside of the building was brick hiding the ornate nature of the inside. I felt at ease as we sat down because I work in an art deco cinema and red velvet seats have been part of my life for the last six years. It was a really interesting panel about how community driven projects could drive renewal in the suburbs, the speakers were natives who were passionate about their neighbours and their city.
Cody was eager to attend another lecture across town whereas, I wanted to do some touristy stuff in downtown. I left him to explore downtown, I decided to take a ride on the ‘People Mover’ as it takes less than thirty minutes to do a full loop and is only 75c a ride. Its name really is ‘The People Mover’ and it reminded me of the monorail episode of ‘The Simpsons’ – a weird, unfinished attraction.
I stayed on the train until I was near the ‘John K. King Used and Rare Books’ store. I made the rest of the journey on foot. The book store is in an old glove factory and therefore, is four stories tall, unnervingly large. There were a few people inside. The lady who was next to the cash register allowed me to take my backpack around the various levels but she warned me against taking photos. I was handed a beautiful map that listed which floor and area the varying genre of books. I walked up the stairs, each landing was decorated differently. I admit I made a beeline for the LGBT/ Queer section. It had the kind of range of books available that you don’t usually see somewhere that isn’t specialised. The books and magazines were of varying ages, it was interesting to see how life as a queer person had changed. It was an incredible resource and I wish I had the money, the space and a way to utilise all these materials. Before I left I sat down on the floor and thumbed through several shoeboxes of old postcards. I had to buy something from this amazing store.
Cody had recommended going up the tallest tower of the Renaissance Center, he said the view from the restaurant at the top was breathtaking to see the city. What Cody had neglected to say and I hadn’t researched it was that the tallest tower was a hotel! The restaurant was open to the public but I felt awkward. I was asked to leave my carrier bag of snacks before I was allowed to get in the lift to the restaurant. I was alone in the elevator and the view was phenomonal, I could see across to Canada. The elevator was slow moving in the best possible way as it meant that my ears didn’t pop and I had plenty of time to take photos. Once I arrived in the restaurant there were only two families dining in the place. I asked for a menu and considered buying a side or a drink so I could sit and look at the city. After ten minutes I realised none of the servers actually wanted to take my order, they didn’t want me to eat in here. I went to the bathroom, put a roll of film in my camera and then left the restaurant. The journey back down the elevator was slightly bittersweet but as I was getting ready to leave the building Cody messaged asking if I wanted to walk back to the hostel with him.
The journey back was quicker than our walk in, I think we were both hungry again. Cody offered me some weed which we smoked as we ate my snacks. We were very animated after and the staff at the hostel recommended eating at the nearby food truck. It was called the Pink Flamingo and was decorated in fairy lights. Adjacent to the Flamingo was a huge bonfire, a local man tended to the flames, lifting entire branches into the fire.
The food was mostly vegetarian, I chose fried rice balls, lentils, salad, houmus and a thick slice of watermelon along with a bottle of beer. It was delicious but the portions were rather small, I ended up ordering another plate of rice balls to fill me up. We sat next to a bunch of people, everyone was talking and it felt like such a good community was here. I looked over to the rows of houses nearby with their smashed windows and they made me feel sad. Yet, the community spirit was alive and the locals clearly helped one another out so I felt conflicted.
I left Cody and the others as I needed to make sure I was packed and ready to head out in the morning. I had another shower to wash away the smell of the smoke and lay down in my bunk with the lights still on to sleep. Detroit makes me feel uncomfortable but in a good way. It’s like a child got bored and abandoned their game; leaving it to gather dust whilst they focussed their attention elsewhere. I would like to come back and visit more of the neighbourhoods. Next time.