We hit the ground running. Our stay in Detroit would only be for a weekend. This was my first visit to the state of Michigan. The main reason for our trip was so that Traci could continue her quest to run a half marathon (13.1 miles) in every state. To check off Michigan, she would be running the Detroit Free Press/TCF Bank International Half Marathon (Whew! That was a mouthful). One of her running groups was meeting there to participate. I had the challenge of planning sightseeing excursions for Traci and me that did not interfere with the running events or the get-togethers of her running group. I was up for the challenge. We had a fun weekend. Detroit far exceeded my expectations.
We took an 8:15 AM United Airlines flight from Washington Dulles Airport (IAD) to Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW). As usual for these weekend adventures, we flew “Basic Economy” class. I was seated in the very last row of the airplane and Traci was seated in the row in front of me but on the opposite side. The flight lasted just over an hour. By the time the flight attendants finished handing out the snacks and beverages, we were already starting to descend for our landing in Detroit.
We were not able to find convenient public transportation for the places we wanted to see in and around Detroit; therefore, we used Uber to get to places that were not in walking distance. From my calculations, Uber was cheaper than renting a car and paying for downtown parking.
The ride from the airport to our hotel (Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center) was about 30 minutes. Our friendly Uber driver told us a little about the city during the ride. He was our introduction to the people of Detroit who are enthusiastic about the positive changes that are taking place in their city. He told us that the downtown area where we were staying is very safe but he cautioned us against venturing more than a few miles outside the city center.
I loved our stay at the Marriott. I’ll talk more about it later. As I first mentioned, Traci and I hit the ground running. We dropped off our bags in our room which was available when we arrived at noon and then called an Uber to take us to our first sightseeing excursion – The Henry Ford Museum (called The Henry Ford).
The Henry Ford is located in nearby Dearborn, Michigan. It is a huge complex that would be very difficult to see in its entirety in one day. The four main touring options of the complex are the Museum of American Innovation (a.k.a. the museum), Greenfield Village (outdoor 80-acre living museum), Ford Rouge Factory, and the Giant Screen Experience. Traci and I purchase the museum and factory combination package.
During my travels to the Midwest U.S., I’ve observed that the museums tend to be huge. The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is definitely no exception. It contains American-made planes, trains, automobiles, furniture, farm equipment, factory equipment, toys, oddities, trends, and more. If a person were to read about every item on display, I image he/she would be wandering the museum for weeks. Traci and I spent two hours there just skimming exhibits that caught our eyes. I won’t try to describe everything we saw. I’ll just provide a few of my highlights (in no particular order):
bus on which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat
Dymaxion House of 1945 was supposed to be the house of the future
We wrapped up our visit to the Museum of American Innovation so that we could catch the shuttle for the Rouge Factory Tour portion of our visit. It was a 10 – 15 minute ride on a shuttle bus from the museum to the factory. A guide met us and gave us a brief overview of what to expect on the tour. We were also told that photography and videography are not allowed except for at designated areas. With that, we were led to a theater where we saw an informative film on Henry Ford. He did not invent the automobile but he developed the innovative approach of mass-producing them via an assembly line. The short film covered a lot from the profitable periods during which Henry Ford employed up to 100,000 employees to the challenging times like the world wars, the Great Depression, and even the introduction of labor unions. Henry Ford was opposed to the unions.
The Henry Ford film was nice but it was our visit to the next theater that really wowed me. The subject of this presentation was the process of manufacturing the Ford F-150 pickup truck. This was a thrilling experience. There was smoke, lasers, and high fidelity sound that rumbled the seats. A full-scale model of F-150 came up out of the floor. Two robotic arms moved around it to demonstrate construction and scanning. To totally immerse us into the manufacturing process, we were blasted with air and heat at certain times. All this was going on while a synchronized film played on the large screens that covered half the theater and on the truck model as well to give the illusion it was moving. The presentation was one of the best I have seen during our travels.
After leaving the theater, we were led to other parts of the factory to see how Ford uses vegetation on the roofs of their factories to keep the environment clean. Our final destination was the assembly line. We walked along the second floor and were able to look down on the factory floor as the workers assembled parts of the trucks’ frames moving along the assembly line. I was particularly fascinated by the robotic section where robotic arms attached windshields or performed scans. There was activity all around us. Parts moved along tracks above our head. We could hear the clatter, clinks, and hisses below us. I wondered if the noise bothered the employees but one of the tour guides stationed along our route told me that it is actually quieter on the factory floor. We watched the assembly process from a frame all the way to the point when the new trucks are driven off the assembly line and tested. This whole process was amazing to watch.
nostalgic car collection
plants grown on Ford factory roofs to lessen the impact on the environment
From the Henry Ford museum, we took an Uber to the TCF Center (formerly known as Cobo Center) to go to the runners’ expo where Traci could pick up her race packet. We browsed the booths at the expo for a short while and then left so that Traci could make it to the meet & greet her running club was hosting at the Granite City Food & Brewery restaurant in the Renaissance Center where our hotel was located. The Renaissance Center is in walking distance of the TCF Center. This was a good thing because it was rush hour and there was traffic gridlock everywhere.
Traci’s running group is a women’s group so I set off to do my own thing while Traci and her comrades were meeting and greeting. I used the time to finally explore our hotel. First of all, I loved our stay at this Marriott. Its location was so convenient for walking to the running events. Also, given it is part of the Renaissance Center complex, it presented a lot of conveniences in general. The Renaissance Center is a collection of shiny steel skyscrapers situated on the bank of the Detroit River. It dominates the Detroit skyline. Among other enterprises, it contains the General Motors headquarters. In the grand lobby are shiny new GM vehicles on display as well as GM vehicles displayed on a large moving circular conveyor belt. Aside from GM, there are a multitude of shops and businesses. The building has several restaurants ranging from fast food to fancy restaurants. The Renaissance Center is huge! I got lost a few times trying to find the correct elevator or a restaurant I had seen earlier.
Renaissance Center lobby
The Skywalk connects the Renaissance Center to other buildings in the area.
The Renaissance Center also contains skywalks that allow you to walk to other downtown buildings without having to go outside. The Detroit People Mover monorail has a stop at the Renaissance Center. It can be used to get to other parts of downtown relatively cheaply. Traci and I never got around to using it. Behind the Renaissance Center is the Riverwalk – a 3-mile pathway along the Detroit River. On the opposite bank of the river is Windsor, Canada. Detroit and Windsor are connected by a bridge and a tunnel.
The Gateway to Freedom Sculpture along the Riverwalk
view of Canada from Detroit
As I mentioned earlier, we stayed at the Marriott in the Renaissance Center. Although it is not the tallest building in the complex, it has an impressive 70 floors. We had a room on the 44th floor (4405). My ears would pop every time I rode the elevator. Our room gave us a marvelous view of the Detroit River and Windsor, Canada. I especially loved the night view when the lights of Windsor’s Caesars Casino and its video billboards would twinkle and flash.
view from our room on the 44th floor of the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center hotel
Aside from the fantastic view, our room was a pretty standard chain hotel room with a very comfortable bed. I liked our super cold refrigerator that caused chunks of ice to form in the water and fruit drinks we put in there. A stay at this Marriott is on the pricey side but Traci managed to find a discount rate that was nearly 50% cheaper than the advertised price. Additionally, being Marriott loyalty club members, we earned some points for our stay. As you can tell, I was very pleased with our weekend vacation.
While Traci was at her meet & greet with the women of her running club, I decided to get something to eat. I had not really eaten much all day other than the thin caramel waffle snack (love them) we were given on the airplane and a bag of pretzel that Traci and I shared at the Henry Ford museum. The restaurants in the Renaissance Center seemed to have odd hours; therefore, I ended up settling for fast food at the few eateries that were open at the food court on the ground floor. I brought my food back to the room where I admired our view and watched a little television until Traci returned from her get-together.
Upon Traci’s return, we made use of the Skywalk to go to a convenience store on a different block than our hotel. Traci wanted to buy coconut water. She uses it to hydrate before her runs. While we were in the convenience store, I came across an interesting snack – Rap Snacks. These are flavored potato chips with caricatures of hip hop artists on the package. Apparently, they have been around for a while but it was my first time seeing them. I ended up buying a bag of Cardi B’s Jerk BBQ chips. I tasted more of the bbq seasoning than the jerk seasoning. Anyway, they had a nice spicy kick to them. Continue...