The Yankees have taken 2 out of 3 in a home series with the Toronto Blue Jays. What is their reward? They get to go to Detroit.
They start a weeklong, 7-game roadtrip with 4 games in Detroit against the Tigers, followed by 3 in The Confederacy of Texas.
Disclaimer: While I have been to Detroit, and I did see a game at Tiger Stadium, it was not against the Yankees, and the Tigers' new home, Comerica Park, was then still under construction. I have no firsthand knowledge of what the ballpark is like. I have, however, been around Tiger fans, both at the old yard and in their visits to the old Yankee Stadium. So I have a pretty good idea of what the game experience will be like.
Before You Go. The Detroit Free Press website is suggesting a possibility of rain for tomorrow morning, but, other than that, rain should not be a factor. What will be a factor is cold: Detroit is a bit further north than New York, in the Midwest snowbelt, and, despite this being early May, the forecast is for the low 40s throughout the series, and even the high 30s on Tuesday night. So, if you're going, you may need to bundle up.
Getting There. Detroit is 600 land miles from New York. Specifically, it is 616 miles from Times Square to Cadillac Square. Knowing this, your first reaction is going to be to fly out there.
Except... Wayne County Metropolitan Airport is 22 miles southwest of downtown. A taxi to downtown will set you back a bundle. There is a bus, SMART (Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation) bus Number 125, that goes directly from the airport to downtown, but it will take an hour and 20 minutes.
Also, do you remember the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza had a girlfriend, played by a pre-Will & Grace Megan Mullaly (using her real voice, you'd never recognize her as W&G's Karen), and he had to accompany her to a funeral in her hometown of Detroit? "It's kind of an expensive flight," George said.
This was not just George being his usual cheap self: At the time, 20 years ago, it was expensive, more expensive from New York to Detroit than it was to the further-away Chicago. It's actually cheaper now, but not by much: A check of airline websites shows that flights can be had for $400 to $600 each way.
Too rich for your blood? The news gets worse: There is no good way to get to Detroit, and that's got nothing to do with the city's reputation for being a crumbling, crime-ridden place where even Batman would fear to tread.
I once saw a T-shirt that said, "I'm so bad, I vacation in Detroit." As I mentioned above... I have. And the legendary comedian Red Skelton once said, "In Detroit, you can go 10 miles and never leave the scene of the crime." Newark and Detroit had their race riots 2 weeks apart in July 1967. In May 1999, I saw Detroit, and I realized just how far back Newark had come, by seeing how far Detroit had not.
Train? Forget it. The only Amtrak route in and out of Detroit is to and from Chicago, which in the opposite direction. The Lake Shore Limited (formerly known as the Twentieth Century Limited when the old New York Central Railroad ran it from Grand Central Terminal to Chicago's LaSalle Street Station) leaves New York's Penn Station at 3:45 every afternoon, and arrives at Union Terminal in Toledo at 5:08 every morning. From there, you have to wait until 6:30 to get on a bus to Detroit's Amtrak station at 11 W. Baltimore Avenue, arriving at 7:35.
In reverse, the bus leaves Detroit at 9:55 PM, arrives in Toledo at 11:00, and then you have to hang around there until the Lake Shore Limited comes back at 3:20 AM, arriving back in New York at 6:35 PM. Total cost: $202. Cheaper than flying, but a tremendous inflammation in the posterior.
How about Greyhound? Yeah, ride a bus for 13 1/2 hours to Detroit, there's a great idea. Actually, having done it, I can tell you that it's not that bad. Seven Greyhound buses leave Port Authority every day with connections to Detroit. In order to get to tomorrow night's game, the best one is at 10:15 PM, and you'd change buses in Cleveland, arriving 6:50 AM and leaving 7:50, arriving at 11:50 at 1001 Howard Street. Compared to most of Detroit, it's new and clean. It was just about within walking distance of Tiger Stadium, which really helped me. It's also not a long walk from Comerica Park, but I wouldn't recommend this. Better to take a cab, epsecially if you're getting a hotel.
The first bus to leave Detroit after the Thursday afternoon game is at 9:10 PM, arriving in Cleveland at 12:40 AM, change for the 1:25 to New York, arriving at Port Authority at 10:40. Round-trip fare: $205, although there are discounts for ordering online. So Greyhound is also far cheaper than flying, roughly the same cost as Amtrak, and less of a pain than Amtrak -- on this roadtrip, anyway.
If you decide to drive, the directions are rather simple, down to (literally) the last mile. You'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. I point this out merely to help you avoid confusion, not because I-90 will become important -- though it will when I do "How to Be a Yankee Fan in Chicago."
In Ohio, you'll take I-80's Exit 64, and get onto Interstate 75 North. This will take you into Michigan. Take Exit 50 for Grand River Avenue. Follow the ramp to Woodward Avenue. Comerica Park's address is at 2100 Woodward Avenue, although it's bordered by Montcalm Street, Witherell Street, Adams Street and Brush Street. Across Brush Street is Ford Field, the home of the NFL's Detroit Lions.
If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 3 hours in Ohio and an hour in Michigan. That’s 10:45, and
Counting rest stops, preferably halfway through Pennsylvania and in the Cleveland suburbs, and accounting for traffic in both New York and Detroit, it should be no more than 12 hours.
Since the first 3 games of the series are going to be night games (all 7:05 starts, with the Thursday game being 1:05 to make it a "getaway day" for the teams), I strongly recommend finding a hotel with a good, secure parking garage, even if you're only staying for one game.
Tickets. The Tigers have usually been good since their 2006 Pennant season. In spite of this, due to how hard the Bush Recession hit Michigan, attendance has not been all that strong. The Tigers averaged 26,000 last season and are averaging 25,000 so far this season, in a ballpark that officially seats 41,782 (but can be boosted to over 45,000 with standing room).
You would think that, considering these factors, and the "majority-minority" status and poverty even in good times that has stricken Detroit, tickets would generally be affordable. They're not: Nearly every seat in the lower level is at least $44, and most run at either $57 or $77. Upper deck seats are mostly at the $28 level, and outfield bleachers can be had at $19 in left and $15 in right.
Going In. Detroit is a weird city in some ways. It often seems like a cross between a past that was once glorious but now impossible to reach, and a future that never quite happened. (That observation was once made about the remaining structures from New York’s 1964-65 World’s Fair and the Astrodome in Houston.) Art Deco structures of the 1920s and ‘30s, such as the Penobscot Building (the tallest building outside New York and Chicago when it opened in 1928, the tallest in Michigan until 1977) stand alongside abandoned, boarded- or chained-up stores.
But alongside or across from them, there are glassy, modern structures such as the Renaissance Center, a 5-tower complex that includes, at its center, the 750-foot tallest building in Michigan (the tallest all-hotel skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere), and, in one of its 4 outer towers, the headquarters of General Motors (although the RenCen was originally financed by Ford).
Downtown also has the Detroit People Mover, a monorail system that is part of the suggestion of Detroit trying to get from 1928 to 2028 while jumping over the difficult years in between. Like the Washington and Montreal Metro (subway) systems, the company running it prides itself on the artwork in its stations. It has a stop called Times Square, but it won’t look anything like the one in New York. It has a stop called Bricktown, but it won’t look anything like Brick Township, the sprawling Jersey Shore suburb off Exits 88 to 91 on the Garden State Parkway. The Grand Circus Park Station is 2 blocks from Comerica Park. The DPM also has a stop at Joe Louis Arena, home of the Red Wings. It’s cheap, only 50 cents, and it still uses tokens, although it also accepts cash. Be advised, though, that it stops running at midnight, except on Fridays and Saturdays, when it runs until 2:00 AM.
The area around Comerica Park (named for a Midwest-based bank) and Ford Field (named for the automaker), at the northern edge of downtown Detroit, is called Foxtown, after the Fox Theater, which Tigers/Wings/Little Caesars owner Mike Ilitch also had restored. The ballpark can be entered at Gate A on Witherell (that’s the 1st base stands), Gate B at Witherell & Adams (right field corner), Gate C at Adams & Brush (left field corner), or Gate D on Montcalm (home plate).
There are a lot of distractions in the park, from the huge Tiger statues to the Comerica Carousel, near the Big Cat Food Court under the 1st base stands, to the Fly Ball Ferris Wheel, with baseball-shaped compartments, under the 3rd base stands. But, not being a kid, you’re interested in the baseball, so let’s move on.
The ballpark faces southeast, and some of Detroit’s taller buildings can be seen from behind the plate, including the RenCen and the Penobscot. Much of Detroit’s financial district, including the Penobscot, was built in the 1920s and ‘30s and, like many of New York’s buildings of the same period, were heavily influenced by the Art Deco movement. Some of these structures show just how much of a shame it is that Detroit has so badly fallen apart in the last 40 years.
Food. When I visited Tiger Stadium in its final season, 1999, it had great food, including the very best ballpark hot dog I've ever had. Since they're owned by Little Caesars Pizza mogul (and also Detroit Red Wings owner) Mike Ilitch, and before that were owned by Domino's Pizza boss Tom Monaghan, food is taken very seriously by the club. This is, after all, Big Ten Country, where college football tailgate parties are practically a sacrament.
Their big feature is the Big Cat Food Court, under the 1st base stands, featuring Little Caesars, naturally; Sliders, a stand featuring that Midwest staple, the Coney dog (hot dog with chili and onions, though they're not that popular at the actual Coney Island); the Brushfire Grill, with barbecue specialties; a stand selling "Chicago Style Hot Dogs," with the little pickle slice, the tomato slice, and the celery salt (and, no, I don't know why Detroit's ballpark would sell a Chicago-themed item); Asian Tiger, with Chinese food and sushi; a Mexican food stand; and "Lemons & Ears," which sells lemonade and "elephant ears," a Midwestern variation on that Middle Atlantic States standard, funnel cake.
The Tigers also have numerous in-park restaurants, but, like the ones at Yankee Stadium II, you can only get in with certain tickets. But if you go to a Detroit Tigers game and you don't find something good to eat, you're not trying hard enough.
Team History Displays. The main concourse features a Walk of Fame, showing great moments in Detroit baseball history, from the 1887 National League Champion Detroit Wolverines, through the Ty Cobb Pennants of 1907-08-09, to the Hank Greenberg years of 1934-45, to the amazing 1968 "Year of the Tiger," to the "Bless You Boys" of 1984, and the 2006 Pennant. (I wonder if the perfect game that was robbed from Armando Galarraga last season is commemorated?)
Along the left-center-field wall are statues of the 5 Tigers who have had their uniform numbers retired: 2, Charlie Gehringer, 2nd base, 1924-42; 5, Greenberg, 1st base, 1933-46; 6, Al Kaline, right field, 1953-74; 16, Hal Newhouser, pitcher, 1939-53; and 23, Willie Horton, left field, 1963-77 (and grew up in Detroit). There is also a statue of Cobb, center field, 1905-26, who played before uniform numbers were worn (though I once saw film of him at an old-timers' game, wearing a Tiger uniform, Number 25).
Not with those statues, but rather at the first base entrance, is one of the late Ernie Harwell, the broadcaster whose very voice meant "the Detroit Tigers" from 1960 to 2002. His name, and those of Cobb and the players whose numbers have been retired, are on a wall in left center field.
On a matching wall in right center field are names of Tigers who, while their numbers have not been retired by the team, are, like the preceding (including Harwell, with Horton the lone exception) also in the Baseball Hall of Fame: Sam Crawford, right field, 1903-17; Hugh Jennings, manager, 1907-20; Harry Heilmann, right field, 1914–29; Henry "Heinie" Manush, left field, 1923–27; Gordon "Mickey" Cochrane, catcher 1934-37, manager 1934-38; and George Kell, 3rd base, 1946–52. Jackie Robinson's universally retired Number 42 is also with these names.
Like Harwell, Heilmann, Kell and Kaline also served as Tiger broadcasters. So did Ty Tyson, a non-player who was the first great Tiger announcer, but has not, like Harwell, received the Hall of Fame's Ford Frick Award for broadcasters. These walls, in left-center and right-center, serve as Detroit's answer to Yankee Stadium's Monument Park.
The Tigers will retire the Number 11 of the late George "Sparky" Anderson, manager 1979-96, later this season. Presumably, a statue of him will join the others. The Tigers have removed from circulation, but not officially retired, the following: Number 1, Lou Whitaker, second base, 1977-95; Number 3, worn by Cochrane, Dick McAuliffe (2nd base, 1960-73), and Alan Trammell (shortstop, 1977-96 and manager 2003-05); and Number 47, worn by Jack Morris, pitcher, 1977-90. Perhaps they're waiting for Whitaker, Trammell and Morris to be elected to the Hall of Fame, but they probably won't be, and they retired Horton's number without him getting in. (Number 23 was also worn by Kirk Gibson, right field, 1979-87 and 1993-95, but there's no mention of him on the wall.)
Stuff. The Tigers have 5 team stores located throughout the ballpark. Stuffed tigers are a natural to sell, and jerseys, jackets, T-shirts and caps abound. You can also buy DVDs of the official World Series highlight films of 1945, 1968 and 1984 (they come in 1 disc, with the 1935 edition preceding the start of official films sponsored by MLB which started in 1943) and "The Essential Games of the Detroit Tigers."
Unlike the "Essential Games" series for the old Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium, instead of 6 games, there's only 4, and, due to the limitations on what Major League Baseball Productions has, they only go back to 1968, and, despite it not being "The Essential Games of Tiger Stadium," they still limit it to home games. Thus the 1984 clincher, Game 5 at Tiger Stadium, is included; 1968's Game 5 at Tiger Stadium, the only home game the Tigers won in that Series, is included; but the Game 7s of 1945 (at Wrigley Field) and 1968 (at Busch Stadium) are not. They do, however, include the Tiger Stadium finale in 1999 and Game 4 of the 2006 American League Championship Series, which was won by Magglio Ordonez hitting a walkoff homer to cap a series sweep. The Bonus Features include highlights from the 1971 All-Star Game (future Yankee Reggie Jackson hitting the Tiger Stadium roof off future Yankee Dock Ellis), the 1976 "Mark Fidrych Game" in which "the Bird" beat the Yankees on ABC Monday Night Baseball; the Comerica Park opener in 2000; a tribute to Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker; a big moment from the career of Curtis Granderson, now a Yankee; and a brief Tiger Stadium retrospective.
During the Game. You do not have to worry about wearing Yankee gear in Comerica Park. Maybe if it was a Pistons game and you were wearing Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers or Boston Celtics stuff. Or if it was a Lions game and you were wearing Chicago Bears or Green Bay Packers stuff. Or if it was a Red Wings game and you were wearing Chicago Blackhawks or (due to their nasty late 1990s, early 2000s matchups) Colorado Avalanche stuff. But for a Tigers game, you can wear just about any opposing team's cap, jersey, jacket, whatever, and no one will give you a hard time based on that.
Unlike its predecessor, with its overhanging outfield upper deck, Comerica Park is a pitchers' park. Left field is 345 feet away, left-center is 370, center is 420, right-center is 365, and right is 330. These fences have already been brought in once, following complaints from Tiger players that it was too hard to hit there. Actually, the dimensions are not all that different from Tiger Stadium, but since there's no outfield upper deck, air can circulate better, and when the wind comes in off the Detroit River, it makes it tough to hit one out.
In the early 20th Century, most ballparks would have a strip of dirt between home plate and the pitcher's mound, known as a "keyhole." Comerica Park added this tough, and so did the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, now known as Chase Field, as you'll see in this year's All-Star Game.
The Tigers' mascot is Paws the Tiger, and not only is he one of the less ridiculous mascots in the major leagues, but he's a better dancer than the Phillie Phanatic.
Whenever the Tigers score a run, the sound of a tiger growling is played through the public address system. It's a bit more intimidating than the really loud variation on the "Westminster chimes" that gets played at Yankee Stadium.
The Tigers do not have a regular song to play in the 7th inning stretch after "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Nor do they have a regular ballgame-over song.
The Yankees inadvertently contributed to the Tigers' version of the Angels' "Rally Monkey." In a June 2006 Yanks-Tigers game at Comerica, Tigers pitcher Nate Robertson (not to be confused with former Knick Nate Robinson) was featured on FSN Detroit's "Sounds of the Game," in which the TV station puts a microphone on a coach, or a player not in the game. To get the fans going, Nate began to stuff Big League Chew into his mouth, hoping to spark a late-inning rally. The trend caught on, with Jeremy Bonderman, Zach Miner and Justin Verlander all chewing from time to time. The Tigers came back to tie the game, and the phrase "It's Gum Time" has become a new rallying cry for the team, along with 1968's "Sock It to 'em Tigers" and 1984's "Bless You, Boys."
After the Game. With Detroit's rough reputation, I would recommend not hanging around downtown after a night game. If you want a postgame drink or meal, you're better off sticking to your hotel.
The only bar I was able to find catering to Yankee Fans, within 25 miles of downtown Detroit, and just barely, was a Ruby Tuesday restaurant in suburban Roseville. It's also been known to serve as the local headquarters for expatriate Giants and Jets fans.
Sidelights. Detroit is a great sports city, not just a great baseball city. Check out the following – but do it in daylight:
* Site of Tiger Stadium. The first ballpark on the site was called Bennett Park, after Charlie Bennett, a catcher for the NL’s Detroit Wolverines, who didn’t play there. Bennett Park opened in 1896, for the Detroit team in the Western League, which became the American League in 1901. However, the team we know as the Tigers (so named because the orange stripes on their socks evoked not just tigers but the teams at New Jersey’s Princeton University, also called the Tigers) are officially dated from 1901.
After the 1911 season, the wooden Bennett Park was demolished and replaced with a concrete and steel structure, opening on April 20, 1912 (the same day as Fenway Park in Boston) and named Navin Field, after Tiger owner Frank Navin. He died in 1935, and his co-owner, Walter Briggs, expanded the place to its more familiar configuration in 1938, renaming it Briggs Stadium. In 1961, new owner John Fetzer renamed it Tiger Stadium.
The Tigers played there from 1912 to 1999, and the NFL’s Lions did so from 1938 to 1974. The Tigers won the World Series while playing there in 1935, 1945, 1968 and 1984; the Lions won the NFL Championship while playing there in 1952, 1953 and 1957. (The ’52 Championship Game was played in Cleveland against the Browns, the ’53 and ’57 editions also against the Browns at Tiger Stadum.) Northwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Trumbull Street, 1 mile west of Cadillac Square down Michigan Avenue (U.S. Route 12). Number 29 bus.
* Joe Louis Arena. Opening in 1979, while the Alabama-born, Detroit-raised-and-trained heavyweight champion of the world from 1937 to 1948 was still alive, this 20,000-seat building was considered very modern at the time. There has been talk of a replacement for “The Joe,” but it doesn’t look likely that an agreement for one will be reached anytime soon. The Red Wings have come a long way from the building’s early days, when they were nicknamed the Dead Things, winning 4 Stanley Cups in 6 trips to the Finals between 1995 and 2009. It’s considered one of the loudest arenas in the NHL: Someone compared it to Chicago Stadium, the now-demolished home of their arch-rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks, and said that, if the visiting team scores 2 early goals, the Chicago fans quiet down, but Detroit fans stay loud throughout the game. 600 Civic Center Drive at Jefferson Avenue. It has its own station on the Detroit People Mover.
* Cobo Hall. This has been Detroit’s major convention center since its opening in 1960, and, following the rejection of a plan to demolish it and put a new Pistons-Red Wings arena on the site, it is about to undergo a renovation that will expand it. It includes a 12,000-seat arena that was home to the NBA’s Pistons from 1961 to 1978, and a convention complex that includes the city’s famed annual auto show. It is known for some legendary rock concerts, including the KISS Alive! Album and area native Bob Seger’s Live Bullet. Unfortunately, it may be best known for the January 6, 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan during a practice session for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Next-door to Joe Louis Arena, using the same DPM station.
* Site of Olympia Stadium. From the outside, it looked more like a big brick movie theater, complete with the Art Deco marquee out front. But “The Old Red Barn” was home to the Red Wings from 1927 to 1979, during which time they won the Stanley Cup in 1936, ’37, ’43, ’50, ’52, ’54 and ’55. In 1950, they hosted Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and Pete Babando’s overtime winner defeated the Rangers. In ’54, they had another overtime Game 7 winner, as “Tough Tony” Leswick hit a shot that deflected off Doug Harvey, the great defenseman of the Montreal Canadiens. (In hockey, the shooter is still credited; in soccer, this would have been an “own goal” on Harvey.)
The Olympia was also home to the Pistons from 1957 to 1961, and the site of some great prizefights, including Jake LaMotta’s 1942 win over Sugar Ray Robinson – the only fight Robinson would lose in his career until 1952, and the only one of the 6 fights he had with LaMotta that LaMotta won. It was the neighborhood, not the building, that was falling apart: Lincoln Cavalieri, its general manager in its last years, once said, "If an atom bomb landed, I'd want to be in Olympia." It was demolished in 1987, and the Olympia Armory, home of the Michigan National Guard, is now on the site. 5920 Grand River Avenue, corner of McGraw Street, on the Northwest Side. Number 21 bus. If you’re a hockey fan, by all means, visit – but do it in daylight.
* Silverdome. Originally Pontiac Metropolitan Stadium, this stadium was home to the Lions from 1975 to 2001 (after which they moved back downtown to Ford Field), and very nearly became home to the Tigers as well, before owner John Fetzer decided to commit himself to Tiger Stadium. Heisman-winning running backs Billy Sims and Barry Sanders ran wild for the Lions here, but the closest they got to a Super Bowl was reaching the NFC Championship Game in January 1992 – unless you count hosting Super Bowl XVI, 10 years earlier, the beginning of the San Francisco 49er dynasty led by Bill Walsh and Joe Montana. The Pistons, playing here from 1978 to 1988, had a little more luck, reaching the NBA Finals in their last year there. It seated 80,000 for football, set an NBA attendance record (since broken) of 61,983 between the Pistons and Boston Celtics in 1988, and 93,682 for a Papal Mass in 1987.
Without the Lions and Pistons, its future is unclear. It hosted a Don King-promoted boxing card this past January, and last summer hosted a friendly between Italian soccer giant A.C. Milan and Greek club Panathinaikos – appropriate, considering the area’s ethnic makeup. A current rumor is that a group trying to get an MLS expansion franchise for Detroit will use it, or demolish it and build a new facility on the site. 1200 Featherstone Road, Pontiac. Getting there by public transportation is a pain: The Number 465 bus takes an hour and 25 minutes, and then you gotta walk a mile down Featherstone from Oakland Community College.
* The Palace. Home to the Pistons since 1988, they won the 1989, 1990 and 2004 NBA Championships here, and almost won another in 2005. The Detroit Shock have won 3 WNBA Championships here, and, as a result, every time a title is won by either the Pistons or the Shock, the address changes: Currently, it’s “Six Championship Drive, Auburn Hills, MI 48326.” Unfortunately, the 22,000-seat building’s best-known event isn’t a Pistons title or a rock concert, but the November 19, 2004 fight between the Pistons and the Indiana Pacers that spilled into the stands, becoming known as the Malice at the Palace. Even the WNBA had a rare brawl there, between the Shock and the Los Angeles Sparks in 2008. Lapeer Road and Harmon Road, Auburn Hills, off I-75. Don’t even think about trying to reach it by public transportation: You’d need 2 buses and a half-hour walk.
* Motown Historical Museum. As always, I’m going to include some non-sports items. Detroit is generally known for 3 good things: Sports, music and cars. The museum is the former Motown Records studio, which company founder Berry Gordy Jr. labeled “Hitsville, U.S.A.” His sister, Esther Gordy Edwards, now runs it, and it features records and costumes of performers such as the Supremes, the Temptations and the Four Tops. 2648 W. Grand Blvd., on the North Side. Number 16 bus.
* Henry Ford Museum. The centerpiece of the nation’s foremost automotive-themed museum is a replica of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Henry Ford himself established the museum: “I am collecting the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used.... When we are through, we shall have reproduced American life as lived, and that, I think, is the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition.” It contains the fascinating, including early cars and bicycles, Henry Ford’s first car (his 1896 "Quadricycle"), Igor Sikorsky’s prototype for the helicopter, the bus Rosa Parks was riding in when she refused to give up her seat to start the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott, and a Buckminster Fuller “Dymaxion house.” It also contains the macabre, with the chair Abraham Lincoln was supposedly sitting in when he was assassinated at Ford’s Theater in Washington (the theater owner was no relation to Henry) and the chair John F. Kennedy was definitely sitting in when he was assassinated, in the Lincoln Continental convertible limousine he was riding in through downtown Dallas.
Next door to the museum is Greenfield Village, which Henry Ford imagined as a kind of historical park, a more modern version of Colonial Williamsburg – that is, celebrating what was, in 1929 when it opened, considered modern American life, including the reconstructed Menlo Park, New Jersey laboratory of his good friend Thomas Edison. Ford and Edison were both friends of rubber magnate Henry Firestone (whose tires certainly made Ford’s cars easier to make), and Firestone’s family farm is reconstructed on the site.
Please note that I am not excusing Henry Ford’s despicable anti-Semitism – and, to be fair, he did give his black auto workers the same pay and benefits as his white ones – but I am recommending the museum. It's a tribute to the role of technology, including the automobile, in American life, not to the man himself. Oakwood Blvd. and Village Road. Number 200 bus to Michigan Avenue and Oakwood Blvd., then a short walk down Oakwood.
* Greektown Historic District. Although Detroit is famed for its Irish (Corktown, including the site of Tiger Stadium) and Italian communities, and has the largest Arab-American community of any major city, its best-known ethnic neighborhoods are Greektown and the Polish community of Hamtramck. New York’s Astoria, Queens has nothing on Detroit’s Greektown, which not only has some of the country’s finest Greek restaurants, but also the Greektown Casino. 555 E. Lafayette Street, at Beaubien Street. Greektown Station on the People Mover.
* Hamtramck. Pronounced “Ham-TRAM-ick,” this city is actually completely surrounded by Detroit. When the Dodge Brothers (who later sold Dodge to Chrysler) opened an auto plant there in 1914, it became a hub for Polish immigration. However, the Polish population of the city has dropped from 90 percent in 1970 to 22 percent today. And Arabs and South Asians have moved in, making it Michigan’s most internationally diverse city. Nevertheless, if you want the best kielbasa, kapusta, golumpkis and paczkis this side of the Oder, this is the place to go. Hamtramck Town Shopping Center, Joseph Campau Street and Hewitt Street. Number 10 or 34 bus.
* Mariners’ Church. On my 1999 visit to Detroit, I discovered this church by accident, walking past it without realizing it was there until I saw the historical marker. Every March, it holds a Blessing of the Fleet for every person and ship going to see; every November, they hold a Great Lakes Memorial Service for those who have lost their lives at sea within the past year. This included the 29 men lost on the iron ore freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior, on November 10, 1975. Build and homeported in Detroit, the Big Fitz was commemorated in song by Gordon Lightfoot, whose song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” called the church “The Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral.”
170 E. Jefferson Avenue, at Randolph Street. It’s right downtown, near the RenCen and Detroit’s City Hall, which includes the Spirit of Detroit statue and the giant arm and fist that represent Joe Louis. But be careful, because Randolph Street empties into the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, to Windsor, Ontario, Canada. I’m not recommending that you bring your passport, unless you want to go across the river to the casinos of Windsor; but I am recommending that you be wary of tunnel traffic.
The University of Michigan is 41 miles west of downtown Detroit; Michigan State University, 86 miles northwest. If you’d like to visit either one, you might need Greyhound.
A visit to Detroit does not have to be a scary experience. These people love baseball. They don’t like the Yankees, but they love baseball, and their city should be able to show you a good time.