Without Wheels in The Motor City

“Fuck it.”

Infamous last words, nearly as popular as the meme-worthy “Hold my beer” and “Hey, y’all, watch this!” – in this instance they were accompanied by another pair of words not often heard in Detroit in January:

“Fuck it. Let’s walk.”

In other news, I’ve learned that single-digit (Fahrenheit) temperatures are an incredibly efficient manner of sobering quickly from an evening of carmaker-funded drinking.

I returned late Tuesday evening from an extended weekend covering the North American International Auto Show in Detroit for The Truth About Cars. Roughly four hours of driving after wandering a overly-bright convention hall for a couple of days will take a toll, and I was thanking my younger self for the foresight of taking an extra day out of the office.

Monday, as shown by Samsung’s pre-installed step counter above, I walked a bit more than typical. Naturally, I was chasing stories through the day at the Cobo Center, but that evening compelled my presence at various “parties.” As I’m incredibly introverted, I’m not one to “party” in any sense of the term, but I figured I’d mooch a meal and a drink here and there.

Indeed, that’s exactly what most of the party attendees were there to do – build their Internet Point total by Instagramming the beautiful food delivered by beautiful people.

I tried to do what I should be doing at these events – networking with the manufacturers that are putting on the events, as well as other journalists. But with FIVE events scattered between downtown and Corktown, the evening’s logistics would be a challenge.

Which is how I ended up outside a Michigan Avenue bar after 11pm, trying to hail an Uber/Lyft ride.

I’m not one to use ridesharing services that often. Once a year, maybe, when my own car is inaccessible. I hate being driven.

Perhaps I’m not a preferred Uber client, or I just don’t know how to use the app properly, but I couldn’t get a ride to arrive for at least 45 minutes. Neither could my friend, who was staying at a house a couple miles away.

Thus, “Fuck it. Let’s walk” became the word of the evening. Even though I was simply dressed in a suit, without anything resembling a topcoat.

Google Maps tells me that the distance between the bar and TTAC’s shared AirBnB home is exactly three miles.

Deputy Samuel Gerard tells me that “average foot speed over uneven ground, barring injury, is four miles an hour.”

By that logic, I figured that the 90 minutes of walking quoted by Google Maps’ app was overly conservative.

“..Barring injury..”

Perhaps my choice of footwear – a pair of wingtips purchased 16 years ago from a closing Sears store for around four dollars – would qualify as an injury. To their credit, I never slipped badly enough to fall to the snowy ground, and my feet remained relatively warm – but they clearly were not chosen for the journey at hand.

I’d left my coat in the AirBnB, as well. I figured that any time outside would be brief, and that dealing with a bulky down parka wouldn’t be worth my time.

Walking three miles in pleasant weather in a park is a pleasure. Three miles up Detroit’s 14th Avenue in dark, snowy conditions is less than pleasant. The urban decay that has defined many out-of-towners’ jokes is still present in spots. Overgrown sidewalks, abandoned homes, random car parts strewn about – all can be seen when walking through the neighborhood.

And yet, I didn’t feel threatened. The entire walk was well illuminated by streetlights, so the only being that seemed bothered by my presence (a chained pit bull) was easily avoided.

There are pockets where plenty of care has gone into restoring some beautiful old homes. Pride in ownership can make all the difference.

I’m from Ohio. I’m supposed to hate Michigan.

But beyond the roads that are somehow more pothole-ridden than those from the Buckeye State, I struggled to find anything that made me dislike the D.

(Well, except maybe the marketing where everyone calls it “The D.” Automotive journalists are known for sophomoric senses of humor.)


The people were generally friendly and welcoming. The food – sorry for lapsing into fawning journalist mode here – but the food can be marvelous.

Yeah, I’d prefer some other time than January to visit, but it is what it is.

My phone died with about 30 minutes left in my walk. Thankfully, I knew where I was, where I needed to turn, and that my mates in the house were too drunk to try and drive randomly to find me, so I pressed on.

It turns out we were staying just down Grand Avenue from the Motown Museum. Next year, I will be visiting Hitsville.

As I trudged up the street toward the house, a lone car rolled by. Another of my temporary roommates was in the Uber, certainly confused by a cold bearded man wandering up a residential street in just a thin suit well past midnight.

I wasn’t drinking coffee when I got to the room – the water was awful – so I bundled up, chatted briefly with the crew, and dozed off quickly.

I’m hoping this doesn’t read like so many “White man encounters multi-ethnic neighborhood; survives” stories. That’s not it at all. While some to whom I’ve recounted this tale have been astonished that I even considered the journey, I don’t know that it’s that remarkable.

That said, I’ll admit that I’ve made some of those “Don’t go to Detroit, you’ll get murdered” jokes.

Never again.

I love this town. I love what it represents – a beacon of potential, a point of pride for people who never gave up loving their city.

Yeah, Detroit has a way to go. But things are looking up.

Now, does anyone have suggestions on waterproof shoes that look good with a suit? Because I’d rather not say “Fuck it” on the next pair.

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