Ford F-150 Plant and Henry Ford Museum, Detroit

Ford Rouge F-150 Plant, Dearborn, MI. Click to enlarge.

Ford Rouge F-150 Plant, Dearborn, MI. Click to enlarge.

Just outside Detroit’s southwestern boundary sits a series of beautiful and sprawling Ford facilities: the Rouge F-150 plant, corporate campuses, and The Henry Ford Museum.  Touring the F-150 plant was interesting, but it did not inspire me to buy a Ford.  The employees (“operators”) dressed ultra-casually in sweat pant cut-offs, t-shirts, and similar outfits.  The plant shuts down entirely for the 30-minute lunch period, and I arrived a few minutes before the ramp up.  I saw some operators sleeping on the floors of partially built trucks.  A manager explained that this is against company policy.  “I wish they wouldn’t do it, but a few of them do,” he said.

Ford Rouge F-150 Factory, Living Roof, Dearborn, MI.  Click to enlarge.

Ford Rouge F-150 Factory, Living Roof, Dearborn, MI. Click to enlarge.

I don’t typically visit museums, but The Henry Ford was well worth it.  I sat in the actual bus and seat that Rosa Parks refused to yield to a white person in the segregation days.  The museum also features every past presidential limousine, including the ones in which Presidents Kennedy and Reagan were shot.  You can see the dent in Reagan’s limousine where the bullet ricocheted before hitting him.

The museum’s theme is to document the evolution of American society, and it is intelligently executed.  Rosa Parks’ bus, for example, is one artifact within the context of a larger exhibit discussing segregation and the civil rights movement.  There is an actual segregated train station waiting room, and visitors can go into the white and black sections to see the difference.

Ford Rouge F-150 Plant, Dearborn, MI.  Click to enlarge.

Ford Rouge F-150 Plant, Dearborn, MI. Click to enlarge.

Much of the country’s story is told through its vehicles, as one might expect given the source.  There are brands other than Ford on display.  In an exhibit discussing the 1970’s energy crisis an early Honda Civic sits near a Dodge Omni.  Upon seeing the Omni I impulsively said, “That looks like a piece of crap.”  A friendly museum official said to me, “When you go to Disneyland everything is fake.  Here, everything is real.”

Detroit Burning: Time to Buy?

Downtown Detroit Sept. 2013

Downtown Detroit Sept. 2013

Intelligent people told me I was taking undue risk in seeking out the most devastated parts of Detroit.  There are 19 photos and I hope you have a minute to look at all of them.  They depict a small amount of the destruction that I saw, but give a thorough flavor for it.  The last one may make you smile.

Burned-down Detroit home. Click to enlarge.

Burned-down Detroit home. Click to enlarge.

The last half of the title is taken from a Realtor’s sign in an abandoned block of the Brightmoor neighborhood.  The houses on either side of the offered property were burned to the ground or otherwise destroyed.  The Realtor sign thus looked utterly absurd in the moment.  At least you would have a quiet street, and you could probably get the adjoining lots for peanuts.  Good luck finding qualified renters.  Arson is so rampant, and the fire department so decimated by budget cuts, that unless a fire imminently threatens another structure the policy is to let it burn.  Firefighters do what they can with broken equipment.

Grave marker in front of abandoned home, Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Grave marker in front of abandoned home, Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Most of Detroit is a miserable jungle of criminals, crumbling buildings, and hard-faced residents.  It was sometimes difficult to distinguish the thugs from regular people.  Everyone’s guard was up all the time.  On the first day I drove from the southwest corner of the city northeast through downtown and into a northern suburb to my hotel.  I thought that at least downtown would be a vibrant area, but it was only somewhat better than everywhere else.  Abandoned and decaying office buildings were plentiful.

Detroit.  Click to enlarge.

Detroit. Click to enlarge.

I found entire blocks of abandoned houses in various stages of destruction. It was safe enough in the abandoned neighborhoods to park the truck and walk around, even in approaching darkness.  I happened upon a young woman, her face covered by a protective mask, who was cleaning out a trashed house to restore it to service.  I crossed paths with two families who were still living in their homes in otherwise empty blocks.  They sat on the porch in the evening partially to watch for trouble.  Scrappers and dumpers are a problem, and my obvious outsider status stirred suspicion.  No one ever threatened me.

Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Detroit. Click to enlarge.

The fully inhabited parts of the city were scary.  It was typical to drive down a street and see police cars and sometimes an ambulance parked where some crime had just occurred.  The streets teemed with apparent thugs.  Even the people I perceived as benevolent looked at me harshly as if to say, “What the hell are you doing here?”  I locked the doors, stayed in my vehicle and stopped only when I had to.

Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Detroit. Click to enlarge.

On one residential street a rough-looking young man walked toward my vehicle as if to block my path.  As I prepared for confrontation in this most tense moment, he stepped aside and gave me a friendly wave and a nod.  I waved back and kept going.  He was a nice guy after all.  I sense that many good people live in these circumstances because they have no means of escape and perhaps little awareness of the alternatives.  They deserve better.

Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Burned down home in Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Burned down home in Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Burned down home in Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Burned down home in Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Detroit. Click to enlarge.

2nd to last but not least: the sign that inspired the title.  Click to enlarge.
2nd to last but not least: the sign that inspired the title. Click to enlarge.

Detroit, ending on a positive note.

Detroit, ending on a positive note. Click to enlarge.