“Back To The U.S.A.” *
My in-room breakfast is good again and I then pack up to move on to this afternoon’s destination, Detroit. I leave the Hilton and cross the walkway into the Casino car park just after 10 am. At the exit the lady says “$20” and I ask if I can pay by credit card. “Yes”, so I start to hand it over. Then the suddenly says “Oh you know what, I’ve just started and can’t be bothered, off you go.” Free parking! Result!
The roads are quite busy leaving town, certainly for what I think is reasonably early on a Sunday morning. Different country, different things to do I suppose. The traffic is flowing freely though and as I get further out into the countryside, the traffic thins out. Skies are blue and cloudless but it’s chilly at 67º F. The road however is boring as hell. Flat as a pancake, a few bridges over other roads, and generally dead straight with nothing of any interest on either side, just flat, open fields.
At which point, the topic of ‘car trouble’ arises again. When I picked the car up in NYC, when going through the computer one display said ‘Oil Life Remaining 13%’. I thought it was low but was it too low and bad? I had no idea. After all if the car uses 1% every 1000 miles, no problem. As it turns out, it burns oil was somewhat quicker than that. So much so that when I set off from Niagara Falls I get a ‘Change engine oil’ warning. And now there is just 5% Oil Life Remaining.
An Oil Problem
Driving along I had been thinking through what, if anything, I could or should do. Could I top the oil up? Say go to a Midas or similar and get an oil change? Swap cars? Could I make it somewhere to even swap cars? After a couple of hours I stopped for a break and decided to call Roadside Assistance for advice. They said it was a problem that needed reasonably swift attention. The lady said she didn’t think going to a Midas was a good idea, and they wouldn’t authorise it now. She also said if I just went and did it, they couldn’t guarantee I’d get reimbursed. The advice was to exchange the car at another Dollar depot.
Given I was heading to Detroit, she thought the airport depot would have lots of cars, and said to exchange it there. I agreed. So she updated their system to say what they recommended. She added, for them, that I was coming in for an exchange later that day and to allocate me another car.
Setting off again, my next decision was when to do this exchange. I could go straight to the airport, not the hotel first. Or do the swap in the morning then head off to Chicago. Another option I thought of was to go to the hotel, do my downtown walking tour, then drive out to the airport this evening. I settle on going to the hotel and swapping tomorrow morning.
Leaving Canada over the Ambassador Bridge I come up against long queues at border control to get back into the USA. After being held up for a while, I do eventually arrive at the Crowne Plaza Detroit Downtown Riverfront hotel. It’s valet parking here as well, for $20, and there was no ParkWhiz option nearby. I explain my predicament, and plan, to the two valet guys, just to see what they think.
One of them says to definitely not go to the airport tonight because the Lions are at home in a night game and the traffic will be very bad. He also says the traffic might be heavy in the morning as well, given I’d want to leave downtown by 10 am latest in case of any problems with the exchange. So he suggests I go now. He thinks the traffic will be light at present, the exchange should be quick, and I’d probably be back here by 4 pm. It was 2.30 pm when I pulled up, and despite being sceptical, I am persuaded by his local knowledge. So I set off.
To The Airport
In the first few minutes driving along, I’m still unsure if I’m doing the right thing. But I bow to the guy’s logic and belief, and decide to carry on. The airport is only 20 minutes away and I get to the rental lot at 3.10 pm. I have to fill up with gas of course, and do so at the outrageous price of $3.79 a gallon, just before the lot. Typical downtown price is $3.15!!
I explain the exchange to the check-in clerk in the lot, which confuses her, and she has to ask a supervisor what to do. Problem resolved, and I’m soon standing in-line inside the rental office seeking a replacement car. I asked the check-in lady and she they have lots of Chevy Malibus as, despite the problem, I like the car. The earlier booking system update amazingly explains everything to the reservation lady. She then checks if they do in fact have a Malibu, and they do. 20 minutes after pulling up in the lot I’m back outside checking over another white Malibu. I look at the oil: 74%. Will that be enough given the 1000s of miles still ahead of me? Who knows.
Bags loaded, systems reset and car checked, I leave the airport to drive back to the hotel at 3.50 pm. When I arrive for the second time that day, it’s 4.10 pm. I am just amazed at how smoothly and quickly the exchange went. Credit to Dollar. But it was still a pain to have to deal with in the first place.
A Long Line
Inside, the hotel is rammed with Lions and Patriots fans for the game later, and the hotel check-in line is huge. I have to queue for about 20 minutes. On check-in I enquire about the cost of breakfast and the receptionist then gave me a free breakfast ticket, I guess because of the wait. Looks like it’s my day for freebies!
A quick dump of my bags in my room and I head back out on my walking tour. I figure I’ll do what I can this afternoon, as I had scheduled to be here earlier in the afternoon, then finish off in the morning. In the UK I had searched the internet but found no hop-on, hop-off downtown bus tours. But what I did find were a couple of do-it-yourself walking tours, just like New York, with descriptions of the stops and their history. There were also a couple of paid-for apps but they didn’t have good reviews. A free app was even worse. So I worked out a route and put together an itinerary. I then used Maps to construct me a route between all the stops.
Of course there’s no commentary from a guide doing it this way, but the DIY tours I found online had a written description of each stop along their route. So I could read ahead as I was walking to the next stop. In theory!
Walking Downtown Detroit
At 4.20 pm I’m standing on the Financial District station of the Detroit People Mover, awaiting the next train. I do a full circuit, which was recommended by one of the tours, to help me get my bearings. Circuit done, I then alight at the Renaissance Center and start walking. The Maps route works very well and I do over half the stops before calling it a day, getting back to my room by 5.45 pm. Well chuffed! There were some interesting and varied sights along the way and the descriptions I had of why it was a ‘stop’ were good, and helped me understand the significance of each.
In the UK I did think about going to the Lions vs Patriots game but the cheapest seats were over $120, and I thought that too much. So I searched for bars near the hotel and the best seemed to be Tommy’s Detroit Bar and Grill, about a 10 minute walk away. I know Detroit has a bad reputation for crime but the areas I walked earlier seemed fine. There were no vagrants or undesirables around, nor anyone offering drugs. In fact it was almost deserted. It’s not run-down or derelict either, unlike the area I drove into by mistake on my way to the Motown Museum 5 years ago on my Highway 61 trip. I guess the Financial District must have had a cleanup and I feel safe in walking out to the bar later. But I will of course keep my wits about me.
Tommy can you hear me? **
Around 8 pm I leave for Tommy’s but when I get there, the bar is deserted. I discover they run a shuttle bus to Ford Field for the game for their regulars. This is the same thing that the bars in St Louis do for baseball. So they lost three hours custom whilst the game is on but I figure they must be packed out before and after. The game’s on TV but there is no-one in the place apart from the bar staff. Who ignore me all night apart from taking my orders. Well, there is someone else. There is a Neanderthal in the place, whose (empty when I arrived) bar stool I unwittingly and unfortunately sat next to on my arrival. He must have been in the restroom. ‘It’ does not speak a word all night, so I’m basically on my own in the bar.
The bar itself has character and I think that when it’s full it would be a fun place. Just not tonight. I order the Rib Dinner but the dumb bar girl serving knows nothing about it, and an older lady takes charge. The Dinner is four large pork ribs, two small pots of mac’n’cheese and mixed vegetables plus some coleslaw. It sounds very strange but must a local favourite, so I give it a go. It was OK, but was a very weird combination.
However once I’m done eating, I see little point in hanging around. I walk back to the hotel along deserted streets. I don’t remember seeing anyone else during the walk. At the hotel, I watch the end of the football on TV with a beer in the hotel bar – the Lions won – after which I head upstairs and crash out for the night.
* Back in the U.S.A. by Chuck Berry
** Tommy Can You Hear Me by The Who