Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It's So Cold in the D.

As I was driving on 75 North with Gozer, we joked about the homemade hip hop song and music video that became an internet sensation (and that this post is named after). One would hardly think that the monotone singing and offbeat lyrics are actually for a serious song about "T Baby's" deceased brother and infant son, hence why the "D (Detroit)" is "So Cold." Ironically for us though, the D would in fact be cold although in terms of temperature, not personal tragedy.

I hadn't been to Detroit since summer of 2009, Gozer had never been at all. We were heading there with the intention to explore, document and photograph abandoned buildings with my friend Al Duce who runs Urban Exploring in Detroit has become a taboo subject amongst the Motor City locals and the press. Many describe what we do as 'Ruin Porn.' I'll touch on that subject in a later post, but the point of our journey to Detroit was not to exploit it for photography's sake. While there are others on the internet who want to take self-glorifying portraits or "edgy" band photos, what Duce and I do is simply document what's left behind. Whether you like it or not, Detroit is full of abandoned buildings and they're part of a larger story. We're just telling part of that story through our own eyes. Detroit has its troubles, but a city that has been described as an "American Tragedy" is still beautiful, elegant, proud and hopeful in many ways.

The drive up went well. It had been 60 degrees that day in Cincinnati, but as I stopped at a rest stop in Wapakoneta, I noticed it was getting significantly cooler as we went North. Due to work, we didn't leave the Queen City until about 10 PM. Eventually I made it to a small northern ohio college town to pick up Al. After dodging the late night university drinkers from the nearby bars, I exchanged a handshake with Al for the first time in over a year. From then on it was full speed ahead (as fast as a decade old Corolla can go without shaking too bad) through Toledo and over the border. Once in Michigan, the lights above the highway disappear and the highway shifts from asphalt to concrete freeways riddled with potholes. We rolled into Detroit, dropping Al off at one of the abandoned buildings we were planning to explore the next day. He was planning to camp here for the night. I knew it was no use arguing with him or offering to let him stay with us at the hotel, as he camped out during the last trip we made. So at about 3 AM I said "see ya tomorrow" before Gozer and I found our way to the hotel. We grabbed our stuff from the car and immediately went to bed. That was a hell of a drive on four hours of sleep, coffee and a Wendy's chicken sandwich.

Gozer and I woke up late, exhausted from the day before. The friendly clerk at one of Detroit's MacDonalds informed me that the restrooms were for paying customers only. A few McDouble cheeseburgers later and I was able to use the facilities of the fast food franchise. On our first day we hit up three locations, all of which will eventually be covered in greater detail.

- One.

- Two.

- Three.

Since we had gotten a late start, we figured three locations was enough to see for the day. Darkness was coming and we were exhausted. Some good food and a decent night of sleep would allow us to take full advantage of the next day. I began to doubt our plan though as a friendly homeless woman named Linda informed us that a snowstorm was on its way. I wasn't sure she knew what she was talking about, but when I got back to the hotel, my fears were confirmed. The local tv news informed me that a nasty ice storm was on its way, with snow reaching as far south as Lima, Ohio. I like Detroit, but getting stranded there wasn't in our best interest. We decided we'd have to cut the trip early. In the morning we found out that the weather wasn't coming till noon. We met up with Al and shot photos from the top of a parking garage before heading out.

- The Detroit People Mover snakes past the currently unused Wurlitzer building (front) and David Broderick Tower (rear). The Broderick Tower is currently being renovated, the Wurlitzer's future remains uncertain.

Mr. Duce pointed out to us that the Broderick Tower currently had its whale mural exposed (as seen in the above picture). Apparently a glimpse of the mural is a rare sight to see in Detroit these days. Installed in 1997, the "Whaling Wall" is just one of 100 murals of marine life created by the artist "Wyland" in 100 different communities around the world. Since 2006 the mural has been covered by a billboard that is supposedly generating revenue for renovating the building. The billboard recently came down in a storm.

- Comerica Park, one of my favorite major league ballparks.

While apparently it doesn't hold a candle to the now demolished Tiger Stadium, Comerica Park is one of my favorite parks in baseball. The place is up close to the surrounding city, surrounded by minimal parking lots and also features a baseball themed ferris wheel.

The Detroit People Mover isn't technically a form of rail transit, but it's the closest thing the city has. Unfortunately, it was never built to its full potential. In a city that was once dominated by the auto industry, an alternative to cars was not seen as a good thing by the shot callers at GM and Ford. Like Cincinnati pushing for its new streetcar, Detroit has been pushing for light rail as a way of providing a new form of transportation and for fueling economic development.

In the above photo, the sign of the left reads: "Bomb Detectors: If you see something unusual, warn others, move away and report it." I thought it might have been a poster left over from the filming of the Red Dawn remake, but it's real. The digital readout above it politely asks you to not bring pets. Apparently neither explosives or pets are allowed on the People Mover.

As we left Detroit with our trip cut short, I was wondering if we were making the right move, local tv news always seems to overhype the threat of snow. The trip had been great, but there's so much to see in Detroit - and not just abandoned buildings. Detroit is incredible. We said our goodbyes to Al and hit the road. As we passed through Lima, light snow began to fall. Snow turned into rain and rain turned into overcast skies as I drove through Dayton and into Cincinnati.

Upon arriving back in Cincinnati, I swung by my favorite Waffle House to grab some hash browns and coffee with one of my best friends aka Fulton Reed. Fulton was planning to drive back to Toledo that night for school. A text from him a few hours later claimed that I-75 was an ice skating rink up there. This picture he sent me confirmed how strong the ice storm had been:

Fulton made it back safe and the next day my dad was in Detroit for business also claiming that the weather and roads were awful. Apparently we had the right idea to get out of Dodge before the storm came.

I love Detroit. It's a beautiful and interesting place with an incredible story and friendly people (although the potholes in the poorly maintained roads get old really fucking fast). Detroit hasn't seen the last of me, I will return.

The stories from Detroit 2011.

Update | Oct. 18, 2017:


  1. It is in fact still cold up in the D. Oh and Toledo is no better thank goodness we have a Ducks game in cincy this week. I will be there relaxing sipping a milkshake at Joe's Diner!