Photographs from a road trip that somewhat reunited a high school band and took us from Cincinnati to ruins in Detroit to Lake Michigan and back.
I've known Joe since I was in the 7th grade. We became friends when we talked at a school dance about how some kid there looked like Bobby Hill. He and I began playing music together and eventually after playing with lots of good dudes, we formed a band called Combat Stupendous. Joe played drums, I played guitar. We brought in Kevin on the second guitar, Nick became our singer and Rob became our bass player.
In 2006, we entered the "High School Band Challenge," a "battle of the bands" that used to be (maybe still is?) held at Bogart's in Clifton. At the pinnacle of our success, we were featured in the Hamilton-Jounral News and tore up the first two rounds of the band challenge. In the third round, controversy struck! We played our set, encouraged people to vote and watched the rest of the bands. We had the honor of playing with local ska legends, The Prairie Dog Gangsters and we thought things went well. The band that ended up winning - I can't remember the name - All I remember is they had a bunch of steel drums, sounded like shit, wore flip flops and brought a literal bus load of people who all bought multiple tickets (each ticket came with a voting ballot). After stuffing the ballot box, these indie douche bags had eliminated us. We were gone. At the time, I was very angry about it. We played a few more shows as we all started graduating high school and even recorded an album, but eventually everyone went their separate ways.
These days everyone's doing something different, but we decided to get the band back together for a road trip to see Rob get married - A Combat Stupendous reunion... except we wouldn't be playing and Nick and Kevin couldn't come. Regardless, Joe and I decided to make the trip.
I only go into Michigan if it's to photograph abandoned buildings in Detroit, so I assumed this wedding must be as close as driving to Detroit.
Turns out, Michigan is really fucking big and Onekama is quite a ways a way from Detroit Rock City. Luckily, Joe pointed this out to me before we left. We only had a hotel room near the lake for one night so the decision was either get up really early Saturday morning and drive eight hours or leave Friday night and go on an adventure. Adventure it was, so we headed to the Motor City.
|- The abandoned Lee Plaza Hotel in Detroit.|
I picked Joe up around 10 PM, spending the next few hours catching up with each other. We stopped at a Waffle House near Toledo for some food and after jamming to the only Combat Stupendous CD, Clutch, the Bosstones, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bazaar Royale's "What's it all For?" - we made it to Detroit around 3 A.M.
The plan was to just hit up one abandoned building. Something quick, easily accessible, in a relatively safe area and something with a great view of the skyline. My Detroit contacts recommended the Lee Plaza Hotel. Abandoned in the early 1990's, the roaring 20's Art Deco high rise had been a prominently beautiful structure. After decades of ownership changes and neglect it transformed to apartments and eventually ended as substandard senior housing.
Joe and I hopped out of the car, through a hole in the fence and hit the stairs. We hit the 15 flights, flashlights in hand checking to make sure no one else was hanging out inside before we stepped out onto the roof.
Fighting our way through some overgrown brush up top, we found our way into one of the attic rooms. The holes in the roof provided some great views of the city skyline, Canada in the distance and the smoke of a fire down the street.
It was 3:30 in the morning and we were standing above Detroit just taking in the city sounds - the people yelling down the street, the truck sirens rolling to the fire, the few cars on the road, the early morning birds chirping in the trees.
We climbed back down the stairs and out through a hole in the wall. We cruised around the city listening to Lujon and I made a few more frames as the sun came up.
Detroit is one of my favorite places on this earth, it is a truly incredible city.
We headed out of the city, I was coming close to being awake for 24 hours and we had just driven across the length of Ohio earlier that night. As we passed the 8 mile exit on the highway, I pulled off to let Joe get a better photograph of Eminem's iconic "hood." Little did I know, we'd stumble on this...
...the pawn shop from "Hardcore Pawn." You know, the "reality" show on TruTV where the guy yells "MY KID COULDA GOT KILLED" at the beginning?
Anyways, it was closed at 5 A.M. and we resumed our trip to travel across the Michigan to the Northwest. At one point the highway was closed for repairs and we were forced to navigate dirt roads that eventually became paved before we found the highway again.
The hotel below most certainly was never a Days Inn, it's just a hotel geared towards spending time with your dad apparently.
We got to Onekama right on time to check in at the hotel. Joe had been kind enough to drive the final few hours of the trip while I attempted to sleep in my passenger seat. We checked in, said hello to Rob and then crashed for a few hours before we had to be up for the wedding of our bass player on a Lake Michigan beach.
The wedding was great and I wish Rob and Meg the best. At the reception, we made friends with Meg's uncles Gary and Bill. Talking with those gentlemen and the open bar is about all I remember. Eventually I passed out in the hotel room after setting my alarm. I woke up early the next day to go photograph the lake. That cold water was the greatest hangover cure ever.
We said goodbye to Rob and Meg, finally giving Rob our wedding gift and card. Rob, if you're reading this... I lied to you. The original card wasn't lost in "an incident in Detroit," like I said. I actually forgot to get a card until we got to Onekama. That one I made you that says "Wu Tang Bird Ain't No One Ta Fuck Wit" was just a picture of a bird I drew you on notebook paper I found in my car.
Then we saw some cool shit on the 12 hour drive home...
- Grand Rapids has a nice skyline, but incredibly awful traffic that allows you to sit on the highway and photograph said skyline.
- For whatever reason, there was a firetruck parked on almost every overpass leaving Grand Rapids. People were waving at those who drove below.
We ended up coming back home through the Northeast corner of Indiana. I really had no idea where exactly we were, just kept following the GPS map and listening to music. I saw signs for Angola and knew we had to make a quick stop.
Angola is where my grandparents had owned a lake house before they passed away. I spent many summer vacations there as a kid and can remember when I was really young going to the small "Fun Spot" amusement park. After they passed away, I hadn't been back to Angola. That was until 2009 when Fun Spot was abandoned and my cousin and I returned to photograph and explore it.
I stopped in Angola to see the park still standing.
|- The loop of "The Afterburner" standing above a nearby restaurant parking lot.|
While the park was still there and still standing, the gas station attendant next door informed me that the rides were being auctioned off in the coming weeks. Not sure what's happening to the park or if that was just gas station gossip, but I do know you probably shouldn't try to visit yourself. As a friend who tried after I did put it: they apparently didn't like that guy from Cincinnati's photographs.
|- The Afterburner rollercoaster still stands at Fun Spot.|
To read about Fun Spot, check out the write up from 2009.
We eventually made it home after listening to the Combat Stupendous album one more time. If we ever find the time (and if I could ever remember how to play the songs anymore), it'd be great to rerecord that album, but I'm willing to let it go. Combat Stupendous was one of the few things I enjoyed in those high school years, but more importantly I valued the friendship of the dudes I played in that band with.
Congrats to Rob and Meg and thanks for the invitation to the wedding and the adventure it subsequently provided.