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TRAVEL JOURNAL INDEX > That Was Easy!

Detroit, Michigan  06/11/06 (Day 47)
That Was Easy!
 

Or not. After sitting in traffic for two hours trying to get back into the US from Canada (tip: never choose a border crossing that occurs over a bridge unless you like traffic jams), we drive down into Detroit, birthplace of our Silverado (Pontiac, Michigan, actually, but close enough) so we can finally have the logos of our wonderful sponsors put on the truck.

While she’s getting all gussied up, we hop into a loaner Corvette and check out a couple of local General Motors attractions, including the GM Heritage Center  where the passionate and knowledgeable manager, Greg Wallace, shows us around the facility’s collection of GM cars, accessories, paperwork and lore accumulated through the years the same way a museum might collect art: Some pieces are bought by GM. Some are donated by private collectors or former GM employees who want to share the automotive history (scale models, ancient owner’s manuals, actual vehicles) they’ve spent years squirreling away. And some items are simply left on the Center’s doorstep, like foundling children, for Greg to find as he arrives for work in the morning. Each and every item is meticulously archived.

Started in 2002, the GM Heritage Center now has countless pieces of memorabilia (from hood ornaments to hub caps) and enough history on paper and in photographs to fill more than 15,000 feet of rolling red files. Not to mention more than 1,000 GM brand vehicles, 200 of which are on rotating display at any given time in a 60,000 square foot facility that amounts to one of the plushest garages in the world with a polished concrete floor, slowly rotating klieg lights and a guy whose sole job seems to be to dust the pristine cars off all day long.

Here’s the catch: the Center is not open to the public (something about the fact that none of the existing car museums in Detroit attract very many visitors), but it is available to scholars as a research resource and images and posters from the collection can be viewed and purchased at www.gmstore.com.

From there, we drive over to the GM Proving Grounds where every model is tortured by more than 4,000 employees working three shifts a day on a 4,000 acre facility that’s full of the kinds of courses and obstacles that help GM see the strengths and weaknesses of the vehicles they build.

They do 600 barrier crashes a year. They just built a new rollover test building. There are 122 miles of paved courses and 36 miles of gravel roads. Their salt spray test area that goes through twice as much salt as the city of Detroit each year to make sure GM’s cars are appropriately rust-resistant. No wonder the on-site car wash does more than 3,000 washes a day...

But all of that is to be expected. It’s a proving ground, after all. What we weren’t expecting was wildlife, but with five lakes and lots of wooded areas, the proving grounds attract swans, deer, foxes, turkeys and blue herons. Before we leave, we even catch a fleeting glimpse of the elusive 2007 Silverado…

That night our friend Ray--who used to work for Michigan’s Governor and sometimes puts on a suitably French accent and reverently refers to Detroit as “Dee Twa”--gives us an eye opening tour of the slowly-but-surely improving face of the city he obviously adores. We cap off the evening with some perfectly respectable bar-b-q. Thanks, Ray!

To celebrate the long-awaited completion of the logo decals on our truck, we pull into the first Staples we see and buy an easy button (you know, those big red buttons from the Staples TV commercials). It is now attached to the roof of our cab and we smack it to make it say “That was easy!” every time something goes pleasingly smoothly.

One thing that really does go smoothly in Detroit is our stay in The Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, a swanky residential and shopping area on the outskirts of the city (read Karen's full review of the Townsend Hotel for iTraveliShop.com). In addition to many other fabulous things (like a Jacuzzi tub, balcony and more square footage than our last apartment in Manhattan), the room has the most comfortable bed we’ve ever slept in. It’s a miracle we’re not still in it.

Even if you’re not staying in Birmingham, it’s worth a visit at lunch or dinner time to sample the area’s burgers. Two highly recommended options: medium size sliders at Hunter House, a tiny, bright white, no-frills box that attracts quick snackers and teenagers, or a full-blown version at Red Coat Inn, a sprawling restaurant where the light bulbs are red and the place is packed with an older crowed.  Both are excellent in their own individual way.

 
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