Welcome to Motor City

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Happy Easter. It’s a long weekend here in Canada, so with both the Friday and Monday as holidays we have a few more precious days to go travelling. This time, we’re heading into to the USA to visit some folks we know. So we packed the car early on Friday morning and jumped on the QEW to head west.

First stop on our agenda was Farmington Hills, a city on the outskirts of Detroit, to visit Fran and Zeke. Our friends back in Australia, Sue and Greg, had met Fran and Zeke about 20 years ago while they were on holiday in Fiji and insisted that we simply must visit them since we were so close. Although I must admit I felt a little strange just dropping in on friends of friends that we’d never met, we did exchange a few emails with Fran and Good ol’ Zeke and they were so welcoming that we simply couldn’t say no. So we headed out on Highway 402 across western Ontario to Sarnia, and over the bridge to Port Huron to enter Michigan in the United States. The trip was fast on the highway, but it took a while to get across the border… there was a huge number of cars trying to get across so we sat in a queue for nearly an hour on the bridge.

We finally arrived at Farmington Hills (thank goodness for the Google mapping service!) to find the Aussie flag flying outside the house.

Sue and Greg were right… Fran and Zeke are a really lovely couple. They made us feel extremely welcome in their home, and we sat and enjoyed a nice lunch and some good conversation. After lunch, Zeke took us for a drive downtown and showed us some of what Detroit is most famous for – its automobile production. Nicknamed Motor City, Detroit is the home to the three big names in the US auto business, Ford, GM and Chrysler, and everywhere you look you can see evidence of the car industry. Zeke drove us past the Ford offices and production plant, where he used to work when he was a young fella. Henry Ford built the world’s very first production line right here in Detroit and the Ford factory still sits on the same site today. It is just a mind-bogglingly enormous production facility! Zeke explained that the factory is “fully integrated”, meaning that the entire production is done onsite including the production of the actual steel for making the cars. Ford don’t just buy steel from a third party supplier – they actually have their own blast furnaces onsite and take the raw coke, iron ore, etc and produce the steel themselves before using it to then produce the cars. Everything is produced onsite from raw materials, so the factory looked very industrial, a lot like Port Kembla back home in Wollongong. (and almost as big!) As you drive around Detroit you can see the evidence everywhere of Henry Ford’s influence… lots of buildings, libraries, parks etc named after him.

We then got a grand tour of the city itself – past Comerica Park, the big baseball stadium and home of the Detroit Tigers, where a game was starting in a couple of hours so people were beginning to gather around the outside for tickets. Baseball season started a few weeks ago here in the US.

We drove past the riverfront area, and waved at Canada on the other side. Its kind of weird that there is such tight security at the border to cross into the US, but it would be so easy to just cross the river, especially in Winter where the river freezes over and you could literally just walk across between the two countries. We saw the rather spectacular offices of General Motors; a large glass skyscraper right on the waterfront in the centre of Detroit city. Zeke drove us around a bit before eventually heading back home for dinner.

At dinner Zeke and Fran’s son Hub and his wife Nancy, their granddaughter Carrie-Ann and Fran’s sister Margaret joined us. We had a lovely dinner and some good conversation. The whole family are extremely well travelled, so there was plenty to talk about. Zeke also showed us his study, where he has an amazing collection of memorabilia. Photographs of their travels adorn the walls (Zeke has been to all 7 continents of the world, including Antarctica – Fran gave Antarctica a miss so can only claim six!), and there is a world map covered with red pins showing the places they have visited. We were also fascinated by Zeke’s collection of military bits and pieces, including helmets from WW1, WW2, artillery shells, war medals and decorations, and what I think is the most amazing artefact, a genuine rifle and bayonet used in the US Civil War.

We eventually said goodbye to Hub, Nancy, Carrie-Ann and Margaret, and retired for the evening. After a really good sleep we awoke to more wonderful hospitality from our hosts with a big breakfast and a quick tour of the area around their home before we reluctantly said our farewell. I can see why Greg and Sue enjoy the company of these guys so much… nicer folk you wouldn’t find anywhere.

Around 1:30pm we hit the road again, next stop Chicago!

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