Postcard from Detroit: Sweet Homecomings
As my plane touched down this morning on a bright, sunny dry patch of runway at DTW in the McNamara terminal the familiar swell of homecoming filled me. Yet, as soon as I stepped on solid ground, I realized that this trip already feels different. Was I imagining it? Gone from people’s faces was the characteristic friendliness, the slow local amble was replaced by dullness, tight grimaces and flashes of trepidation.
At the airport in New York, the lines were pushing and urgent as people cut in front of one another to make it through the rush. Here people seemed more in a daze, looking to go somewhere. The look was on the face of the vendors in the shops, to the young guys in Detroit Tigers baseball cats carrying duffle bags. Or maybe it was just the usual Monday morning blahs.
I veered toward the Westin exit — an insider secret to Detroit airport pickups, the way to leave an airport in style with large windows exposing the 757 Boeings of the Northwest Airlines fleet. With my regular trips to Detroit, I’ve come to use this short cut several times a year, waiting for my ride.
The Westin lobby was nearly empty though it was Monday around checkout time and my footsteps echoed as I pushed the stroller through the dim glow of sophisticated decor. I noticed a small cluster of people sitting on benches with nervous faces — they didn’t look like business travelers. Then I saw the sign pointing to the section where they sat reading “Interviews.” My son’s innocent 8 month-old eyes took it all in, gazing at the tall lights.
My mother works downtown; my father is retired and works at home, so he was on chauffeur duty. He picked us up in front of the Westin entrance in mother’s Chrysler 300C complete with my son’s baby seat. They switched cars for the day to accommodate the growing family. My father’s Dodge proud, bright-red pick up truck isn’t built for Graco. Ever since I remember, my parents have driven new cars. In fact, the last car they own was in the early ’70s — before me. A Challenger perhaps? Or was it a Dodge Dart? They’ve almost forgotten themselves. That’s because lease cars were part of my father’s salaried contract. But, this Chrysler 300c is the last of the lease cars, my dad told me. My parents will be in the market soon.
In the car ride to my childhood home, we began to talk about the pension cuts at Chrysler. The uncertainty is everywhere, even with my parents, who are Midwest practically comfortable. These days I consider them one of the lucky ones.
Yet all my preoccupation vanished when we arrived home, and climbed out of the car in the driveway. I watched my son peer curiously around, the quiet, the gentle breeze, comforting him, the front door beckoning him of second home. He stretched out big and wide, enjoying all that extra air, the free space of Michigan to move around expressively, and to take his time. All at once I fell in love with home for him, for me.
And so the tone is set for my homecoming — where I will spend the next week looking at my town with subjective objectivity, trying to sort out what has happened here in the last five months, and to guess what is to come. It’s a question everyone’s asking. Yet, here I find myself in this odd place of a certain perspective — immersed in the politics, the history and the culture of Detroit, and what it means to come from here, covering this city for some 15 years as a journalist and ambassador, and on the other hand, surrounded by the insiders of the automotive industry, the realities of making cars as an automotive writer. What makes this time different, is that it feels like everything is changing, vanishing, replacing, and shuffling, and standing still and moving forward all at once. Everyone’s watching, but is anyone listening?
In some ways, just like my 8-month old son, I feel like I’m seeing it for the first time. It’s still good to be home. – TW