How to Hit it Out of the Park with House-Guests in Detroit!

July 28, 2014 | Detroit

Detroit Historical Museum

Last year at this time, I thought I was going to face an interesting challenge. My 17-year-old niece was coming from Puerto Rico to stay with me for a week in Detroit.

Factors that led me to believe this would be a challenge:  Factor #1: Thus far on the Cactus-to-Fern-to-Dog-to-Child trajectory of Child-Preparedness-Training, I have a dog. (I only forget to feed her occasionally.) Factor #2: My niece is 17. This in itself is not a problem. I have friends with cats they acquired as children who are of about the same age. They entertain themselves with yarn, naps in pools of sunshine, and bird-watching. I was completely unconvinced that my niece would be happy with any of these options.

I was wrong. Not about the yarn—I don’t have yarn, I’m not even sure where you score yarn these days—but about the challenge of keeping a 17-year-old entertained in Detroit.

My Dad stepped up (well, I guess it might be better to say he ‘sat down,’ as he had to drive 12 hours) to spend the first two days of her visit with us.  (Yes. Of course he was excited to spend time with his granddaughter, but, full-disclosure, it is not uncommon in our phone conversations for my Dad to ask me if I’m “still feeding Little Dog.”)

Since my father grew up in Detroit and Canada—and lived in the city until the 1970s when he left to teach at a northern university—my niece had a personal tour guide who could share interesting anecdotes about the places we went in the city. (Though, while I find my Dad indispensable in every way, had he not been here, I could have just as easily gone downstairs to D:hive and taken my niece on one of their numerous tours of Detroit—which, by the way, are equally as interesting for people who grew up here, people who have lived here their entire lives, and people who have recently moved here as they are for people who are only briefly visiting our city.)

Of course, as all Michiganders know will happen on weekends, vacations, and when visitors come to town, it rained the first day of her visit. Not a problem. We caught a bus right outside my building that took us up Woodward to Midtown where we would have a cultural Smörgåsbord laid out for us. (In the future, we will be able to take the new M-1 Rail.)

There was a break in the rain, so we got to walk around Wayne State’s campus first, checking out the buildings and reflecting pools that had been there in the ‘60s and ‘70s (when my Dad got his PhD and taught there) and the new buildings and sculptures that have been more recently erected. My Dad’s trip down memory lane included several mentions of the MC5, which I don’t think made much sense to my niece until we headed into the Detroit Historical Museum. There, she got to see pictures and read the stories of not just the MC5, but of other musicians, artists, actors, models and comedians who hail from The D: all of which elicited a continuous stream of “Oh! So-and-So is from Detroit?”

It wouldn’t have mattered if my Dad and I had gone through the “Legends Plaza”—as afterwards we got a full rundown of all the Who’s-Who of Detroit from our teen-aged docent.

And while the “Kid Rock Music Lab” was another obvious ‘hit,’ my niece also got to see a functioning assembly line in the “America’s Motor City” exhibit; learn the role of Detroit as the “Doorway to Freedom” while literally walking through the story of the Underground Railroad; and navigate cobblestone streets and wander through the ‘Dime Stores,’ blacksmith forges, and Sanders Confections of the 1800s and early 1900s in “The Streets of Old Detroit.”

Alright, if you’re wondering why I have not yet mentioned our experiences at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Motown Museum, and the Michigan Science Center—all places we’d planned to visit with my niece to while away a rainy day—it’s because we never made it to those places.  You can spend hours in the Detroit Historical Museum discovering the past without ever realizing how much time has passed. Which is exactly what we did. (I recommend all of them, but I also recommend a ½ day for each of the above museums we didn’t make it to!)

The rest of the week sped by. We enjoyed nightly concerts at Campus Martius Park. The first night my Dad, niece, Little Dog, and I picnicked in the park to classical music. I thought perhaps my niece was being a good sport as she enjoyed arrangements of classical music played by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, but on the following nights it was her suggestion that we head down the street to Campus Martius for Motown and Rock concerts in the park.

Little Dog did not join us for the subsequent evenings because she was completely worn out from the long walks we took through Greektown, Downtown, and along the Detroit Riverfront.

I love my city, but knowing the views my niece wakes up to daily in Puerto Rico, I was surprised by how much she loved the sights on the Detroit Riverwalk.

Highlights included Windsor: “That’s Canada?” was a constant refrain as we watched freighters pass by. (My niece has travelled extensively, but apparently it is not so common to be able to see a foreign country from your ‘front yard.’). And Belle Isle: though the fact that the Red Hot Chili Peppers were not actually on Belle Isle and performing right at that moment was a slight disappointment to her when she learned they had done so….

But this was completely made up for by the fact that Transformers 4 was filming around the block from my loft and, in a 17-year-old’s world, this apparently means that at any given moment you could run into Shia LaBeouf. And, no, I didn’t tell her I didn’t think he was actually in this sequel. Because in my world every time you walk by a Chinatown that has risen up in Downtown Detroit you could run into Mark Walhberg. (Hey. It could happen. I have run into George Clooney and Ryan Gosling—the latter literally—taking my dog out while they were filming in my building. Quentin Tarantino has chilled at d’Mongo’s Speakeasy and, recently, The Town Pump Tavern announced that Ben Affleck ‘always eats free’ there—I hope he knows to get the BBQ Chicken Pizza….)

Alright, back to reality. It turned out that the challenge I had during my niece’s visit was not that I wouldn’t know what to do with her, but that we couldn’t do everything we wanted to during that one week.  There is just too much to do.

On her last night in town, my building held one of our twice-a-month Resident Events at Garden Bowl.  Having heard that Lady Gaga had hung out there, my niece was ready an hour early for my building’s free shuttle that took us. (If you are unfamiliar with 17-year-old girls, being ready early is less common than…. Okay, it just doesn’t happen.)

So because we couldn’t be in two places at once, among the many things we could have done and wanted to do, we struck out on going to the Tiger’s game that night.

That’s okay, though. Because with so many things still left on our Things-To-Do-In-Detroit list, it is just that much more reason for my niece to come back and stay with me again soon.

And that is a Home Run.

(For the Record: No dogs went unfed during the writing of this blog.)

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