Home > Uncategorized > My Detroit vacation (updated)

My Detroit vacation (updated)

Well, I’m back.  I didn’t much feel like blogging during my trip; I didn’t spend too much time online and I spent it doing other stuff.  So I saved it up for when I got home, and here I am.

The trip up to Detroit went pretty smoothly, particularly once I sorted out how to use cruise control.  Traffic was fairly light and conditions were good.  My bike fit in the trunk (with the back seats down) once I took the front wheel off (and I asked the bike-shop folks to show me how to do that the day before I left), so there was no trouble there.  I stopped for lunch at a McDonald’s on the outskirts of Dayton, and when I was about to leave again, I noticed to my amusement that it was across from “Cincinnati Street.”  Aaaaahhhh!!!  All that driving and I haven’t gotten anywhere! 😀

Anyway, there seemed to be a rest stop about every hour or so, and I availed myself of them to stave off fatigue.  I drove at the speed limit, and once I crossed into Michigan where the limit went up to 70, I stayed a bit below it.  All told, with all the breaks, it took me just under 7 hours to reach the home of Aunt Shirley and Uncle Harry.

I had a nice time.  Shirley and Harry were good hosts, and they have a nice house, a place they’ve lived for decades and raised a family in.  It’s very lived-in, full of pictures and knickknacks and stories.  I haven’t been there since childhood, since my father was something of a hermit family-wise and I tended to adopt that from him until he passed away and I rediscovered how much it helped to have a family.  But I still recognized things here and there, like the intimidatingly steep steps to the basement/game room and the foot-pump organ in the study.

Shirley and Harry are in their eighties, but quite fit, except that Shirley is recovering from a back injury and is less mobile than she used to be.  Harry’s been an avid bicyclist for decades, and even though he’s twice my age, I had trouble keeping up with him even on foot.  We took a couple of bike rides around the neighborhood, which is a good place for it.  It’s a pretty upscale suburb of Detroit, with quiet, mostly well-maintained streets, and it’s incredibly flat to a Cincinnatian.   Each ride was around 5 miles, according to Harry, and I doubt I could’ve covered that distance here in my neighborhood without wearing myself out on the hills.

The cuisine was vegetarian per Shirley’s preference, mostly using homegrown vegetables from a neighborhood gardening collective that Shirley participates in.  She reminded me of what an incredibly finicky eater I’d been as a child, but fortunately my palate has broadened, particularly where vegetarian fare is concerned.  Tuesday night, Shirley made a concoction I’m going to try to approximate at home sometime, consisting of veggie crumble (hamburger substitute), rice, canned diced tomatoes, onions, mild red and green peppers, and black pepper (I think that’s everything) (UPDATE: No, I forgot, it also had olive oil!).  It was quite satisfying.  I just had Cheerios and a banana for breakfast Wednesday, since Shirley was off to swimming and physical therapy, but lunch consisted of radish sandwiches.  I haven’t had radishes in ages, for some reason, and they were good.  We went to the Detroit Zoo that afternoon (more later), so we were tired and dinner was reheated pizza, but it was very good pizza from a new local place.  Thursday, we had homemade cinnamon-walnut-raisin oatmeal for breakfast, and it was excellent.  Lunch was the leftover veggie crumble-rice concoction, with more rice added and topped with Australian Cheddar cheese and cherry tomato slices, and it was even better than before.  For dinner, Shirley proposed a local Middle Eastern restaurant, and though my experience with Middle Eastern cuisine is limited to hummus and pita, I decided to take a chance and try it out.  I was adventurous enough to try a pita wrap containing falafel, tabbouleh, and tahini, even though I had no idea what the first two were before I entered the restaurant.  Well, I’d heard of falafel, but didn’t know what it was.  Apparently it’s basically meatballs made of chickpeas instead of meat.  Its flavor and texture remind me of veggie burgers, particularly bean-based ones.  Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds, an ingredient of hummus.  Tabbouleh is basically a finely chopped salad made of parsley, mint, bulgur wheat, tomato, and onion, but it struck me as a sort of salsa verde equivalent.  It was very aromatic and might’ve been a bit much for me on its own, but blended with other flavors it was okay.  I had it along with a strawberry-banana-orange-apple smoothie, and it was very satisfying.

A lot of my visit was spent talking with Shirley and Harry.  Shirley was full of Bennett family stories; her home has been pretty much the family hub for a long time, particularly when my grandparents lived right next door.   Harry had some intriguing stories too — he’s a physics professor, and he worked at MIT back when they were developing the earliest computers.  He helped solve some of the earliest programming problems, figuring out ways to make programs more streamlined and efficient, necessary when the whole computer had only a kilobyte or two of capacity.  So the fact that I’m able to write this blog and you to read it is due in some small part to my uncle.

On Wednesday, we were joined by Uncle Clarence, who is the second-youngest of Emmett (Sr.) and Mary Bennett’s four children, between Shirley and my father in age.  He resembles my father in appearance and sense of humor, though not in voice, and I gather they used to be more different.  There’s an old family picture I saw at my father’s memorial service and in Shirley’s house, and in it, the young Clarence looks strikingly like Groucho Marx, while my father looks kind of like me with short hair and a beard of almost rabbinical proportions.  Clarence is fairly quiet, except when he comes forth with a quirky observation or a pun that’s groanworthy even by Bennett family standards.  (When the family was in town after the memorial and we were driving around to see their old homes, we drove by Wentworth Avenue and I quipped to Clarence, “What’s a Went worth?”  Without a moment’s pause, he replied, “It depends on where you’ve been.”)  He’s a retired electrical engineer and an inveterate tinkerer.  He accompanied Shirley and me to the zoo, and while Shirley had a wheelchair, Clarence used a motorized scooter.   He didn’t make the scooter, but he modified it with brackets to hold his two canes (he insists a quadrupedal walking base makes more sense than a tripedal one, thus defying the Riddle of the Sphinx) and an umbrella holder on the back in case it rains.  And he made his own canes out of golf club shafts.

The zoo was nice, though the animals were mostly sleeping.  And there was a lot of walking and wheelchair-pushing involved, so Shirley and I were both tired at the end.   I’ll talk more about it in a separate post, with some pictures, though not many good ones, since my phone has limited resolution and no zoom.

On Thursday, Shirley, Harry, and I went to Greenfield Village, which is a rather unusual museum: Henry Ford went to considerable expense to bring a number of important historical buildings from various eras (or replicas thereof) together in one place.  For instance, Greenfield Village has Thomas Edison’s laboratories and the Wright Brothers’ bicycle shop.  It was a thrill to visit those, and I’ll talk more about it in another post.  Better pictures there, since I could get closer to things.

So all in all, it was a very nice trip.  I set out for home on Friday midmorning, after a second bike ride with Harry.  They let me take an apple from their backyard tree as a snack for the road.  The tree wasn’t fruiting for a while due to the loss of the local bee population, but Harry had the idea to get a soft brush and pollinate the flowers himself, and thus they have homegrown apples (though the squirrels steal a lot of them, one of them doing so quite brazenly while we were watching out the dining room window).

Shirley and Harry recommended that I stop for gas right across the Ohio border, where prices were unusually low.  It was a good suggestion.  However, it wasn’t as needed as it might’ve been.  I’ve never been able to get more than 21 MPG on my car, generally more like 18-19, so I was expecting that the trip from Cincinnati to Detroit (about 270 miles) would take close to 15 gallons, i.e. about a whole tank.  But it took only about half a tank!  When I filled up outside Toledo, I calculated the mileage and got a whopping 32.5 MPG!  Okay, still not great in the absolute, and lousy next to Shirley & Harry’s Prius hybrid, but amazing for this car.

Which opens up an interesting possibility.  Assuming there’s no major increase in gas prices over the next two weeks, that mileage means that if I drove to New York Comic Con and back, staying in a motel overnight both ways, the cost would not be prohibitively greater than the cost of a Greyhound ticket (since computer problems prevented me from ordering a ticket far enough in advance to get a discount, which may be just as well).  And a few more bucks would be worth it to avoid another two sleepless nights on noisy, uncomfortable buses, particularly since I don’t have to pay for a hotel this time.  True, it’s a long drive, but I found the drive to Detroit and back to be manageable, and if I split this over two days each way, I’d only spend about 20% longer on the road per day.

So all in all, a satisfying trip and one that broadened my horizons.  I’ll have to do it again sometime.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Charlie
    September 26, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    always remember when you do a lot of highway driving your car performs better. You use MOST gas when you are accelerating. Thus stop and go traffic or even just traffic where there are stoplights and stopsigns will cause you to get worse gas milage then when you are at a relatively steady speed out on the highway! I have a prius and i love that car. It tells me exactly what im getting at any given time and i love it

  2. September 27, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    Sure, I knew the highway mileage would be better, I just didn’t know it would be that much better. I did a ton of highway driving over the past few months, once my father moved to a retirement community that was several freeway exits away, so I figured that would have an impact on my mileage, but it barely did. So I concluded that my car’s highway mileage would be no better than 20 MPG or so. Getting over 32 is a big surprise.

  3. Barrie Suddery
    September 28, 2010 at 6:26 am

    The Toyota Prius is in fact a marketing ploy; they’re pushing the environmental button to get you to buy a car which in fact is one of the most environmentally unfriendly cars out there.

    The nickel that goes into the Prius battery is mined in an open cast mine in Canada, shipped to Europe for refining, then flown to Japan to be put in the car before the whole thing is shipped back to the US.

    Further more, the miles per gallon on a Prius, at best, is around 42-45 MPG. A Volkswagen Polo Blue Motion diesel can do upwards of 75-80 MPG and in an episode of Top Gear, presenter Jeremy Clarkson, using efficiency driving techniques, drove an Audi Twin Turbo V8 from London to Edinburgh and back again on a single tank of diesel. That’s a round trip of almost 800 miles!

    Lastly, the Green Party here in Britain has concluded that the best way to serve the environment is to keep your old car running as long as possible, rather than buy a new one, Prius or otherwise.

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