The Big D: Adventures from Day 1

ribsIt’s a 5-hour flight from San Jose to Detroit, if you’re lucky enough to go non-stop.

Apparently, I’m not.

My plane was scheduled to layover in Phoenix for an hour, but it turned into 2.5 (we got off the plane, we got on the plane and then we did it all again — because two parts needed changing).

I squished into the middle seat of row 8 — lodged myself between two guys who both had trouble holding onto to their beverages (one spilled his coffee, the other tipped his cocktail over after nodding off).

We finally landed in an overcast Detroit — 1.5 hours late, but none the worse for wear. I thanked the staff on my way out, happy to be able to finally move my legs.

The Detroit airport is pretty nondescript. Big blank walls. No art. Long terminals with people-movers moving people.

I found my way to the ground transportation loitering area just in time for a ride to the car rental lot. An friendly older gentleman took my bag and welcomed me aboard with a “What brings you to town?” We chatted the entire way to the Enterprise drop off — mostly because I drilled him on how long he’d been living here and what he thought about what was happening with Detroit.

“To tell you the truth, the whole thing hasn’t really affected us like it has others,” he said. “My wife and I have been gainfully employed during the whole thing. Life has been pretty good to us.”

He called me “kiddo” as I hopped off the shuttle.

Then there was the 20-something boy who helped me with my car, “You’ll want the Chevrolet Sonic. It gets better gas mileage than the Honda.”

Me: “Really? Okay, if you say so.” And then I answered his “So what brings you to town?” with one of my own. He told me it was his 4th day here. Just moved to Detroit from (somewhere else in Michigan, I forget) as the next step in his managerial training program. Said he was pretty happy about it, too.

My hotel last night (the Howard Johnson’s near the airport) wasn’t the most spectacular, but the ribs I had delivered from the Merriman Street Grill (as per the many, MANY hints left laying around my room) were — as advertised — succulent and delish.

I was beat from the ride over, so I climbed into bed about 9:30 and was out like a light.

This morning I lugged myself to Panera’s for two tall coffees and an egg sandwich. And from there, proceeded to drive my way around the outskirts looking at property I’d picked out online last week.

Here’s a tiny bit of what I encountered along the way today

(I apologize for my lame-ass recording. I’m just learning how to use this camera. Plus, hello! I was driving at the same time…safely, but still!). Go full-screen, if you can:

It’s probably not crystal clear from this video, but there’s a LOT of homes that need help. And these pictures? They’re just from the outskirts. I haven’t even made it to the heart of Downtown yet. (I hear it’s worse there.)

As I drove through these pretty tree-lined neighborhoods, I never felt scared. There were no thugs sitting outside on stoops, waiting to shoot me as I drove by. There were no groups of unruly kids.

There was only the occasional middle-aged black man, sweeping the sidewalk or mowing the lawn in front of his house.

It was trash day, so everyone’s bins were out. Evidence that people did indeed live there.

But it felt so…deserted. So lonely.

I drove past a gigantic brick church, completely abandoned. Now just a shell. It’s windows long broken out.

I passed by shuttered building after shuttered building. And every now and then, a pile of rubble from a demolished house.

But I saw none of the city’s 20,000 homeless. (Maybe they’re huddled together in downtown shelters?)

Just lots of trees, grass and forgotten homes.

By noon, my cell phone (doubling as my GPS) was out of juice, so I stopped at the nearest Starbucks for a quick bit of lunch and an electronics recharge (gotta love those outlets!). Unlike the ones in Silicon Valley, this one had plenty of available seating. (Most people were on the patio enjoying the sunny breeze.)

I went inside and found myself a table. Once things were plugged in and charging, I asked the guy next to me if he’d mind watching my things while I grabbed something from the counter. “Happy to,” he said.

When he could see I’d finished my bagel, he asked how I liked my laptop. “I hear those Acers are the best you can get for business.” I told him he was at least half right.

“This is my travel laptop. The one at home is like 10x more powerful.” (Thanks to Mr. Perfect.)

Before long, our conversation strategically turned to him: how long he’d been living here (5 years in Detroit area, 20+ in Michigan); what areas he thought had the most potential (stay north of 8 Mile Road); what he thought Detroit needed (new City Council)…you know, all the stuff I came here to find out.

Turns out, he used to build houses. But since the economy went south, he’s been buying up and fixing the foreclosures. Said he just closed one today. Bought it for $30K, put about $18K into it, and then sold it for high 80s. He seemed pretty happy with himself.

I congratulated him on his success and asked him who his real estate agent was. He laughed. “I don’t use an agent. They never call you back.”

Me: “I know! I’ve had the hardest time finding someone to help me. They don’t even answer emails.” He offered to lend a hand if I needed to look at property, but I told him I’d finally found — I hoped — an agent who was willing to show me around. She and I have been exchanging emails and phone calls for two days and I’m hopeful we’ll be talking again later tonight…

In the meantime, I’ve checked into my hotel (in Taylor, another suburb) and am off to enjoy the “World’s Best Cheeseburger” at Big Boy.

On the agenda tomorrow: Tour the Downtown area. Lunch with a client. Mastermind meeting.

If you’ve got any questions, or know of any realtors who are willing to work with bank-owned properties, let me know in a comment. (And thanks for reading!)

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3 Comments

Filed under Business, Travel

3 responses to “The Big D: Adventures from Day 1

  1. Hi Tea
    You’re off to a good start. I don’t know any realtors there, but I do know that the best burger in the area is at the Red Coat Tavern which is on Woodward in Royal Oak (I think, could be Berkely). Also, neighborhoods you may want to check out are Corktown, Midtown and Lafayette Park.
    Happy exploring!

  2. cynthia

    Love reading about Detroit through your lens. And how you strike up conversations with folks for their personal insights–priceless . Have fun!

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