Day 10 – Mustangs and Mashed Potatoes

Sean’s Journal: I decided to drive straight through from Chicago to Detroit to get there in the late afternoon. This gives me more time today, plus tomorrow to check out some of the Detroit area spots that are memorable for you, Vince. I appreciate your text last night with some general descriptions and details. I will count this all as Day 10.

As I was driving along, I heard a news story about a sad confrontation in northern Kentucky, just south of where I’m at. It occurred between some high school students and a Native American elder, and some other agitators who joined in. It makes me wonder what causes this divisiveness and hateful behavior. It seems that some of our fellow citizens have forgotten that we are all Americans.   

Vince, here’s my experience with your top two destinations. I know your kids loved the Detroit Zoo. I didn’t stop there. And, I wish I had time to travel north to the Oscoda area and the Au Sable River region where you said your family liked to vacation.

This is Vince’s 2007 Ford Explorer Sport-Trac. It’s got just 67,000 miles. It’s a smaller yet mighty truck (small V8) for hauling what I need to the back country that I love.

Ford Motor Company. As I drove into the Detroit area, I knew you began your post-college career at Ford. All I could think of was Mustangs. I think every generation loves that car. I first drove through Dearborn where I visited the Ford Product Development Center and the Henry Ford Museum. I talked with several Ford employees and asked them about living in Michigan and what made them happy. They told me that a clear day with blue skies was always welcomed and that Ford was still legendary for some of them even though the innovations of Henry Ford were so far distant in the past. 

I found a small motel in Dearborn for the night. Vince, I remember you telling me about your initial visit to the former River Rouge assembly plant in 1969; and that it was the largest manufacturing operation in the world back in the late 1920’s. I went there and took the tour. They reminded me that, in the beginning, the plant was a mile long with steel, glass, rubber, and other raw materials deposited on the river dock at one end of the plant as shiny new cars drove out the other end. Wow, that’s one-stop-car-making.

Southfield, Michigan. I drove through the neighborhood to which your family moved 50 years ago. From what you told me, I expected it to now be a modernized area with high-rise apartment buildings. It is still a quaint, homey neighborhood and all the beautiful trees live up to the street’s name. Generally, the Southfield area is a collection of industrial parks and shopping centers, but I can envision your little son and daughter walking down that sidewalk in front of your home as big sister tried to protect her little brother from the scary blackbirds. I saw a couple of people sitting on the front porch, so I pulled over to say hello. I told them I had a friend who used to live in the neighborhood, and I asked for their thoughts about life in Michigan. The couple I met are Michiganders and grew up in the inner-city of Detroit and then moved to Shagbark to raise their kids. They love the neighborhood even though the homes are now getting older.

Sign of the Beefcarver. At the end of my full day in the northern suburbs of Detroit, I went to find the restaurant you and Marie used to visit regularly, located on historic Woodward Avenue in the City of Royal Oak. It’s still there. Here’s the opening line on their menu: “Began in 1957, Sign of the Beefcarver is an Early American-themed cafeteria restaurant with waitress service.” And, Vince, the sliced roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy are out of this world. It makes you feel like you’re having dinner with early American settlers as they gathered for a neighborhood feast after a hard day’s work. The interior brick walls, the fireplace, the cast-iron cooking and gardening implements hanging high on the walls all add to the atmosphere. What a great dinner recommendation. What’s more, a group of twenty-something couples saw me all alone and asked me to sit down with them to eat. We talked for a long time. They enjoyed their favorite beer and I went through several rounds of ginger ale. They told me what makes them happy, from A to Z. They all love to travel. They went on about northern Michigan, including the Traverse City area and the Upper Peninsula. These are regions unknown to most non-Michiganders. I wish I had more time to go there. These young people were mostly involved in the high-tech companies that thrive in Southfield. They convinced me to nearly double the number of apps on my phone. I guess eating out, cool apps, and visiting the north country are their prime motivators. This ended a very good day in southern Michigan. Thanks, Vince.

Vince’s Response: Wow! Sean, you brought back memories. The Ford Mustang was introduced in 1964 just five years before we arrived in Michigan. I worked in what was then the Design Center where the earliest drawings and clay models of new cars were showcased for Ford VIP’s. I saw new Mustangs 3-4 years in advance of their public availability. Way cool!

Marie and I just Googled our old home on Shagbark Drive. We have very fond memories of that home as you know. We lived near the cities of Royal Oak and Birmingham where many of our church friends lived. That’s the area where former Michigan Governor, George Romney, and his family lived; where, now U.S. Senator, Mitt Romney, grew up. It was a great area to raise kids, which surprised some of our relatives who were worried when we first announced that we’d be moving to Detroit, which was known primarily for its large car factories and inner-city crime. We enjoyed our four years there. At Ford, I sometimes got teased about being “one of Romney’s boys.” He was the governor just before we moved there; and a good governor I would add. Thanks for your report, Sean.

Bookends: (1) Let’s pray that we get beyond being divided Americans and back to being united as fellow citizens of the USA. (2) The name Henry Ford should remind us of the importance of our country’s early industrialists and the economic foundation they laid. (3) Never judge a city or a state or any other place until you’ve lived there. (4) It’s hard to beat lean roast beef and mashed potatoes with gravy, as healthy as kale and quinoa certainly are.