In 1998, I was 24 years old and touring with the First National Tour of the Broadway show "Rent" when we stopped for a three-month sit down in Motown. Most of the cast stayed in Royal Oak, a wealthy suburb of Detroit, but those of us looking for a little more action stayed at the Millender Center apartments near Greektown. I rode my bike six days a week to the Shubert Theater, past smoking sewer grates, abandoned blocks, and arson set fires. I was there on Halloween, which is/was called "Hell Night." The holiday seemed appropriately named.
In 1998, I also had the same girlfriend as I have now. Nicole. We met years ago in Chicago when she was 19 and dated for about six months before the "Rent" tour left for 3 weeks in Cleveland and then we drifted apart for 17 years.
Coincidentally, I'll be playing Cleveland once again this Wednesday the 17th, at a "Happy Hour" gig with my band Bad Teenage Moustache across the street from Progressive Field at Wilbert's, where they'll be serving up $2 domestics. If you're in town and looking for a little pre-game mayhem, here's a link to the event. I'll be singing Cubs related songs like "The Night the Back Up Catcher Got the Win", and the "Ballad of Billy Cub".
Shameless Plug over.
But 17 years ago, I was pretty much doing what I'm doing now. Same girl. Same wanderlust. Only now, I make a lot less money and watch a lot more baseball.
Old Tiger Stadium was still in operation in 1998, but it was the off season and I never caught a game there. My father and much of my extended family are from close by Ann Arbor, and all Tigers fans. My greatest baseball regret is not ever seeing a game where my dad, then 13 years old, cheered on Hank Greenberg to beat the Cubs in their last World Series appearance in 1945. My dad died a Cubs fan, and never saw the destruction of Tiger Stadium and the building of Comerica Park. But like most old-school Tigers fans I talked to last week, he likely would have lamented Tiger Stadium's loss to history, but also been impressed at the now 15-year-old Comerica that is helping revitalize the downtown of a city famous for its epic descent into misery.
I spent three months in Detroit in 1998, and only two nights in 2015, but I noticed huge differences in the Greektown neighborhood I once called home. First of all, it now sports the Greektown Casino, which is a sprawling gaming complex with slots and table games, restaurants, and theaters. It wasn't as seedy as I'd expected being Detroit, and the place was hopping with hundreds of people pre-gaming the Cubs-Tigers Wednesday night game, dressed in jerseys and caps of both teams. I can't say the slots were particularly loose, as I lost $20 trying to play the Hot Hot Penny bonus which never happened, but it took me an hour and a half to lose my gambling money. Not a terrible day at the slots for a low roller like me.
I also noticed that the seediest strip club I've ever been into, which was directly across the street from where I once lived, is now called a "Gentlemen's Club." Progress.
Detroit's on the upswing, it seems, and the teenage Comerica Park stands as a modern baseball shrine, surrounded by echoes of the Tigers' great baseball history. Historical Tiger towers stand like totem poles along the downstairs concourses, each one commemorating a decade of Tiger baseball history. Comerica's picnic/concession areas house a carousel where you can "ride the tiger." and a Ferris wheel where you can get a low flying bird's eye view of Ford Field (the football stadium, right next door), the picnic area, and a cop car parked across the street. Comerica is family-oriented, for families that prefer amusement park rides to watching baseball games.
Its brick facade hearkens back to older classic ballparks like our beloved Wrigley Field, but the most impressive aspect of the look of the stadium is that it's guarded by a half dozen or more giant stone tigers. They appear ferocious and ready to pounce and are as intimidating as they are impressive.
There's also a statue garden in left field. The sculptures bring to life Tiger greats like a sliding Ty Cobb and a ball jumping off the bat of Hank Greenberg. The statues are so incredibly detailed and life like, that you half-expect Al Kaline to burst out of his stainless steel shell and take his position in right field.
The concessions on the other hand, left much to be desired. The game was pretty well attended, yet all of the stands on my side of the upper deck were completely shut down. I had to walk behind home plate just to get a decent beer at one of the many bars throughout Comerica. I was less than impressed with the beer selection as well in the upper deck. There were more choices on the lower level as is usually the case. However, there are many bars and a couple of party decks located throughout the park, and better concessions are available. You just might have to walk a bit from the cheap seats.
The highlight for me was, I found a locally sourced liquor kiosk that served up Two James vodka, with ginger beer and lime juice for $10. It was a delicious cocktail that I will be certain to mix up at home... where $10 will go a lot further and I won't have to walk as far to enjoy the beverage.
The food was your regular ballpark fare which I try not to eat because of cost and my doctor said I need to cut red meat and sodium. If I'm eating in Detroit, I'm eating in Greektown.
Though it's chock full of salt, I can't go to a Greek restaurant without ordering saganaki, flaming salty cheese. Ever since I witnessed a heavily hair sprayed waitress go up like a torch at a Greek diner in the burbs, I've enjoyed the danger and excitement of a skillet of flaming cheese lighting up the dining room. I wasn't disappointed this time either! Our saganaki at the Pegasus diner set the bread basket aflame. It was my fault though. I made the waitress stand there while I snapped photographs resulting in a cheese wildfire.
Greektown is a tasty and exciting pre-game visit, and many of the bars and restaurants in the area offer free parking and a shuttle to the game if you eat there. Fishbones is recommended in Greektown. But there are other options for parking and eating, like Z's Villa or The Hard Rock Cafe. Kurt at Ballpark E-guide is chock full of advice about Comerica and many other ballparks. I had a conversation with him about the stadium for my Son Ranto Show Podcast to prepare for my trip.
Yes. It seems Detroit is on the way back. There's lots to do and see, and I wished that the Cubs played more in Detroit. Two game series are rare, and also not enough time to see baseball and explore a city, but I did return to one old haunt from my Detroit days before heading back to Chicago. The Heidelberg Project.
29 years ago, artist Tyree Guyton began creating an open-air, discarded object sculpture garden in his violence-ravaged neighborhood. I'll let the photographs speak for themselves, but Tyree's vision for turning his burned-out neighborhood into something that's transformative, colorful, and unique is my kind of art. Wrapped within social activism, and a desire to promote change, Tyree's junk sculptures have attracted nearly 300 thousand visitors from around the world. I've had the pleasure of meeting Tyree on both of my nearly two decades apart visits, and told him on this most recent trip about how we had met 17 years earlier. I was saddened and hurt that he didn't remember me. Just kidding.
But seriously, if you're ever looking for an interesting day trip in Detroit, I'd suggest this one.
Well, there it is folks! My brief trip to Detroit. I watched both of these games with my cousin David, his wife Nancy, and my cousin Derreck from my dad's side of the family. The only thing missing from this trip was my father, who died a few months after the last time I was in Detroit. I would have loved to catch a game with him watching his two favorite baseball teams square off, but as Steve Goodman sings in "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request": "He's got season tickets to watch the Angels now." My father can't come back from the dead, unless all those zombie movies are true. But that's exactly what Detroit is doing. Coming back from the dead, one Ferris Wheel, Casino, and Polka dot at a time.
Come see my band "Bad Teenage Moustache" this week as the "Gig and a Game Tour" continues!