The shimmering green acreage of Farwell Park faded into our collective rear view, and we headed towards the final leg of the trip.
The shenanigans of the previous night were starting to relinquish their grip. We wheeled into a gas station and grabbed some Gatorades, waved off the obviously strung out person asking us for money and headed for the finish line.
The only thing in our way was a few miles, the occasional strip club, and fast food joints. We figure-eighted through the columns in the parking lot of the Coliseum. The strip club was closed on Sunday and the crisp light of early summer filtered through the pillars.
The saddle of a beach cruiser is a fine place for rumination. On the road again, we slipped into an easy rhythm and I let my mind meander through the last 24 hours.
Getting my hair cut and beard trimmed at a barbershop, where we discussed Detroit, politics, and adult entertainment. The most common topics we could muster, reaching those kind of rehearsed conclusions that men are so fond of. Of course, followed up by a fine breakfast and conversation at a Coney Island next to the Penthouse strip club.
Blowing a tire out early, and so loudly that we both thought someone had been shot. The rescue mission from our friends Jen and Sammy. Riding and filming, drawing some negative attention as we pedaled through a neighborhood somewhere near Evergreen.
There was the Blue Moon Adult Video Store, the pair of leather-vested patrons, and all the lascivious treasures contained within. The kind bartender from Hangovers Lounge who served us ice cold Budweisers and chicken wings. Pedaling through the idyllic tree lined streets of Sherwood Forest. Knocking on the door of the Renegades Motorcycle club, where there was nobody home but a large loquacious dog behind a heavy metal door.
Then on to Andre’s home on 8 Mile near I-75 and all his tribulations. The stories of the poor kids being killed, the wild signage hanging next to his home, the outpost-like existence he and his family live and his inability to hold onto any of his tools. After all, according to him, this city is being overrun by crackheads.
Segue to our positively wild night at The Kwicky Bar and The Birdcage. The Suez Motel and the giggling Indian fellow taking my bike for a spin. Thanks to Denny Norman and the East Side Bike Shop for fixing my wheel. He could have maintained his cantankerous air, but decided to side with humanity. That humanity was everywhere on and near this road. It really does take a village to bike 8 Mile.
Also earlier that same day, we saw the little Eden of Farwell Field Community Garden. The tiny green shoots in the cool dirt, which would be tended into crops for the neighborhood over the summer by Mr. Williams and his green thumb.
It is a destination, not a border. 8 Mile is a complex ribbon of humanity ringing the north side of Detroit. Operating as a sort of bastion for the bizarre, the strange and the lewd, but all along the way we found kind people, scratching out a life, however grand along its sidewalks.
8 Mile has always reigned supreme in metaphor. From Coleman Young’s oft-misquoted mandate to all the pimps and hustlers in Detroit to get across 8 mile, to a movie about a struggling rapper, 8 Mile has captured the imaginations of people in Detroit and abroad.
Our journey was nothing short of amazing. Yes, there was an element of danger.. the straight of 8 Mile has a variety of safety levels depending on where you are and we could of been robbed, beaten or killed, but we weren’t. Instead, we laughed with transvestites, danced with the ladies, drank with the locals, and learned a little bit about ourselves.. and our city.
As we approached Harper Woods the grit of 8 Mile began to ease into surburbia. This is where 8 mile officially ends. There was nothing but a Chili’s and Eastland Mall to welcome us home. No checkered flag, no champagne. It’s not like laughing your way the length of 8 Mile is an epic accomplishment, but it meant something to us. Our goal now was to push on the rest of the way to Grosse Pointe, the water, a sort of land’s end to make it official.
The homes slowly improved and you could feel the existence of a tax base and services for those taxes. The air had that sweet smell of well-tended topiary. Azaleas and other flora hung in the air and mixed with the aroma of freshly cut grass. See, these are smells that are rare in most of Detroit. Many people take for granted these scents of summer, the stink of prosperity. These fragrances are not always part of Detroit’s potpourri.
We pedaled onward and like all roads, ours came to an end. We dead ended right at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club and stepped off our bikes to stretch our legs and stare in confusion at the professionally cut lawns, expensive cars, and perfect sprawling homes of the Grosse Pointe scene.
Our endless thirst for the hops caused us to ask a young couple where the closest watering hole might hide. Their names could have been Teagan and Todd, their boat shoes and flawless complexion were a far cry from the cigarette-lined faces of all the people we had just met along 8 mile. They shrugged their shoulders as if to say there hasn’t been a saloon in town since prohibition and pointed us north toward Saint Clair Shores.
The Yacht Club had the comings and goings of some sort of boat event and we decided to just pedal past the security gate and have a look. We tucked our bikes, unlocked, next to some well trimmed hedges and ducked around to see what was going on.
It was a Yacht Auction. Millions upon million of dollars worth or boats were bobbing resplendently on the sparkling water. Lake St. Clair seemed like an ocean, and the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club the shores of Long Island or Southern California. Pat and I purchased grossly over priced beer tickets and started sipping cans of Michelob Ultra. Rich people seem to hate calories.
With our Ray-Bans, board shorts and ball caps we seemed to blend right in, and no one questioned our place. They probably thought we were dockhands. Which in fact, in a former life, I was.
We couldn’t have been further from 8 Mile, though we were geographically very close. We strolled around, went to the marble bathroom to use the immaculate gold trimmed urinals and wiped our hands on little mini towels. Somebody gave Pat a hard backed full color catalog filled with yacht charter vacations in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The trip was over.
Tiring of the Yacht Club we headed north through the tidy and smooth sidewalks along the lake. After a couple of miles we found Fishbones, a restaurant whose name we know from being downtown.. however out here, it was just another very suburban restaurant offering outdoor seating and everything from sushi to sirloin. We found a couple of seats at the bar. Ordered some tall drafts, a much needed cheeseburger and began chatting up the girls next to us.
“It’s not all roses and rainbows in Detroit, but it’s a lot better than people think it is,” the girl in the flowered dress said.
You got that right.
A wave of relief washed over us. The food had a calming effect, and I realized I was beat. Beat in a fulfilling way. The sort of fatigue that serves as an elixir. We made it. We’re better for it, and we were even more entranced by this strange, dangerous and marvelous monument to America’s past, present, and future.
Editor’s note: This is the conclusion to a series biking the length of 8 Mile, Detroit’s border country. Start here at the very beginning.