Having said our goodbyes and packed the kiddies into the car, we set our course for Southeastern Michigan near where Detroit used to be. Yes, you read that right; where it used to be. You see, the signs are still in place, and there are still people residing inside where the boundaries are marked, but Detroit, for all intents and purposes, has ceased to exist. It's sad to see that the place once known as "The Motor City" and "Motown" is now just a depressing collection of empty buildings, desperate people, and the memories of former greatness.
Oh sure, there are people that will tell you that Detroit is coming back. Thing is, though, I heard that while attending Finney High School in the Seventies. So far? No comeback. And despite the photos put out there by Public Relations flacks that make the distant observer think Detroit looks like this:
The reality is that that section of Detroit is very small. You will, of course, note that the photographer took this photo from the Canadian side. He probably didn't think one photo of The Renaissance Center was worth risking his life.
The majority of Detroit looks like this:
As you can see, what was once Detroit is regressing back to wilderness, so spare me the optimistic platitudes. THIS is what fifty years of Progressive politics, Socialist policies, union influence, and government corruption has wrought. What was once a thriving, vibrant city is now good only as a backdrop for movies set in bombed-out warzones. Whatever connection I ever had to Detroit has been burned, bulldozed, and bankrupted out of existence.
Which is why we were travelling to a distant suburb to visit my niece, The Surprise, and her family. The Surprise was so named because growing up, she was something of a Princess, in the negative sense. So, for her to grow up and become the formidable woman that she is today is, well, a surprise. She is married to The Seeker, a man that is in the throes of finding his way in the world as well as finding himself. His loyalty to The Surprise is unquestioned, and their hospitality was every bit as warm and welcoming as that of Central Planning's family.
They have three adorable little kids, two girls and a boy that I can only refer to as The Swarm since I didn't really get to interact with them too much. Diswan and Datwan got along with them, although I believe that they were road-weary and burnt out on visiting relatives by this time. Still, The Surprise made the inspired decision to turn on a sprinkler and any and all conflicts were washed away as all of the children got soaked. The woman is a genius.
The Seeker fired up the grill and set about cooking up some burgers, hot dogs, and kebabs. He claimed that it was his first time ever trying it, but I think he was sand-bagging. No one gets lucky enough to turn out food as good as he did their first time out. The burgers were done to perfection, the hot dogs had just the right amount of burn to them, and the kebabs were awesome; the vegetables crunchy and warm, the meat cooked through, with just enough spice.
The only bad thing about the visit was the cloud of conflict that hung over us. Remember me talking about conflict among Sicilians? Well, my niece and her mother (my sister, The Matriarch) are in the midst of one now. I'm not sure how it happened, but both are angry with each other, both are hurt, and no one seems to know what started it or why. It's sort of a cross between the Chicken/Egg argument and the phenomenon of Paris Hilton being famous because she's famous. I wish they would just have a civil discussion (or as close as they can get) and hash it out. I tend to be like Switzerland in these things; heavily armed and inconvenient to get to. My heart goes out to both sides, but I've got my own family and issues to contend with. Other than that, and the fact that the weather was typical for a Michigan Summer; 95 degrees and 700% humidity, it was a nice way to spend an afternoon.
With our bellies once again filled to the point of discomfort, we set out to visit The Matriarch and her bunch.
The Matriarch is my sister. She is one of those infuriating people in that, whatever she decides to do, she does to the point of perfection, and is admired by one and all because of it. School, work, cooking, whatever, she masters it and her ability in whatever it is quickly exceeds those with more experience and training. Growing up, my mother had to work full-time running her business, so The Matriarch was always there for me, and spent much of her time getting me out of trouble with whatever school official I had managed to piss off that week. She always had a spare room for me to stay in, a meal to mooch, and a vehicle to borrow.
I, being the quintessential Little Brother, did my best to make her miserable, make fun of her at every opportunity, and insure that her refrigerator never had an excess of leftovers. Whenever possible, I annoyed her suitors, embarrassed her in front of her friends, and provided a poor example for her children.
Her children, being ever contrary, did not follow my example. Her oldest son, The Sailor, is off in The US Navy making America safe for Democracy. Or from Democracy. Or from terrorism. Whatever, he's serving his country, and doing a damned fine job of it. Oldest daughter is The Manager. She is in charge of all Emergency Medical Support, for either the branch of The Royal Saudi Family that resides in Dearborn, Michigan, or the events at Joe Louis Arena. I don't remember her title except for it being the same as as "The One In Charge" We've already discussed The Surprise, and child number four, a vivacious young lady I call The Gymnast is an office manager somewhere, with aspirations of becoming a Registered Nurse. Of all of The Matriarch's children, The Gymnast is the one that cracks me up. She has a talent for sarcasm, and a quick wit. She's fun to be around and seems to have it all together. Currently, The Gymnast is going out with a pleasant, hard-working young man I call 'Underwear' in reference to his inability to keep his pants pulled up. Underwear wants to own his own business someday. His preferred business will involve some sort of industrial machinery which, I'm sure, will be governed by OSHA regulations requiring him to wear a belt or buy pants that fit, so as to prevent him from snagging his underwear on some sharp, whirling, axle thingy that will drag him into the machine and grind him into a bloody mush of greasy meat and Fruit of the Loom shreds. Yes, he seems likable enough, but his inability to master the simple task of concealing his undergarments from public view makes me wonder if, instead of a girlfriend, he might need an attendant of some sort. Perhaps that's why The Gymnast is going to Nursing School. Hmm, I'll have to give this some thought. Finally, we have The Skater. Still in High School, The Skater is, I believe the Politically Correct term is "physically challenged". The Skater has lost the ability of perambulation and can only move long distances while perched atop a flat board riding on wheels.
Tragically, his equilibrium is such that he can't roll in a straight line. This causes him to veer off course and he ends up scraping along curbs, flying down staircases, and losing his footing, causing him to repeatedly separate from his board. His erratic method of locomotion is best illustrated thusly:
My understanding is that he is actually in that clip somewhere, but Walleye Vision makes me nauseous, so I haven't been able to watch it long enough to find him.
Then there is my Brother-in-law, The Handyman. The Handyman, as his name suggests, builds, fixes, and repairs stuff. He has an almost uncontrollable compulsion to remodel his kitchen every few years. He's about to do it again. I'm not sure how many times he's done it, but I'm willing to bet he's in the double digits. He's also one of those people that local politicians hate; he pays attention to what they're doing and then calls them on it when they do something underhanded. Moreover, he doesn't forget, he doesn't quit, and when you try to discourage or intimidate him, he gets angry and redoubles his efforts. Recently, he became incensed enough to run for City Council himself. He didn't win, but he sure scared them. He's thinking of doing it again. I think he just likes to see that shocked and frightened expression on their faces when he shows up at meetings.
As luck would have it, we would only be able to see a The Gymnast and The Skater as the rest of the kids have lives or something. In any event, this is what awaited us as we drove towards the last of the relatives to visit.
Next time: Old Friends and The Birthday Lobster Massacre