It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

Michigan: Second TripCharles Dickens wrote those words more than 150 years ago as his opening to an epic tale which remains the best selling novel of all time. The phrase was meant to convey an extreme contrast between eighteenth-century qualities of life in England versus France. My application might be less noble but no less accurate in describing January’s trip.

I reached all of my planned destinations and visited with extraordinarily gracious hosts, but technical glitches and poor health conspired to slingshot the experience from peaks to valleys and back again.

With three main attractions to see and after a year’s planning, I wasn’t about to close myself inside a hotel room until it was time to leave.

The Best of Times
Snowy street in Dearborn, Michigan, January 2014

Riding to the Los Angeles International Airport, just before midnight, I was in a sweat. Not because I was nervous, rather because the temperature was in the low 60s and I was wearing three layers of clothing. Eight hours later I would be thrust into a deep freeze and I can handle heat much easier than I can handle cold.

Thankfully, as if ushered in for a wayward snowbird such as myself, the so-called “vortex” storm that had ravaged most of the eastern U.S. miraculously eased up during my stay. So warm was the Detroit area that John, my friend at the GM Heritage Center, quipped he’d seen locals out in t-shirts. This California native didn’t venture out with less than three layers.

   Snowy street in Dearborn, Michigan, January 2014  Snowy street in Dearborn, Michigan, January 2014

This was my second trip to Michigan and my surroundings were marginally more familiar. (You can read about the first trip, here: First Trip to Detroit: The Overview.) Helping with that sense of familiarity was my rental car.

Out of a selection of three or four models in the economy class, as with last year, I picked a Ford Fiesta. For comparison, this year I’d hoped to get a Sonic, Chevy’s Fiesta fighter. Instead, the rental agency chose to offer the brand’s tiniest model, the Spark. Though admittedly curious about the Spark, there wasn’t much deliberation.

rental car: Ford FiestaAll but one of the choices, including that Lime Green, micro-sized Spark, screamed “budget rental!” Why should I look really cheap if in reality I’m just plain cheap?

Ford Fiesta logoThe Blue-Candy Fiesta, on the other hand, looked sort of cool, definitely less relegated, and it had a noticeably more upscale interior. Still, this year’s example was rather spartan compared to my rental Fiesta last year which was curiously fitted with niceties such as the interior ambient lighting package. (Ooh… ahh… okay, I admit to being distracted on the highway at night by all the color choices.)

The car felt solid, no creaks or rattles. Potholes hungry for bowling balls were handled with mysterious composure. (I even made mention of it to my GM buddy on our way to lunch.) The Fiesta’s zippy steering takes growing accustomed to but, once accustomed, jittery translates to predictable and fun. My only real complaint, from both Fiesta experiences, has to do with the transmission. It did its job reliably enough and never seemed compromised but felt slushy and unpredictable, sort of like a continuously variable transmission. (I don’t think Fiesta has a CVT, does it?)

Naturally, this being a rental, abuse and neglect are unknown factors. So, negative driving or quality of construction impressions are anecdotal. Transmission quirks aside, though, both experiences were positive and, I gotta say, I like the Fiesta.

So now, let’s get to the crux of the trip. (Note: so as not to bore the uninterested, I wrote about the trip’s snafus at the end of the post.)

The red rectangle in the inset map below indicates what portion of the state I was in, while the enlarged aerial map indicates the locations of the events and my lodging.

location map

Listed in the order I visited them, here are the three primary reasons for trekking to Michigan in the dead of winter, the: 1) Henry Ford Museum; 2) General Motors Heritage Center; and 3) Designer’s Night party.

You can see I did a lot of zig-zagging through the greater Detroit area. But the Henry Ford Museum wasn’t that far away from the airport and I was going to have several hours to kill before my room in Ann Arbor would be ready, so I made it my first stop.

Continue to page 2, below.

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