Friday, January 09, 2009

The best vacation I ever had...

Motown made the news a lot last year.

Not the kind of press you want, though. Most of it was bad.

Hell, bad isn't the word. The American auto industry is all but invisible. Ford, General Motors, Chrysler -- they all went to Congress, hat in hand, looking for relief. Congress told them to drop dead.

Detroit's crook of a mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, was thrown in jail. The baseball team, my beloved Tigers, flopped, in spite of its All-Star lineup, and finished dead last in its division. The football team, the Lions, didn't win a single game.

But, you know something? The best vacation I ever had happened in Detroit, two summers ago, when time seemed to stop. Pull up a chair. Let me tell you about it.

I have been venturing up to Michigan since the late 1990s. Baseball, the last dance at Tiger Stadium, first drew me to Motown. We came to say good-bye, to hang out with my friends David Romas and Jennifer Bondy, to pay homage to that grand cathedral at The Corner.

Flash forward to August 2007. I hadn't taken any time off all year. Well, other than sick leave to pass kidney stones. That doesn't count.

Looking to escape the 100-degree heat on Rocky Top, I e-mailed David.

"Hey," I said. "My favorite singer is coming to Ann Arbor. Let's take in a Tigers game and go see her sing."

"OK," David said.

I flew up early on a Sunday morning. David picked me up at the airport. The temperature was 73 degrees. In Knoxville the day before, the thermometer read 102.

We ate lunch at a bar across the street from Comerica Park. The Tigers were playing Oakland that afternoon. We saw a win, my first at Detroit's new park, my first in six tries.

Monday night we headed to the University of Michigan campus. We ate dinner at a cool joint. We sat on the sidewalk. I watched the girls go by and enjoyed the sunset. What a night.

Then Robinella wowed the crowd at The Ark. I worked up the courage to say hello, something a star-struck fan had never been able to do down in the Old City. She gave me a hug and I floated back to the car. Picture perfect. The world made perfect sense.

I woke up that next morning, took a glass of orange juice and a bagel out on David and Jen's back patio, and ate breakfast in the morning sun. Sixty-eight degrees. I could feel the wind on my face. Picture perfect.

I wrote some of my best pieces to date during that trip. My boss liked them so much she devoted an entire page to them in our newspaper.

That Wednesday I flew home to Halls, relaxed and rejuvenated, ready to face the reality of autumn.

It was picture perfect, the best vacation I ever had, in a city that always gets a bad rap.

Hang in there, Detroit. Like this great nation of ours, you'll make a comeback.

Any town that gives a guy his best trip in years all but deserves a break.

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