Birthday, Edition 27

This past weekend, I turned 27 finally – what a long wait!

The day before my birthday, my coworker Lindsay was nice enough to surprise me with a cake she baked for me, at work!

Lemon coffee cake!  Lindsay is a sweetheart

Lemon coffee cake! Lindsay is a sweetheart

I had long intended to go visit my friends Chris and Liz in Ann Arbor, MI, as Chris settles into his awesome managerial job at Ford – and it just so happened that my birthday weekend was free for him and I alike.  Off I went, after work on Friday, up to the chilly MI area.

VW for arrival; Michael Jordan Nissan to visit Ford... weird.

VW for arrival; Michael Jordan Nissan to visit Ford… weird.

The plan for the weekend was a combination of good food, Ford touring, and games – all leavened with merriment.  We opened with a large dinner of delicious New Mexican-style fajitas cooked to order (New Mexican-style meaning a bed of rice instead of inside a tortilla), and quickly passed out.  The morning saw a large array of birthday games of Lost Cities (a stupidly addictive 2 player game about deciding which of 5 archeological sites to start excavating… but with significant penalties for starting a site and not finding enough):

Lost Cities is such an addictive game.  We played a good 20 rounds over the weekend.

Lost Cities is such an addictive game. We played a good 20 rounds over the weekend.

Eventually we got spooled up for the drive over the Dearborn, MI – the place where Ford is king, noble, knight, subject, serf, and more.  That town has a LOT of Ford EVERYTHING, which certainly makes for interesting driving.  For instance, how does one make sense of a Ford employee parking lot with a Mercedes Benz or a Toyota parked in it?  I have no answer for you there – but I do have tales of how awesome the tour at the Rouge Plant was, as the very least!

We walked past the fascinating Henry Ford Village (where the houses and workshops of people like Edison and the Wright Brothers were purchased, disassembled, and reassembled at the whim of Henry Ford) on the way to buying Rouge Plant tickets…

The Henry Ford village, where he bought all manner of inventors' homes and workshops, had the disassembled brick by brick... and rebuilt here.  Seems reasonable, right?

The Henry Ford village, where he bought all manner of inventors’ homes and workshops, had the disassembled brick by brick… and rebuilt here. Seems reasonable, right?

… and got Chris’ Ford employee discount on our tickets (ah, the benefits of living and working in a company town).  Unfortunately, we couldn’t take photos inside of the manufactory directly, but HOLY SMOKES was that an awesome experience.  We did the two introductory videos (the history of Ford was a VERY Amurrrrrikan flavored soundbyte; the showcase of their manufacturing process was AWESOME), and then got up to the observation tower:

The rooftop of the portion of the Rouge where the new aluminum body Ford F150 trucks are manufactured

The rooftop of the portion of the Rouge where the new aluminum body Ford F150 trucks are manufactured

What appears to be grass above is indeed plant material – the F150 plant at the Rouge is the largest living rooftop in the world, helping them gather some 1.4 million gallons of rainwater per year and use it, rather than having to pump in city water.  The plant cover and its soil bed adds a significant amount of natural insulation, keeping it 10 degrees cooler in the summer, and 10 degrees warmer in the summer – and the raised skylight structures allow for a wide dispersion of natural light into the plant.

The final product is this…

Aluminum body F150, at the end of the tour of the Rouge

Aluminum body F150, at the end of the tour of the Rouge

… which is gorgeous and some 800 lbs lighter than the old F150 with a steel body.  Ford now meets all US requirements for fuel efficiency improvements, with this one change.  The production line was insanely efficient, where each human station had a task to complete in 1 minute or less, with a variable number of people – so 6 people had 1 minute to work together and install a headliner, whereas 1 person would have a minute to fasten down the floor carpet.  In between those sorts of stations, robot arms would suction onto glass, a second arm would apply adhesive, and then use lasers to aim and apply the windows perfectly, each and every time.  So.  Awesome.   And this makes me really proud and excited to work at McMaster-Carr, a place which keeps this sort of industrial miracle working in the face of mechanical problems!

We had dinner for my birthday at the Green Dot Stable slider joint, in the midst of Detroit’s wasteland, and holy hell was that food good.  20+ sliders on the menu, and a toasted caramel whiskey + apple cider + cinnamon to drink… merriment ensued.  We went back to Chris and Liz’s place, enjoyed a fantastic Chinese film entitled “Journey to the West,” and got to enjoy the cuteness that IS their cat Chewbacca:

This cat doesn't meow.  This cat *squeaks*

This cat doesn’t meow. This cat *squeaks*

A grand birthday Saturday, for me.

Separately, we did visit the urban wasteland of Detroit, which was actually rather sad.  It is a VERY unsettling thing, to see abandoned skyscrapers in real life, and not in a post-apocalyptic movie.  From the gorgeous stone train station, long-since abandoned…

… to the incongruity of abandoned skyscrapers…

Abandoned skyscraper in the middle of poverty and despair

Abandoned skyscraper in the middle of poverty and despair – EDIT: this is actually the GM building, I sort of uploaded the wrong image//had Ford on the brain still.  This mistake will stay in place.

… downtown Detroit was very depressing.

In downtown Detroit, the disparity in housing was typically one block apart:

Foreground: burned out hulk rated to be worth $15,000 including property.  Background: the mansions of Detroit, worth $400,000 or more (easily worth 1.5 million dollars in any other city)

Foreground: burned out hulk rated to be worth $15,000 including property. Background: the mansions of Detroit, worth $400,000 or more (easily worth 1.5 million dollars in any other city)

On the outskirts of Detroit, there is a suburb called Grosse Pointe which 1) showcases the disparity even more starkly and 2) in so doing, lives up to the “Grosse” moniker.  They have erected a VERY tall chain link fence on the Detroit line where poor folks live, and as such the property values go from ~$15,000 on the Detroit side to ~$60,000 for the first row of houses.  The value SKYROCKETS, the further one gets from the poor people of Detroit.  Just awful.

Foreground: rich Grosse Pointe house, safe from the poor people of Detroit due to the fence in the middle of the frame.  Background: the poverty of Detroit, less than 200 feet away, fenced off for "safety"

Foreground: rich Grosse Pointe house, safe from the poor people of Detroit due to the fence in the middle of the frame. Background: the poverty of Detroit, less than 200 feet away, fenced off for “safety”

And the quality of houses in bad parts of Detroit is BAD:

The house and garage are both just fine with a coat of paint, I suspect...

The house and garage are both just fine with a coat of paint, I suspect…

Enough of that for now.  It was cool to look across a frozen lake and see glimpses of Canada:

Iceeeeeee

Iceeeeeee all the way over to Canada

It was also neat to stop by the birthplace of Motown, which comprised a huge chunk of my music growing up (and which I still enjoy to this day!):

Motown's HQ

Motown’s HQ

______________________________________________________________________________

All told, then: what a FANTASTIC weekend I had.  My deepest appreciation to Chris and Liz (and Chewbacca) for their hospitality, and I look forward to visiting them again in the future!

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