Perhaps you know that Better Made chips and Vernors originated in Detroit, but did you know that Velvet peanut butter did too? (And that they invented peanut butter you don’t need to stir!) did you know that all of the Coney Island restaurants (famous in Detroit) can trace themselves back either by business or blood, to the first 2 Coneys on Michigan Ave., Lafayette and American? Growing up in Detroit, I have a lot of nostalgia for these brands and watching the documentary (hosted by Erik Smith, local tv legend) brings it all back: watch it on their site!
TelevisionDetroit has a couple dozen great Detroit clips and ads from the 80s and 90s. It’s pretty easy to spend your lunch break checking out the MTV-style WDTX Jim Harper ad or a few news promos that would make Ron Burgundy proud. (Plus, you don’t want to miss the Kwame Kilpatrick video… in hindsight, it’s a riot.)
I still vaguely remember the Pontiac Silverdome. As a kid, our Boy Scout troop would visit on “Scout Day” and I could feel the pressure difference when we entered the stadium (positive air pressure kept the roof in place). Sadly, this landmark has fallen into severe disrepair. I came across this video on Tested.com. Ford Field and the Palace of Auburn Hills have replaced the Silverdome… but it still seems like such a waste of an established facility.
When you’re in High School, getting a car and the freedom it provides is a big deal. A lot of my friends had pretty nice rides… I can’t say the same about my 1984 Chevy Celebrity Eurosport. That was one of the most inaccurately named cookie cutter cars ever belched out by the big three (perhaps seconds only the the “Reliant”). It was a pig… but I was a car stereo guy. I built a bandpass-style subwoofer enclosure, bought a cheap amp and a second-hand (removable) Alpine head unit and replaced the stock speakers. It sounded decent… and was plenty loud. We would pile into my car and make the “Gratiot loop”: north from 8 Mile Road to around 14 Mile Road and back. We could spend hours just driving back and forth, talking to people in other cars, playing silly pranks, people watching and trying to get phone numbers.
Occasionally, I would meet up with Dave Damore and head out to Gratiot. He was the kind of guy that knew way too much about cars for a 16-year-old. He built up a pretty mean Chevy Malibu, spending every spare dime he had on the performance parts… and not caring much about aesthetics. It was loud and fast, and that’s all that mattered. For a little fun, he would talk trash to guys driving their parent’s Mustang GTs (the alpha car of the 90’s) and con them into a stoplight drag race. It was rarely a close race and even more rare for him to lose. Either way it was fun… and stupid… but mostly more of the former.
When Dave wanted to be a little more serious, he would look for some competition on French Road in Detroit. The stakes were higher and the area was more dangerous (at least to suburbanites like ourselves). Cruising took a back seat to flat out racing. This wasn’t a social exercise, it was a pure adrenaline rush. Looking back, I think a lot of my love for cars and racing started there, in a dirty beige Malibu that smelled of oil, race fuel, and hot rubber.
Right out of high school, I started a decent paying job doing AutoCAD work. It paid well enough for me to get a better car: a 1989 Chrysler LeBaron GTC. With 174 horsepower and 200 lb/ft of torque, it was easy enough to get into trouble. I didn’t have the car long enough to ever cruise in it. I was working nearly full time and going to college. Eventually, sleep deprivation got the better of me and I wrecked it on my way to work.
My next car was trouble: a 1989 Firebird Formula. Bright red, t-tops, V-8, WS6 package. I made a few upgrades and cruised Gratiot with my friends and/or girlfriend pretty regularly. It was a fair match for most of the other gas heads out there that were silly enough to street race. Luckily, I never really got into trouble with that car. I still own it, though it’s sitting in my barn in desperate need of attention. I keep calling it my “retirement project”... someday I’d like to clean it up and take it out on Gratiot again.
I still love cars… I own a 1999 Camaro and race (legally) a Spec Racer in SCCA national events. I’ve loved driving several sporty Subaru models: a 1998 Impreza RS, a 2002 WRX, and now a 2011 Legacy GT. All very quick and fun to drive. The catch is, there’s just not a cruising culture around me like that on Gratiot in my teens. Sure, there’s the Woodward Dream Cruise and Cruisin’ Gratiot events, but there barely more than a parade. Perhaps it’s not so much the lack of a cruising culture as I’ve just gotten older.
Someday, I’ll uncover my Camaro, uncork the exhaust and head out to the east side on a Friday night some time and test that theory…
A while ago, I wrote a post searching for Gary Ed Mach. I was thrilled when some info came back regarding his work with the Engineering Society of Detroit, but even more thrilled when Gary himself posted a reply.
It’s fall in the Detroit area and commercials run regularly advertising Cedar Point’s “HalloWeekends.” While Sandusky, Ohio may be the closest amusement part to Detroit these days, it was all about Bob-Lo Island in the 80’s.
My grade school had annual outings to the island. Though I didn’t especially enjoy the boat ride at the time (approx. 80 minutes), I would love another chance to experience the sights, sounds and smells of the boat. Each had either a dance floor, arcade or both, concessions and of course an amazing view of the Detroit River. The park itself was relatively small with a couple dozen rides ranging from bump’em cars to full-on rollercoaster thrill rides. I was never quite old enough to enjoy the park to the fullest and regret having been afraid of the best rides.
These days, the entire island returned to its residential roots, housing private homes, vacation property, and marina space. Who knows… in another 20 years rides may return and ferries could carry excited Detroiters to that little chunk of Canada (yep… it’s really part of Canada) to appreciate local amusements… though I doubt it.
Updated! Eileen let me know that this content is actually from her (rather excellent) site: DetroitMemories.com. Rather than duplicate some of the content, check it out and share your Detroit memories with her visitors! (DetroitMemories.com is regularly updated, so be sure to check back often!)
A trip to Toys R Us was a reward for good behavior. It was somewhere we could spend our hard-earned allowance on a new GI Joe figure or some LEGO sets. It was also like being inside of a museum of awesome, where the wares were categorized by types: action figures, building toys (including LEGO), radio-controlled toys and slot-car tracks, educational toys, board games, electronic games, and eventually video games.
Today, Toys R Us stores are organized (mostly) by whatever commercial property the toys are related to: all of the Spiderman-related toys together (regardless of type: action figure, r/c car, or even LEGO), all of the Harry Potter stuff, all of the Hanna Montana stuff. Sadly, it just reinforces the commercialism that was once criticized (and even disallowed before the late-70’s) for children’s programming based on products.
I came across a great blog post that traces the history of Toys R Us design and architecture from the 70’s to today. I still remember Geoffrey the Giraffe’s face welcoming me to the store…