Our band had converged on the Michigan Avenue station, arriving on foot or locking bikes. Meanwhile, one stop further town the line I was waiting, on the platform at Times Square, and I hopped on board at the sight of friends, and some new faces. The automated Detroit People Mover shifted through its gears and accelerated away from the station in all of its 1986 style. We had come on an aimless commute in a downtown that, despite a recent spike in commercial and residential development, still mostly closes down after five o’clock: Bridget, Lauren, Caitlin, Rachel, Eva, Jule, and myself.
We rode around the 2.9 mile loop once or twice and watched the city go by, peering through the glass into the upper stories of offices and vacant buildings. Bridget wanted to look at Book Tower and we disembarked, passed through the Rosa Parks Transit Center and stared upwards at Louis Kamper’s architectural sculptures of mostly-naked people.
Pausing in the Washington Boulevard median next to Alexander Macomb we ate Bridget’s cookies and passed around a collection of books on public art, architecture, walking. One was titled Flâneur something; I’m not sure who brought it and many of us had never heard the term before but it quickly became our new favorite word.
We made another full loop as the sun went down. From our lofty vantage Lauren spotted the spiraled ziggurat just west of Cobo Center and we would eventually come around to it.
Thus we headed to the river by way of the Renaissance Center platform which, like many of the People Mover stations, exits directly to the third-floor interior of its eponymous building. We were drawn immediately to the brightly-lit George Woodman mosaic Path Games, the newest of thirteen art installations commissioned for each station. My fingers traced the paths on smooth four-by-four ceramic tiles as they cycled through contrasting bold colors, always frustrating me with their dead ends.
The Renaissance Center is among the largest office complexes in the world by volume and, like most office buildings, it becomes eerily deserted at night. The place has been criticized for being difficult to navigate but we found the deserted landscape of suspended catwalks and escalators just as fun to get lost in. Wordlessly we split up. I found myself headed to the mostly-closed food court while Eva and Jule disappeared around a corner, or perhaps down an escalator. The only sound was the distant white noise of a vacuum cleaner somewhere.
We converged among indoor palm trees and a dramatic view of the Detroit River. Outside into the still-warm air and to the handrail at the water’s edge, looking out just as the as the full moon rose, big and orange, across the water and over Canada. Behind us, glass-walled elevators receded upwards, each marked by a ring of incandescent light bulbs at its base.
Meg was reading a book from her perch atop a long ledge of sittable space. We sat with her, noting that places to sit, un-bothered, at night—especially spots with enough light by which to read a book—were much too rare in Detroit, and probably in most other cites as well. Someone had the idea that we would make a map. Caitlin and Lauren said goodbye and walked north.
In some unconscious process that defines the best walks, our group would subdivide and recombine throughout the evening. Threes were common but two seemed to be the most stable number, pairs concurrently drifting in conversation and environment. In the open space past Hart Plaza we were drawn out solely based on walking speed, in a sort of human chromatography along the water. Jule and I were the quick-paced ones but we still paused to stare at the moving water and contemplate this city, and others. There was discussion of turtles on leashes and I wasn’t sure if this referred to some actual Flâneur practice or was just a metaphor.
We climbed the ziggurat and sat on top. Bridget was then headed home by way of Corktown and none of us were eager for the evening to end so we headed in that direction. We were among quiet and dense and old houses now, and standing on the sidewalk by her parked car we remained for awhile. The conversation drifted between topics and we schemed excuses for future meetings.
Words by Timothy Boscarino
Photos By Bridget Quinn