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Hitting cruise control: lesbian visitors will find a Detroit that's shifted gears into the 21st century.

In the '80s and '90s, T-shirts in my hometown welcomed visitors with the words "Detroit: Where the Weak Are Killed and Eaten." Not the warm, fuzzy greeting visitors come to expect when they're on vacation, but the message fit Detroit's image of a gritty and hungry city that didn't cater to outsiders. When I returned recently to visit, I expected to encounter more of the same attitude and a Detroit devoid of restoration, new business and friendly people--an isolated and abandoned urban wasteland doomed to die a slow and sad death.

Instead, I saw that the once culturally and financially starved Motor City is making its way back. Don't get me wrong: Detroit still has an edge to it, but the old rusty one has been replaced by the tailfin of a 1969 Cadillac Eldorado--sleek, smooth and ready to hit 80 mph. Even better: It's surprisingly gay-friendly.

For Car Nuts: Bolt Down Woodward Avenue -- Day One

Growing up in Detroit, autos are in your blood, and this girl is no exception. I love cars; so when planning my visit, I had to make sure I got in plenty of autos, plenty of history and, I was hoping, a few Detroit cuties to show me around. Luckily, I got all three.

I met my first guide, Heather Carmona, the executive director of the Woodward Avenue Action Association, for breakfast. After oatmeal and a few cups of joe, we hopped in her SUV and headed on our historical tour of Woodward Avenue--a 27-mile stretch of road that runs from downtown Detroit (look out for the gigantic Joe Louis fist sculpture) to the Pontiac GM plant. For the lesbian autophile, this is the only street to travel--it offers everything car and everything gay.

Carmona passionately points out that Woodward Avenue includes "the birthplace of the automobile, where Henry Ford drew the first car in his secret room, the first modern auto assembly line, [and] the Piquette factory, which was the first car factory in the world offering the $5-a-day workday. It also is the location of the first electric traffic light, and it was the first urban freeway to exist." Take that, Los Angeles.

Cars are great, but with my interest in green solutions, I wondered, What if someone doesn't own a car? Carmona had the answer. "There is a great push to make the avenue more pedestrian-friendly and to create an elevated bike trail." An ambitious feat, given the car culture in Detroit.

If you tire of all things auto, there are plenty of other sights to see on or just off Woodward: the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Michigan, Tech Town, five major museums, Wayne State University and the Detroit Zoo (visitdetroit.com).

Enter the Slots -- Day Two

You can't separate me from cars or the slots when I visit Detroit. This time was no exception. If you're a gambler, the city has three casinos--MotorCity, Greektown and the new $800 million MGM. Satisfying your vice doesn't have to be a chick- and car-free experience. "The MotorCity Casino and Hotel is the only 100-percent female-owned [casino] in the country, plus it's run by a woman COO," explains cute guide No. 2, Jennifer Kulczycki, who admittedly is biased becaue she's the media and community relations manager of the MotorCity casino. If that isn't enough to entice you to place those quarters in their machines, I dare say it's the only casino with flame-patterned carpets throughout, and every detail celebrates Detroit and its auto culture.

After my day of touring all three casinos, I sat down to a delicious dinner at Iridescence (think meat), and later a gin and tonic from the bar led to a chat with some sporty girls at the roulette table (and I finally won back the 200 bucks that I'd lost that morning). At 4 a.m. I hit the pillow at the high-tech MotorCity Hotel to get a few hours of much-needed shut-eye before my day of gentility.

Museums, Learning and Culture -- Day Three

My third and final day was going to be jam-packed--a half day at the Detroit Institute of Arts and a half day at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. I like to overwhelm myself with history and culture after a big night of gin, gambling and girls--this day would be no exception.

Enter guide No. 3, Nii O. Quarcooppome, the curator of African Art at the DIA (dia.org), and although we were both pleasantly surprised that we knew each other through mutual lesbian friends when I lived in Detroit, Quarcooppome's main focus was to tell me "what the DIA, after a $158 million renovation, had to offer the visitor." No luck getting in some girl talk with an old friend, but I was here to learn.

There is so much to highlight during my DIA tour, but two items are definitely worth mentioning: the mural tribute to Detroit industry by Diego Rivera (considered the most successful work of his career and almost lost due to Rivera's communist leanings) and the integration of high-tech with antiquated displays. "People want interaction," Quarcooppome points out. "They want their experience to be less stuffy and a bit more hands-on." The DIA is the first museum to weave the old with the new subtly and successfully with its virtual dining and drinking interpretations and PDA multi media tours.

After a few hours of wandering inside a museum, I drove down Woodward to meet my fourth and final guide, Liz Lent, the communications manager at Cranbrook Academy of Art (cranbrook.edu). After a lunch of chicken chutney quesadillas, Lent and I headed to the beautiful grounds of Cranbrook, and although it was a very cold and icy Michigan winter day, the campus was no less incredible, with its sculptures, gardens, landscaping and fountains. While we walked, Lent showed me the most popular places to tie the knot--they've even played host to same-sex ceremonies. The academy also hosts a tightly guarded and prolific archive of historical artifacts, which I am happy to report I got to see on a spur-of-the-moment tour.

Heading Back to SF

When I left Cranbrook and realized that my trip to Detroit was over, a wave of sadness swept me. This visit had been like no other--maybe because I was willing to see Detroit from the point of view of a tourist, or maybe because Detroit is on the fast track to being a cool place to vacation, with autos, history, good food, fair slot machines and definitely cute tour guides.

RELATED ARTICLE: METRO DETROIT: LESBIAN ACTION CENTRAL

Even if you're not into autos or gambling, visit Michigan before or after the Womyn's Music Festival. There are plenty of lesbianic things to do in metro Detroit--in fact, this Midwestern city offers everything lady travelers want and need away from home.

Lesbian Nightclubs/Bars -- SOHO and the Rainbow Room

Wondering where to get your girl on? Try SOHO, a hot, new gay club where Saturday is girls' night and lots of sexy young urbanites are dressed to impress. The Rainbow Room, a lesbian institution in Detroit, is on Eight Mile (think Eminem), the street where this writer had her first taste of girl bars over 17 years ago. If you can handle the cigarette smoke, the Rainbow Room delivers. Dance the night away with a Detroit cutie you'll meet ordering a gin and tonic at the bar. sohoferndale.com, clubrainbowroom.com

Eateries -- Avalon Bakery and Pronto!

There are plenty of gay-friendly restaurants in the metro Detroit area, but Avalon Bakery and Pronto! are the can't-miss places to chow down. Avalon, opened by partners Jackie Victor and Ann Perrault, has paved the way for lesbian-owned businesses in Detroit proper for over 10 years, with big, delicious and most of all affordable baked goods. Pronto! provides the hungry lez a menu of over 40 sammies to choose from. And, after you're finished with lunch, walk next door to Pronto!'s very gay bar and sip on a martini in the garden. prontorestaurant.com

Bookstore/Coffeeshop -- Just 4 Us

Although the only lesbian bookstore in the area closed its doors a few years ago, Just 4 Us is the place to go for the gay coffeehound and bookworm. During my visit, the store was sold out of the latest issue of CURVE, so you know this place is lesbian central. just4usmi.com

Place to Hang -- Affirmations, LGBT Center

The $5.8 million, four-story structure opened in 2007 and is a must-see. Equipped with a full studio for yoga, ballroom dancing, art exhibits and movie night, as well as a computer lab, a library, and a teen recreation and art room, the center offers an average of 96 different activities a month, with outreach to communities like seniors, Arab Americans and transgender youth. goaffirmations.org

Pride -- Motor City Pride

Ferndale is Detroit's close neighbor and the area's gay mecca. It hosts Detroit's Pride festival--with events like Motor City Pride Idol, a film festival, and commitment ceremonies at City Hall--and has an openly gay mayor, Craig Covey. Be sure to join the Pride fun on June 1. motorcitypride.com

Resources, Newspapers/Online -- Between the Lines and Women Out and About

Between the Lines, Michigan's LGBT weekly newspaper, has lots for the boys, but gives us girls some attention too. It features news, opinions, movie and music reviews, advice, horoscopes and an interesting column called "Creep of the Week." WomenOutandAbout.com, a social network for Michigan lesbians, provides a list of groups, events and humanitarian opportunities. pridesource.com, womenoutandabout.com
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Author:Lee, Colleen M.
Publication:Curve
Article Type:Travel narrative
Date:Apr 1, 2008
Words:1587
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