Ruins, oot&aboot, searching through my baggage

“The ruins of America”, as a friend of mine describes Detroit. I have not seen the ruins yet, what I did see is one awesome hackerspace and a magnificent museum-slash-arcade.

The hackerspace certainly is the biggest I’ve seen so far (not counting the hacker dojo, which is more like an office building). It is cold inside, but work to get the heating there is underway. I am greeted by a giant sculpture of a Canadian comic made out of ductape! Strewn across the giant industrial warehouse are various project, from a piano rigged to be controlled by hard-disk motor to robots made by teams of high-school kids. In the middle is a floating loft, which provides a loungy environment where I interview the president of this space. There are also a number of office units at the front, where we find a crafts-room, a kitchen area, an electronics lab and even a chemical lab.

As for the museum-slash-arcade, I’m referring to Marvin’s marvelous mechanic museum, the museum from the guy behind This site is invaluable for pinball enthusiasts, as it contains very specific and extensive information on how to repair and maintain pinball games of all era’s. The place itself is amazing, it is literally stuffed with all kinds of electro-mechanical and electronic amusement. Including a bunch of the latest Stern games. I spend many quarters there.

My final day I spend going down-town. I now understand what my friend meant by calling it ‘the ruins of America’. A lot of run-down buildings, gritty alleys and broken windows. It is cold. A small train, the “Detroit people mover”, brings me from the GMC world headquarters to downtown. I fail to find downtown though, it’s all wide streets with few shops and abandoned buildings. I decide to leave town, and head for Canada, which is calling me from across the Detroit river.

Flat meadows and fields zoomed with barb-wire fences and interspersed with flocks of leafless trees. Reeds in the watery ditch lining the roadside wave in the wind. Power lines reaching for the horizon. Canada is very much like home.

Around Kitchener, it is dark by now, the heaven decides to come down. With low visibility I crawl through heavy traffic. Of course, my phone is roaming and I do not have data. I decide to stop at a McDonald’s to use the free wifi and have something resembling dinner. Alas, no wifi. And when I ask for sauce to go with the french fries, the girl lists the available salad dressings. Weird folk.

Driving through Toronto, the rain still beating down on the windscreen, I find the hackerspace It’s a beehive in the middle of chinatown. Around the couch people are picking locks and bumping keys. At the whiteboard, animated discussion about designing a new programming language ensues. The cupcake with automated build platform is churning out experimental makerbot part after experimental makerbot part. In all this I manage to find my host (one of the founders of the lab, and a Dutch guy) for the two days, and we head of to his apartment early.

I wake up early, contact Japan and record the third hackerspace hour special with Fish and Nick Farr and a bunch of other Hackers in Japan. After editing that, I head into town. I explore the subway system, and obtain a day-pass for all public transport. It looks like a crash-card, but it seems to get me into all the trains and streetcars (or ‘funny little trams’ as I call them). Public transit seems very well organized, and I have no trouble getting around.

In the financial district, tunnels connect the various streets and buildings, with underground food plaza’s and what have you. I explore the Union station, and somewhere in the catacombs, I find an actual arcade with some video-games and about 10 well-maintained pinball games. That’s another handful of quarters, Canadian quarters this time.

They don’t seem to understand train rides though. They tend to make the experience like flying: baggage check-in, long lines for boarding, gates. I feel lost without data connectivity. I wander the streets, shop after shop after shop. Gigantic shopping malls. I have a quick Asian stir-fry for dinner, with a fix of wifi on the side. There is an eagle class in the hackerspace tonight, part 2 of 2 but I decide to check it out anyway. It turns out to be educational, and afterward we have crispy spicy sliced beef at one of the dozen Chinese restaurants (it is Chinatown, remember).

A bit of sleep, and I end my visit to Canada with a walk along the Niagara river. Right about where it drops from a 52 meter cliff. I expected it to be more impressive, although it was certainly something to see.

And then the gamble I have been dreading since the moment I left the USA: will thet the US border patrol let me back in?? After some poignant questions, which I barely manage to answer because of my nervousness, the officer decides to search through the car. Rummaging through my coats on the backseat, unzipping my luggage in the trunk. It all checks out again though, and I can move on. Boy, I’m glad we don’t have this bullshit in Europe. Imagine going through that every time I visit Belgium.

Ah well, I’m back in the states! Ready for the last 2 weeks of this adventure. Time sure flies, just 14 more days. Next up, Buffalo, Rochester, Boston and New York. Stay tuned!

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4 Responses to “Ruins, oot&aboot, searching through my baggage”

  1. BjornW Says:

    Looks like you are enjoying yourself! Getting a bit jealous especially since I have the flu at the moment and get hardly anything done. Enjoy the rest of your time in the States.

  2. cjp Says:

    We would never call it “sauce” for the french fries, so you likely confused the girl. Specify “ketchup” and/or “mayo” next time, and you’ll get what you need. :-)

  3. gmc Says:

    @BjornW get well soon man!!

    @cjp well, i did ask for mayonaise at first, but then got a vacant look.. so then i went to ‘sauce for the french fries’ and well you know the rest :)

  4. Arclight Says:

    Sounds like a nice trip so far! It also sounds farking cold right now!

    Stay warm!

    23B Shop

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