Monday, August 14, 2006

The Canadian Motor City Gets My Vote. Take Note, Toronto.

My trip to Windsor was almost everything I hoped it would be and I'm very glad I went back to my old home town.

Once upon a time, long, long, ago, local radio stations referred to Windsor and Detroit as the Motor Cities. I can't vouch for the condition of Detroit, but Windsor still retains the Canadian title. It's tied to the auto industry, much as it was in the past. Everyone should have a car, or a truck or a van, and preferably a Canadian-made one. In the less wealthy neighbourhoods, nearly everyone does. But in parts of Walkerville, one of the upscale neighbourhoods, I saw some expensive foreign cars. Oh, the shame of it!

I was most impressed by what Windsor has done with its waterfront. The city has gorgeous waterfront parks that stretch for kilometres. Riverside Drive hugs the shoreline of the Detroit river and absolutely no development is allowed on the side of the road closest to the river. The city also reclaimed the railway lands (the tracks used to run along beside the river). It's truly amazing that a city of 200,000 has the ability to resist the type of hideous but extremely profitable condominium development that ruined the central waterfront in Toronto. My old and still very politically active friend, Patsy, is one the people responsible for fending off the developers. Every five years or so, the no-development policy is challenged at City Council, and Patsy rallies the troops.

On the downside, Windsor is still a city that isn't much into the idea of public transit. There were about 7 bus routes 10 years ago and now, I think there are 10. The bus terminal is exactly the same as it was in my youth. If I'd ever taken psychedelic drugs, I'd have assumed I was having a flash-back when I saw it. At least the city has some newer buses, and yes I was on one.

Most of my exploration of the city took place on foot and, as my grandmother might say, my feet is plumb wore off at the knees. It was the best way to get a feel for the neighbourhoods I wanted to see. I walked all around the downtown area, the Wyandotte street strip, the Erie street area, Willistead and the street I grew up on and other areas. I spoke with several business owners, they were all friendly and took the time to give me their impressions of the city. The Casino is undergoing renovation but it was well-patronized. I couldn't get over the number of different slot machines. Did you know there are some that take $500 for a single chance? Egad! No one was trying their luck at one while I was there. No bloomin' wonder. I wasn't tempted to try anything, not even the nickel slot machines. And anyway, most of them were being used by seniors. I visited the poker rooms. One is not allowed to make casual conversation with the dealers, I discovered. The man who sold chips was not inclined to answer my questions. Maybe I started with the wrong question though. When I asked if seven card stud poker was available, he marked me down as a complete innocent, or an idiot.

On the "our girl makes good" side, that's how Patsy refers to it, another friend of mine from way back when I worked at the Windsor Women's Centre is now the head of the United Way. Patsy, who seems to know every other person in town decided we would drop in on Sheila and we did. A wave at the receptionist and off we went to the head honcho's office. She was glad to see us and we didn't over-stay our welcome.

The funniest thing that happened to me was an encounter with a memorable woman. There's a famous, or maybe infamous, jewellery store in downtown Windsor. It's one of those institutions you have to see to believe. It's been on the same corner for thirty years, or more. Not a thing has changed. The store sells a lot of figurines, plates and miscellaneous chochka's as well as jewellery and fine china. It has display cases so close together that even a thin person must be wary and the carpets are almost see-through. On one counter-top near the door, there is a picture of Mr and Mrs. S., the founders of the store. I naturally assumed that both of them had retired. They were 'old' when I was a young sprat. But I was wrong. The inimitable voice of Mrs. S. accosted me. Mrs. S. knows nothing about subtle sales tactics.

I said, "it's nice to see the store still looks the same after twenty years."
She said, "Where have you been? "
"Toronto," I replied.
"So," she said, "why haven't you come here? Lots of people come here from Toronto."

Oy vey! The conversation went on in this vein for a while. I agreed to look around and asked about Mr. S. He was away on a buying trip. Fortunately for me, Mrs. S. was distracted by the arrival of some Americans. I managed to get out without buying anything and without laughing until I was around the corner. Those Americans would not escape without buying something, or her name isn't Mrs. S. She was once famous for going into the street, stopping tourists and dragging them into her store. After seeing her in action, I suspect that when she is having a good day, she probably still does.

I have pages of notes from my trip and they may be useful, but the most important thing was renewing my acquaintance with the city.

It's still got a great heart and I'll miss it


Nicole said...

Sounds like it was a great trip; I hope it was as useful as it was enjoyable.


susan said...

Glad to hear you had so much fun, Diane. I can't wait to see how your rediscovery of Windsor finds its way into your book!