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Poe's North American Tour '99

Episode 8: Within Four Miles of a Lake

Well rest as in being in one place for quite a while... I spent almost two weeks here, staying with George (GHT_III) and his charming Russian wife, Nadia, while Tracy worked.

George is an inveterate traveller - he's been to almost every city on the North American continent, some often, and he knows his way around plenty of them without any trouble at all. After he showed me almost everything of any importance in Detroit, I almost feel that I can do the same there. Maps? We don't need no steenking maps...

As I've said earlier, my plan was not to plan. Each place I stayed I got a different slant to the location, due to the differing characters of the players that I stayed with. George, possibly more than any other person I met during the three months, is closest to the traditional American stereotype - he has a big presence, is always moving onward and upward, very happy with the way things are but always pushing the envelope further. And his character took me out into Detroit and its numerous surrounding suburbs by car to show me the sights. I have now seen more of Detroit than most people who live there.

In fact we crammed so much in, I can't even remember a vague order. I know we toured round an incredible amount of old-money mansions at Grosse Pointe and Grosse Pointe Shores. These are big, but close together, offering little privacy, I thought. We also (nearly) saw the new-money mansions in Bloomfield Hills and Birmingham - I say 'nearly' because these are more like mansions to me, hidden behind trees and walls and land, so we just saw the estates, which is much more the kind of thing I'd expect. What's the point of having a huge mansion if you have neighbours ten yards in each direction?

We drove down into downtown Detroit, a horrifically dangerous area where you venture tentatively, in fear of your life, health and sanity. At least that was the impression given to me by plenty of Cosmonauts every time I logged on to the game. In reality, downtown Detroit is in the process of major league renovation. And, get this, downtown Detroit has deer. Driving over part of the Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit we headed onto Belle Isle, an island on the peninsula of Michigan ("If you want a great peninsula, look around you"), which is a park populated by miniature deer. Not what I was really expecting to see in downtown Detroit, but very nice all the same. And we didn't get shot at once.

One surprising thing I discovered about Detroit, traditionally the birthplace of all American cars, is that Michigan is a golf and boat state. There are golf courses everywhere and it is said that wherever you are in Michigan, you are within four miles of a lake. And that's on top of the state being bounded to the west by Lake Michigan and the east by Lake Huron. We headed out onto a couple of lakes, starting with what is a pretty damn big lake in itself, Lake St. Clair.

We ate on the Nautical Mile in Detroit, apparently the largest concentration of boats in a single square mile anywhere in the world. Somehow, after lunch, we found our way out of the tangle of vessels into the lake itself, in a pretty fast speedboat, piloted by a good friend of George's. The lake looked calm enough and we found our way quickly into the middle of a yacht (sailboat) race. I'm still not sure how they run these things with no obvious start or finish line... And calm the lake may have been but we got pleasantly bounced around plenty leaping wakes at 60 mph...

Like Lakes Huron and Erie, Lake St. Clair sits neatly on the border between Michigan and Ontario, Canada. I guess technically I visited Canada on the lake or in the Detroit river that connects Lake St. Clair to Lake Erie, but we didn't land on the Canadian side - we just admired the Windsor coastline with its multitude of casinos. Ontario would come later and be yet another highlight of my tour. For now we headed down to the main bridge between countries and turned round to speed back at top speed to the Nautical Mile, which we did far quicker by boat than we could ever have done on the assault courses that Michigan roads currently resemble.

The other lake that accommodated us for a while was somewhat smaller and our speed somewhat more sedate. But Whitmore Lake west of Detroit was just as much fun, in the able hands of a couple of George's friends of Welsh descent, one of whom is now a Cosmonaut under the handle of Glendower.

It's going to be difficult to fit in everything that we did in Detroit as George, that bundle of energy, kept us busy for the entire time I was there. Tracy and I did find time, in the evenings. We saw a few films of variable quality, ate out, spent time together. But she had to work, so our time was limited. We did get to head out to Chicago and Dowagiac (see next episode) but we wouldn't really get to spend all our time together until I got back to Detroit a month later and stayed with her lively mother, Dee. But that's to come...

While we drove around Detroit, George pointed out anything of interest and was a knowledgeable and interesting tour guide. I've now seen everything from Madonna's high school to the exact parking spot from which Jimmy Hoffa was abducted. We saw the huge work going on in Detroit itself, where three major casinos are setting up shop. MGM Grand alone are spending $200,000,000 to build a temporary casino to last the few years that it will take to build the real one... only in America. Buildings are being destroyed, stadiums moved, and of course, the roads are all being dug up.

I saw the Motown studios; ate 'traditional' English fish 'n' chips (not takeaway or wrapped in newspaper); went to business meetings; writhed around the floor with Kuzka, George and Nadia's wonderful cat. One interesting time was loading a map of the UK into Paint Shop Pro and mapping the route George took round my country. I'd draw the lines while he fed me town names, managing to highlight a huge difference. From an American perspective his pronunciation was impeccable; but from an English perspective he got few right...

And we found time to log onto Cosmo as poeGHTry or poeGHTry_III and do surprisingly well. George knows his sprots backwards, has been everywhere there is to go in North America and has been exposed to American culture, entertainment and history all his life - so that's five categories sewn up for a start. I could contribute some more general answers and we started annoying people with our frequency of winning. We racked up 133 prize passes in an hour, one more than my personal record. Of course without George's help, I'm back to sucking badly as before.

And a quick note here for those of you noticing that we were playing Trivia Free For All: George is one of the five or so players that I know who prefer TFFA to the real version of the game, Cosmo's Conundrum. People, please use this preferred version.

One last thing that happened before I flew out of Detroit was a meetup we organised at the very last minute. Red Dodge had already been in touch with us while we were in the middle of the yacht race on Lake St. Clair. Lumina Swift suggested we meet at the restaurant she works at in Novi (formerly known as No. 6, but the roman numerals got turned into letters) and it proved to be a enjoyable venue. George, Dodger, Lumina Swift, *Debi* and her husband, and Tracy and I made up the seven for a very enjoyable dinner.

This was a fun evening and it was good to see so many Cosmonauts drawn together at very short notice ("Ah, good to see you. What are you doing tomorrow night?"). Lumina Swift bought a 'monkey on my back' t-shirt on her way up to the restaurant, which we should place a bulk order for. And it set the scene for similar last minute meetups that mostly worked.

Previous Episode: Midday in the Traffic Jam of Good and Evil.
Next Episode: Guido the Killer Pimp.

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