DEARBORN: Goin’ Back In Time

7 Jul

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Everybody knows there are four seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall; here in Detroit we have a fifth…….Vintage Car Season! Like Spring, it starts slowly, you see an old car here and there, by the time June rolls around convertible tops are down, enthusiastic owners are out for leisurely drives on sunny days, cruise nights and car shows are in full swing. One of the best shows around, Motor Muster is held annually at Greenfield Village. This is no ordinary car show, no sir, it’s a celebration of the grandest eras of automotive history, 1933-1976, spread out across 80 acres of Henry Ford’s testament to American life. It’s Father’s Day weekend and we know The Henry Ford is going to be a madhouse, we just didn’t know how much of a madhouse…..We pulled into the grounds and drove toward the parking lot, cars were already parking on the grass, this was going to be a challenge. After driving through every parking lot, to no avail, we joined the host of other vehicles parked on the lawn and made the long (I mean really long!) trek to the entrance; yes, it’s worth it!

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Motor Muster is totally unique; here we wander through streets laden with historic structures such as the courthouse where Abraham Lincoln practiced law, Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory and the home where Noah Webster wrote the first dictionary. On top of that, nearly 1000 vehicles, grouped by model year, are parked along streets, in front of buildings and in grassy areas, it’s amazing! We are walking in no particular order; Kris leads the way, he has a vast knowledge of automobiles so I am always asking him questions. The amount of chrome is staggering, nameplates are large and make a statement, hood ornaments are super cool from birds and flying ladies to rocket ships. We get a good look at finned cars, the tail lights are fantastic, very space-age, headlights are pretty awesome too!  I love the details; badges that call out cubic inches or special features ie “Air Conditioned by Ford Select Aire”, it’s easy to forget what a work of art automobiles were. You don’t have to be an enthusiast to have a pretty good idea of what era a car is from; vehicles from the 30’s sport Art Deco styling, the 40’s cars are voluptuous, turquoise, pink, baby blue and mint were popular colors in the 50’s, big chrome bumpers, grill and trim decorated models from the 60’s and of course, wild colors, bold stripes and big engines populated the muscle cars of the 70’s.

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There’s a lot to take in, folks make a real show of their displays; vintage coolers, picnic baskets, suitcases, are laid out on red and white checked tablecloths. A live band plays music under the gazebo, men and women dressed in vintage attire roam the streets. A large section is dedicated to military vehicles—-I had no idea how many were privately owned. Men dressed as soldiers hold plates while waiting in line for their afternoon meal in a make-shift camp, a lock box holds a serviceman’s treasures: cigarettes, candy bars, photos and medals; a hundreds-of-years old windmill turns in the background. As we wander by Tea at Cotswold Cottage (bummer, they’re full up) we notice a historic 1867 baseball game taking place under today’s flawless blue sky, we take a seat in folding chairs and watch as the Lah-De-Dahs take on the BBC of Mt Clemens; life was much simpler then. After a brief rest we are back among vintage bicycles, fabulous dashboards, Woodies, fire engines and a spiffy 1947 Vernor’s delivery truck.  Cars have a way of telling stories of both the owners and the times; it’s s fun-filled day for all who attend. 

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We zig and zag through the streets of Greenfield Village passing a 1954 Kaiser Darrin, a Lincoln with suicide doors, Packards, an Oldsmobile 98 turned ambulance, oh, and the Mercury station-wagon with the woodgrain on the sides is pretty groovy. We see Thunderbirds, Chargers, Pacers and Pintos, even an old Good Humor ice cream truck! When we reach Main Street the Pass and Review is in process; this is where a parade of cars drive down the street, each one stopping as an expert explains the significance of the car, kind of like a fashion show. Surviving the decades, each one has its own story. We catch a neat old red Jeep, a few other cars pass, then it’s the running of  the Mustangs; led by the Mustang II prototype, a group of the mid-60’s beauties parade in all their 50th anniversary glory while photographers snap photos, it’s all very glamorous. Sure it’s a dream show for gear heads, car lovers and automotive connoisseurs, but more than that, it’s something we can all relate to; in Detroit, cars have always been a part of our lives, automobiles are more than merely transportation—- they mark the time, ignite our memories and make us smile.

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Miller’s Bar has occupied the same building on Michigan Ave in Dearborn since 1941, the reason? Their ‘World Famous Ground Round’. I think it’s more than that…… Miller’s is a cool old bar; stained glass lights hang over booths with deep red leather seats, a 1940’s Brunswick wood bar gleams in high gloss, there’s not a window in the place, or a menu for that matter. When we arrive there are only a couple of open tables; Tiger’s fans sit at the bar and take in the game while having an icy cold beer, family’s and a youth baseball team crowd the tables in back. As soon as we sit, our waitress takes our drink order and asks if we have any questions. She explains the burgers are served on a steamed bun, you can have it with or without cheese ( choose from Swiss or Velveeta). Mustard, ketchup and pickles are on the table, side orders include fries and onion rings, doesn’t get much better than that! Our burgers arrive lightning fast, they come on a white sheet of wax paper, a slice of onion on the side. We dress them up to our liking and share the sides; it’s hard to beat a good burger, and this is really one of the best! The second generation of Miller’s now run the place, it hasn’t missed a beat in all these years. The bar is run on the honor system, when we are finished I walk over to the bartender, tell him what we had and pay the tab,  just like the good ol’ days!

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