I had a rather eventful week last week…
If you live in metro Detroit, you are probably aware that Ford Motor Company purchased the old Michigan Central train station near downtown Detroit. Heck, even if you don’t live in Detroit, you may have heard it, because it was pretty big news all over. The train station, which is a very recognizable site on the Detroit skyline, has been a symbol of the city’s rise and fall over the last 100 years, and for the last 30 years, it has sat empty, an ugly eyesore reminding Detroiters and suburbanites alike of the hard times that have befallen the city in the recent past. (You may also know it as the setting for scenes in some big movies, including Transformers and Batman vs Superman.)
On the other hand, the city of Detroit itself has been enjoying somewhat of a rebirth. There has been a great deal of investment in the downtown area, and it’s starting to become a place that people want to visit again. I would even call it “trendy,“ or at least, parts of it. There a lot of new restaurants and shops downtown, and with the building of the new Quicken Loans office complex, a lot of people are now working downtown, and it’s a pretty happening place to be for the first time in a couple of decades.
Then, with all that as the backdrop, along came Ford Motor Company, specifically chairman Bill Ford, whose is the great-grandson of founder and iconic innovator Henry Ford. From everything I’ve read, it was BI’ll Ford‘s idea to buy the train station and turn it into Ford’s new “future of mobility“ headquarters.
If you’re not from around here, you probably don’t understand how huge this is. I read an article that I thought summed it up very well: the author discussed how so many big business moguls have taken the step to invest in the city, but when the news about the train station broke, the author likened it to Bill Ford saying to the other business tycoons, “Here, hold my beer and watch this.” 😛 (Does everyone get that reference, or is that just a Michigan thing?)
I’m sure you’re probably wondering what the hell this has to do with me! Well, if it hasn’t been obvious before this, with all my veiled references to working in the auto industry, I will just come out and admit that I work for Ford. This was the big job change I made a little over three years ago when I left the insurance world (and never looked back, by the way). One thing Ford does pretty well is make announcements to its employees before they make official announcements to the world at large. Don’t get me wrong, the rumors are always swirling before we hear about it, but usually, about half an hour before a major announcement, they will send out an email to the entire company with whatever big news they’re sharing. In case case, we all found out about Ford buying the Michigan Central Station an hour or so before it was announced by its previous owner at a press conference. For this history major and long-time preservationist, it was pretty exciting news!
But wait, there was more! When they made the announcement, they also pre-announced the fact that there would be a big party to make the “official“ announcement of Ford’s plans for the building, and they invited employees to register for a chance to attend the party. Of course, I immediately registered, but then I went back to the email and read it a little closer: way at the bottom, in small print, it said that if we wanted to guarantee our ability to see the train station, we could volunteer to help at the event. On company time.
You’d better believe I signed up for that shit in a hurry! 😛 There were a lot of options, from handing out water, to being a welcomer, to being a “docent“ at the Detroit Historical Society exhibit that would be on display.
I can be a docent?
Talking to people about history?
And I would get PAID for it?
OH, HELL YES!!
That is literally like my dream come true. 🙂 It’s pretty much like someone asking me if I want to get paid to do my favorite hobby. I have been a docent at historical properties so many times in my life, always as a volunteer, and I loved every minute of it. So to realize that I could leave my job, go talk to people about history for an afternoon, and still get paid… my brain almost couldn’t handle the bliss.
OK, OK, enough rhapsodizing. 😉 I know I’m a total geek, but everybody has their thing, and this is definitely mine. I was so excited, I actually signed up for three different slots, only two of which were during work time. In addition to the big media event on Tuesday, they also opened up the train station to the public last weekend, and I signed up for the Friday afternoon and Sunday afternoon slot. I did feel a little guilty about taking up three slots when I saw that the public viewing filled up SO quickly, but then, after I had decided I would cancel one of my shifts to give someone else a chance, I saw that other people had already cancelled, and they had several openings. At that point, it seemed pointless for me to cancel mine, and, well, honestly–I just didn’t want to! Being a docent at a historical property truly is my dream job. (Too bad it’s so hard to get paid to do it. 😛 )
So I ended up being three for three different days, and I could spend an hour rhapsodizing about how awesome it was. But I won’t, because I know it’s not nearly as amazing to everyone else as it was to me. 😉 So, here’s a short(ish) recap…
I arrived early for the “big party” shift so that I could take pictures before the crowd arrived. I took lots of pictures (of course). As both a historian and a photographer, it was absolutely incredible to be able to photograph the station. It truly is hard to describe, but if you do a search for “Michigan Central Station Ford,” I’m sure you can find a ton of pictures that will be much better than mine. (Although I think mine did turn out pretty well, considering that I’m an amateur.) Actually, I just did a quick search and found this website. Their pictures look pretty much just like mine, so I guess I did better than I thought!
Before the big announcement, I actually had an opportunity to meet Bill Ford! I shook his hand, and we talked about my background as a Ford employee, a historian, and a preservationist. (One of only a handful of times that I got to use the line “I have a degree in history…“ and have it be relevant to the conversation! 😛 ). Even though we only spoke for a few moments, I can tell you that he’s pretty awesome.
In addition to Bill Ford, I also met Big Sean, the famous rapper from Detroit. Not only did I meet him and shake his hand, he even gave me a hug. 🙂 It’s kind of a long story, but suffice it to say that I inadvertently got some really cool pictures of him in the train station, and then I felt the need to apologize to him for not recognizing him at that time (someone did finally point out to me who he was). I debated putting those pictures of him on my blog, along with my other pictures, but I just kind of want to keep those for myself. 🙂 (And for Big Sean, to whom I did send them later that night.)
As if my two “celebrity encounters weren’t enough,” I somehow managed to land myself on the radio! That was just fluke – – I was just in the right place at the right time, I guess. I suspect the fact that I’m a redheaded extrovert probably didn’t hurt my chances, either. 😉 I was on WWJ, the number one AM news radio station here in Southeast Michigan. I was actually really proud of myself for my “spot,” because I literally had less than 60 seconds to prepare before the guy was stopping me in mid sentence, pulling out of microphone, and telling me to start over. 😮 Yes, I have been a corporate trainer for 20 years, but I usually have more than a minute’s notice to prepare my presentation! The reporter was kind enough to send me an MP3 of the final segment, and I’ve put it together with a few of my pictures for you to listen.
I don’t recall if I’ve ever put a video on my blog before, but if not, I guess now you know what my voice sounds like!
One last cool thing: I made it into the official company photo gallery that they put out on the Ford internal website.
There I am in the lower right, taking a picture…my default mode, ha ha!
I could go on and on about how awesome it was to be a docent at such a magnificent exhibit, but I won’t bore you. Just know that all in all, it was a great weekend, even though it was also exhausting. I was on my feet five hours on Tuesday during the big party, and then six hours each on Friday and Sunday, giving tours of the gallery created by the Detroit Historical Society and answering questions about the train station and Ford’s purchase of it.
In addition, we had been asked to engage people with specific questions to gather their thoughts how about Ford’s purchase of the building, and their hopes and dreams for the future of the neighborhood and Detroit. As an extrovert’s extrovert 😉 , you can imagine that was right up my alley. I spent many hours talking to people, taking notes on my phone so that I could send off specific quotes to the event coordinators. Again, fun but exhausting. By the time I was done, I had sent off notes on over 45 different conversations that I had. And those were just the ones that I actually stopped to take notes on because the people had interesting or relevant things to say!
Now for the downside: as you can imagine, all that volunteering time really messed with my routine. There was no food at the event on any day for the volunteers, so I had to pack a lunch each day, along with snacks. Salami sandwiches with lettuce, tomato and onion were my friend last week, along with carrots and lots of water. By the time I got home each night, I was so tired, I will say my eating habits were not the best. That was reflected somewhat on the scale Monday morning:
Up just to touch, but I honestly wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was so incredible and I so much fun, I would do it again in a heartbeat. Even if they didn’t pay me, ha ha!
Unfortunately, when I weighed in at Weight Watchers for my monthly lifetime weigh-in, I was dismayed to see that I was up another 1.8 pounds, after being up 3 pounds the month before. I am now at the highest weight (at Weight Watchers) that I have been at since I started losing weight six years ago. 😮 It was definitely an eye-opener.
I will talk more about my plans, as well as my marathon training (which started last week) in my next post. For now, I’m just going to relax and just reminisce on the wonderful memories I had last weekend. 🙂
Thanks for reading!