michigan

Notes from a Business Traveler: Touching Down in the Motor City

I land at ­Kuala Lumpur International Airport, the airport servicing Malaysia’s capital city. After arriving at my hotel, I call my boyfriend with excitement.  I’ve landed!  I’m in Kuala Lumpur!

My boyfriend asks if I see the Petrona Towers, the gorgeous Shangri-la-esque twin towers that are the crown jewels of the city.  I peak out the window and say no.  He asks again, it’s not possible, you can see it from almost anywhere, can you rub your eyes and look again?  I say I see nothing.

He asks if there is anything obstructing my view.  I say I have an open view, almost 270 degrees from my slightly curved window of the tubular shaped 60s style hotel.  He asks me what I see out the window, I say some small shops, but they are all closed.  It was around 9pm.

Then my boyfriend starts looking up the name of my hotel on the internet and delivers the bad news – baby, you’re not in Kuala Lumpur.  You are in Petaling Jaya.  An outlying suburb!

Fast forward five years and I am in Detroit.  It’s the first time there since I was four, sometime in the mid-seventies.  I am excited for my day trip to MoTown, curious how it looked after the city defaulted on its credit, wondering what pictures I could snap with my camera.  I give the address of the office I am visiting to the taxi driver who promptly embarks on a journey on the highway.

It is a gorgeous fall day with typical flat American landscape with abundant trees turning color.  So far everything looks like any highway out of an airport in America, whether you are in Florida, New York or New Jersey.  We keep driving and I can’t tell whether we are in Michigan or Illinois or New York – these are some of the cities I’ve driven through.  I realize it’s not just China where all mid-range cities look exactly the same other than Beijing and Shanghai.  American mid-range cities also all look the same.

The address I called out was a “Parkway,” but I realize soon it is the name of the street in a corporate park of same name.  A “Corporate Park” is a gated community with a bunch of corporate offices and parking lots off the highway, with the ubiquitous 3-star hotel.  In this case there was an Embassy Suites.  Highly amused by the Corporate Park situation – which I thought was a product of India – I settle in for a coffee in the café, where they are serving breakfast.

The whole dining area smells sweet, sickly sweetness of sugary syrup, that people seemed to be putting on everything, from pancakes, to toast, to scrambled eggs.  Oddly enough there was no smell of grease, which is what you would expect from a similar establishment on the East Coast.

My second meeting is at another corporate complex off the highway, this one attached to a somewhat more luxurious Westin Hotel.  I note that the Westins all smell the same, whether you are in Detroit, or Shanghai.  Nice touch.

After my meeting I get in a car that is taking me back to the airport.  We go a few miles on the highway and I see a sign that says Downtown Detroit with an arrow pointing left, a different direction from where I have come!  I quickly asked the driver what was going on.  Long answer short, I was never in Detroit.

I was Kuala Lumpur’d!

Well, at least I have the number of a very friendly driver who was born and raised in MoTown, proud of his city, who promised to take me on a tour next time I got myself in town.  I just hope I don’t have to wait another 30 years to do that.

And if I ever lost his number? He told me to come to the Westin Southfield and ask for the driver with the chauffeur hat and pink carnation always on his lapel.

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Lead-In Art Courtesy of catwalker / Shutterstock.com