Monday, July 23, 2012

Detroit (part one)

"You realize that we've been to the Mexican border for hockey, and now we're at the Canadian border?" Gloria asked.

She's right. We went to McAllen in March and almost turned onto the International Bridge to Mexico by accident. Now, we were in downtown Detroit, ony a few hundred yards from the Detroit-Windsor tunnel.

"We might be the only people in the world who have done that in the last four months," I said.

For Eli 10.11, the stakes were high. We were going to a high-level goalie camp because he wanted to measure himself against kids from "up north." He still wants to be a goalie in the NHL, and in his mind, this is a proving ground.

I know. The idea of him making it to the NHL is incredibly far-fetched. And I think there is an age to transition from dreams of being a superhero (which is surely what NHL goalies are) to something more realistic.

I also think the time for realism is not age ten.

We had a conversation before we left. I don't ever lie to him, and I didn't this time.

"I'm worried about those other kids," he said. "What if I go up there and I get blown away?"

I laughed. "You?" I asked. "You're the super freak. You're Spiderman. Maybe we'll go up there and kids will be light years better than you, but man, I doubt it. I bet we go up there and you're still the best athlete."

"I still want to go to the NHL someday," he said. "Although the CHL is probably a more realistic goal." The realism of youth.

"We've talked about this before," I said, "but no matter how good you are at ten, it doesn't mean you're making it to the NHL. But lots of kids have no chance by age ten, because they're just not athletic enough and never will be. You, though--you're an elite athlete for your age. Nothing has disqualified you. So this week is not about qualifying--it's about not being disqualified. Does that makes sense?"

"Yeah, it does," he said.

"I believe in you," I said. "You have a quality that other kids just don't have. I can't really explain it, but I know it's there."

"Thanks, Dad," he said. "I know it's a big deal to take our vacation at a hockey camp. It means a lot to me."

"You earned it," I said. "I love you and I'm proud of how hard you work and how hard you try. Nobody tries harder."

Like I said, it's crazy. But if you were around Eli for a few hours and listened to how he analyzes the position, then saw him play, you'd see that quality.

It leaves a mark.

I had anxieties about going to Detroit. We usually go to San Diego for summer vacation, a carefree, easygoing beach town.

Detroit is a great city, but it's neither. It's fallen on hard, hard times, and there are neighborhoods in Detroit that are among the most dangerous in the country.

Coincidentally, one of those neighborhoods within about five blocks of the rink where the camp was located.

Austin has lots of property crime, but violent crime is very low. Detroit is the opposite. And that had me worried.

Gloria always plans the trip, and since we were going to spend most of our time at the ice rink or the hotel, she decided we should stay at a nice hotel. A really, really nice hotel:

That's the GM Renaissance Center, in the heart of downtown Detroit. It's fantastic, and it was five minutes from the rink. Eli sweet-talked the lady who was checking us in, and we wound up here:

59th floor. That's Canada on the right.

We went to breakfast Sunday morning at the hotel restaurant, which had one of the most beautiful views I've ever seen (and one which I inexplicably failed to photograph). From our table by the curving wall of glass, we could see the river, Canada, and blue sky.

"This is amazing!" Eli said, digging into his waffle.

"Enjoy it," I said, "because next Sunday, it's back to IHOP." He laughed.

That afternoon, we went to a Tiger's game at Comerica Park. After exiting the People Mover, we saw this on the way to the stadium:

That's Detroit, in a nutshell: beauty and decay, side by side.

Tomorrow: Hockey camp begins.

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