Detroit on two wheels
August 10, 2011 - John Teklinski is an explorer.
|John Teklinski rides on the streets of downtown Detroit. Photos provided. (click for larger version)|
But the quest of the 44-year-old Groveland Township man includes no mountains, oceans or wilderness for that matter—rather, an urban landscape that offers challenges ranging from dilapidated buildings to cultural differences to war zone-like streets.
Teklinski took on the City of Detroit street by street on a bicycle.
"People asked me two questions when I told them what I was doing, 'Are you crazy and are you packing?' Neither," laughs Teklinski.
A Warren native and Wayne State University graduate, Teklinski said when he reached 40-years-old he was smoking and in his words, "carrying on like he was 19-years-old."
"I joined a health club, but I couldn't do the stair stepper or treadmill for that matter," he said.
But he did own a bicycle.
"So I starting to ride my bike around Ortonville and Groveland Township. Don't get me wrong, I love it here—but when you see the same trees and deer every day it gets pretty boring. For that matter, even the Polly Ann trail, you're looking at a stretch of gravel, like I-75. So, I love Detroit and I threw my bike in the back of my truck and rode around downtown—first on Jefferson Street then MacArthur Bridge and the Detroit Arsenal—the history is everywhere."
"I'm not a Detroit booster—but the misconception (about Detroit) is there are bullets flying around. There's not, but still it's not Disneyland."
Teklinski said he traveled about 3,000 miles around the streets of Detroit over the last two years. Teklinski estimates he has about six more rides to do.
"I drove to Detroit 90 times—it's just a little longer ride to the gym than most people have."
Teklinski said he did hear automatic gunfire and noted an excessive amount of glass on the streets.
"I had six flat tires over the miles, found guns along the way and my bike fell off the carrier on my truck twice while traveling I-75," he said.
Teklinski said he was chased by a man after taking a photo of a deceased gang member's memorial
"About eight guys in red shirts yelled at me and said, 'Hey this ain't no show and tell!' It was time to get going and I just outran the guy on my bike."
Marijuana is smoked out in the open, added Teklinski.
"There's a big danger of getting bit by pitbulls—I've been chased several times and finally carried wasp spray, which shoots about 30 feet. They just stop in their tracks when they get a dose in their eyes. There seems to be more dogs in the southwest part of the city."
"A lot of people ask for money. They can sense when you're afraid or not afraid for that matter. I'm not a Detroit promoter—honestly it's a real disaster. Still not everything was negative. There's a range of reactions—some are real welcoming. Some residents invited me in for a barbecue, some streets are really bad, but there will be one immaculate house along the way."
Teklinski estimates there are more than 80,000 abandoned homes in Detroit.
"Some neighborhoods are just done. Block after block just done. No one lives there anymore. Several local people have asked me to take a picture of their old neighborhood and cry when they take a look."
Teklinski said the answer to Detroit's issues must come from the people.
"Detroit is on its knees. We have this central city that's both a financial drain on Michigan and an asset at the same time. Consider there's a fire every 40 minutes—that's not real welcoming. The people need to be part of the solution—they should make others want to come there. No measure of investment is going to change that town. Still there's a lot there—it's rich in the history of the region."
Teklinski recalls a sign posted along the streets of Detroit.
"The 1968 Detroit riots were our 1776."
Teklinski said he would finish the exploration of Detroit near the intersection of Gunston and McNichols, in his late grandmother Lucy Pyclik's front yard.
Grandma was a Polish immigrant who came to Detroit just after World War II, added Teklinski.
"I have to finish some place," he said