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We spent 12 hours riding the People Mover so you don't have to

A dizzying day in Detroit



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I finally notice the loud buzz I've been hearing for the last 20 minutes: The speaker is playing a continuous loop of feedback between announcements. As the cart hits every nook and cranny of the monorail track, the feedback hops with it. It sounds like something off a Sonic Youth album, maybe.

In the distance, I can see white smoke billowing out of the Marathon refinery. I think about 48127. I realize I have to use the bathroom and settle on Greektown Casino.

10:37 a.m. — Shuffling through a casino during the morning on a weekday feels rather odd. The place is emptied out. I grab a cup of coffee and decide to play video blackjack. What the hell. Within minutes, I'm up $40. A man who appears to be a worker at the casino sits in a chair three down from me. He nods his head and says "yep" every time I land a winning hand. He isn't playing right now. Soon after, I gather my winnings and head to a live table. Since it's a weekday, in the morning, I figure there'd be a $5 per hand table. There isn't, so I mistakenly settle on a $15 per hand table. I lose everything in three hands. I leave the casino.

10:59 a.m. — I realize I have $20 left in my wallet so I decide to head back to the video blackjack table. Don't take my word for it, because I'm sure these machines are rigged, but play the $5 per hand video blackjack table from the farthest seat on the left. The video dealer hands me blackjack after blackjack.

An older group of white women walk by and one exclaims to her friend, "I can smoke here!"

Soon, I'm up $85 and feel it's best to just leave.

11:30 a.m. — I get back on the People Mover and can't believe I've been doing this for nearly five hours now. A diverse group of seven kids who appear to be either in pre-school or kindergarten hop on the vehicle with two adults. They're pumped to be riding the People Mover.

I make note of the vehicle's interior: There are 32 seats, four of which pull down. There are 16 spaces for ads along the sides near the ceiling, with two additional spaces on each end. I'm sitting in vehicle No. 9; there are 12 total in the system. There are 15 poles strung about the vehicle for people to grab onto.

Some downtown employees are coming aboard to, I assume, grab lunch. The People Mover has three purposes: Get to work, grab lunch, and shuttle people to Bingo.

12:22 p.m. — I know I only hopped back on the system minutes ago, but I need to use the bathroom, again. The vehicle is approaching Cobo, and I don't see any other reason to stop at the convention center today, so I get off. During this time, the place feels cavernous. I head to each floor, and it's all the same: long, vast stretches with few bodies, if any at all. I spend the next half-hour perusing the building, but find there's nothing nearly as interesting to look at like there is on the People Mover with Detroit's beautiful architecture spanning the entire loop.

I head back to the platform, located on the fourth floor. As I make my way toward the escalator, I notice a plain sign printed out from a computer that says "People Mover" with an arrow pointing upward. It's taped near the bottom of the escalator. It feels like a symbol for this region's feelings on the People Mover.

1 p.m. — I'm sitting on vehicle No. 11, and it's unreal how cold it is. I hear the sound of what seems to be a heater, move closer to it, and am sorely disappointed to find it's nothing but a loud rumbling part of the cart I'm on.

An older man wearing a ski cap, sunglasses, and dressed entirely in black reads a copy of the Detroit Free Press.

The sound of the vehicle as it makes its turn toward Joe Louis is spectacular. It's so excruciatingly loud it becomes difficult to think about anything other than the screeching sound of metal.

1:19 p.m. — At the Michigan Avenue station, a young guy wearing a pea coat gets on my vehicle. I ask him his name and why he's riding the People Mover in the middle of the day. He says he's Jacob Johnson, from Flint, and he's here for the Youmacon anime convention happening later in the week at Cobo and the Ren Cen. I now understand why I saw scrawny white males bouncing around the Ren Cen earlier this morning. He says it attracts 12,000 people annually.

The People Mover is "a good way to get around at least for events like that," Johnson says. "I like that it's scenic, I mean, you get to see a lot of stuff that you otherwise wouldn't get to see walking on the ground." He recently graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint with a bachelor's degree in English. At the Ren Cen, he departs, telling me to be on the lookout for all the "geeks and nerds" walking around downtown this weekend.

1:30 p.m. — I jot down two points: There are more parking garages in downtown than I remember, and, surprisingly, I've only experienced one complete rotation so far where there hasn't been anyone else on the vehicle.

2:04 p.m. — One of the transit officers I've seen a number of times comes aboard, again. This time, I feel I have to tell him what I'm doing. He laughs, hard, and says not to worry about it. I try asking him some questions, but he says employees are supposed to direct any media inquiries to a spokesperson for the system. Still, he tells me a point I never considered: The People Mover is one of the safest transit systems in the country. And, the way he puts it, he says he comes face-to-face with more riders on a busy weekend than your average cop might in his or her entire career. (Perhaps that's the case if we're talking about cops in, say, Greenville, Mich.)

2:12 p.m. — I check the time somewhere between the Cobo Hall and Joe Louis stations, and in between the tunnel connecting each. My iPhone's WiFi menu pops up, asking me if I'd like to connect to a local network. The only choice on the list? "The Love Shack."

2:15 p.m. — I, depressingly, arrive back at the Ren Cen to grab a bite to eat. As soon as I step off the vehicle and head down to the skywalk, I come face-to-face with a giant squirrel. Neither of us move. I take a step toward the squirrel, and it still doesn't move, so I begin to think I'm doomed. I slowly tiptoe away, maintaining eye contact with the creature until he finally decides to scatter off. I realize this has been the highest point of excitement in my day. Inside, I grab a black bean burger, a bag of Better Made regular potato chips, and a Diet Coke from Presto Gourmet Deli.

2:54 p.m. — Annoyingly, I have to use the restroom again, so I head back to Greektown. After eight hours, I'm starting to feel dizzy riding this thing in circles. On the casino's main floor, I stare outside the door onto Beaubien Street and wonder why I've set this arbitrary rule that I can't step outside. It doesn't appear to make any logical sense, but I stick with it anyway.

3:25 p.m. — As the vehicle passes by the Ren Cen for what seems like the 60th time, I note that I feel low on energy, sad, kind of dejected, and wish I hadn't drank three cups of pop today. My stomach feels awful.

I make a list of the seediest People Mover stations, in no particular order:




Millender Center

Times Square

Joe Louis Arena

Cobo Hall

Financial District



Cadillac Square

Grand Circus Park

Renaissance Center

3:42 p.m. — We roll by the Compuware Building and I note that I'd like to try 7 Greens Detroit Salad Co. Greektown appears to be the most populated station. I make a list of the most used People Mover stations, again, in no particular order, because I'm simply guessing:


Renaissance Center

Grand Circus Park

Joe Louis Arena


Times Square

Millender Center

Cobo Hall

Financial District




Cadillac Square

I realize now I don't understand the strategic difference between the Cadillac Square and Broadway stations, unless you're trying to go to 7 Greens or Olga's Kitchen.

3:54 p.m. — Top five things people do on the People Mover:

Sit silently

Use phone

Talk with someone



4:12 p.m. — I consider a possible story angle: What if the city demolishes Joe Louis Arena and expands the People Mover to 14th Street — or at least 12th and Rosa Parks? That new Quicken Loans facility is located right there; it would connect more of the Riverfront and Corktown to downtown. This would cost a fortune.

4:15 p.m. — It feels like this ride will never end. I wonder if anyone has considered why I'm voraciously scribbling in a notebook.

4:19 p.m. — I decide that my People Mover expansion idea is excellent and write down that I should find a way to pitch it to Dan Gilbert.

4:40 p.m. — I'm so sick of being on this goddamn thing.

4:55 p.m. — For the first time today, I notice a sign in a vehicle that says, "We're clockwise & even faster!"

Q: How much faster? (I check later, and the Detroit Transportation Corp. says the vehicles are equipped to reach maximum speeds of 56 mph. By comparison, some of Chicago's trains run as fast as 55 mph.

If Detroit had an equally efficient system like that along the Woodward corridor that could bypass traffic signals between downtown and Pontiac, a one-way trip would take roughly a half-hour; to Ferndale, it would take roughly 12-14 minutes. A system along Gratiot could get you from Detroit to Roseville in 15-17 minutes. A system along Grand River could get you from Detroit to Novi in 22-24 minutes.)

4:58 p.m. — "The Next. Station. Is ... Renaissance Center."

5:04 p.m. — I wonder what this story would look like if I wrote it entirely in the style of Mitch Albom. I write that down.

5:10 p.m. — I don't even want to try talking to anyone. It feels like I'm trapped inside a never-ending Vine clip. The People Mover feels like an old roller coaster from Cedar Point when it strides past Joe Louis. I guess the Mackinac Center was partially right.

5:24 p.m. — I decide to time how long it takes to get from each station to pass the time using the bulletproof method of counting off as "one Mississippi ... two Mississippi ..."

Financial District to Joe Louis Arena (1 minute, 33 seconds)

Joe Louis to Cobo (53 seconds)

Cobo to Fort/Cass (24 seconds)

Fort/Cass to Michigan (35 seconds)

Michigan to Times Square (30 seconds)

Times Square to Grand Circus Park (37 seconds)

Grand Circus Park to Broadway (33 seconds)

Broadway to Cadillac Center (29 seconds)

Cadillac Center to Greektown (50 seconds)

Greektown to ...

5:32 p.m. — ... a guy with gray hair held up in a ponytail who's wearing an obnoxiously baggy suit steps into the vehicle. He interrupts my counting and introduces himself, unprovoked, as Charles.

"I observed you today," he tells me.

At this point, I'm not in the mood for this shit. I feel exhausted.

"Oh, yeah?" I respond anyway.

"Yeah, you're the inspector aren't you?"

"Nope. I'm a reporter"

"Well, let me tell you what I observed you do and you tell me if I was accurate."


"I saw you go up to a group of construction workers digging a hole and you told them to fill the hole," he says, adding I told these workers to fill the hole "again and again and again and again and again and again and again."

"That wasn't me."

"I'm sure it was you," he says.

"I'm sure that's something an inspector would do."

"No, this was a reporter pretending to be an inspector," Charles insists.

Charles gets up to leave and keeps talking to (at?) me, quoting scripture from Corinthians — something about a child and a spade?

Did he mean to tell me this specific quote? Everyone in the vehicle looks at me like I provoked Charles to talk. After nearly 11 hours on the People Mover, I find this annoying.

5:42 p.m. — What if, when the pre-recorded announcer says, "The next. Station. Is ..." but doesn't finish the sentence because he's referring to Grand Circus Park, which in the course of this day remains under construction, and the People Mover vehicle just flies right off the track and falls onto Woodward Avenue.

I realize it's still rush hour, and there are two people inside the vehicle besides me.

5:51 p.m. — I count my change and decide to get a drink at Coach Insignia inside the Ren Cen because everyone deserves to enjoy that view at least once. When I arrive, I try to take photos going up the elevator, but they're all blurry and terrible. Feeling uncomfortably tired, I order a beer, and I don't write down the name or make a mental note what I'm drinking at all. It tastes refreshing and, for a moment again, I feel alive.

6:27 p.m. — I can almost taste the air on Fort Avenue. Only 30 more minutes. I draw a picture of a circle that I turn into a person who, according to the cartoon bubble I included, is saying, "Help."

6:37 p.m. — A woman says to her two companions, "Let's just keep going in circles! It's only like 10 minutes." If only she knew.

6:40 p.m. — This trio won't stop making bad jokes about the People Mover. I really want to know if Charles was a lawyer. It'd likely be a riot to watch him argue a case.

6:52 p.m. — It feels like I could barf from the food I ate earlier. For whatever reason, the Weezer song "Island in the Sun" comes to mind, and I realize how it appropriately describes my circumstances. In my head, I hear Rivers Cuomo chirp the simplistic refrain in the song of "hip, hip."

6:58 p.m. — I say to the hell with it, and end my day a few minutes early. I get off at the Fort/Cass station and make a call for a ride back to my apartment. I feel winded, and I want to take a nap. Even after a maddening 12-hour day on a continuous loop, the effort gave me pause: How nice would it be if I was able to efficiently take public transit to work every day in 20 minutes or less? How pleasant would it be, instead of having to avoid aggressive drivers and always getting stuck in traffic jams, to kick back and relax, while someone else does the driving for me?

More info about the People Mover can be found at Fare for one ride is 75 cents. A monthly unlimited ride pass costs $10. Hours of operation are 6:30 a.m.-midnight, Monday-Thursday; 6:30 a.m.-2 a.m., Friday; 9 a.m.-2 a.m., Saturday; noon-midnight, Sunday. — mt

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