Detroit is technically a big city, but it is a weird big city. New York is a big city that feels like a big city, Tucson is a big city that feels like a small town, but Detroit is a big city that feels like an EMPTY city, like maybe one where a plague came and killed off 90% of the population but left the buildings standing. Every so often, if you look down the streets of Detroit at certain angles, you see enough layers of grand old buildings that you could ALMOST believe you were in Manhattan. But then you realize that there aren't any people on the sidewalks. Or any significant traffic on the streets. That's on a normal day in Detroit. On a cold, rainy day like today, it might as well be a ghost town. The few people who are out are all bundled up inside jackets and hoodies, and most of them are running to get out of the rain. Blankets of mist and streets full of potholes and plumes of steam hissing up from manhole covers give the whole scene a gloomy, noir appearance. I felt like I fit right in with my wet rain pants and drab olive-green Carhartt jacket and sad-looking wet black dog in harness. Detroit on a sunny summer day is definitely pretty, especially looking across the sparkly Detroit River at Canada, but somehow Detroit on a cold, rainy day fits better with my image of Detroit (and Michigan in general).
When we train in Detroit, we park close to one of the People Mover stations and walk to a different People Mover station and ride the People Mover back. The People Mover is a monorail that loops the parts of the city that are not too scary for tourists. You enter through a station that is vaguely similar to any mass transit station -- turnstiles, escalator, grubby handrails that make you want to bathe in hand sanitizer after you touch them, smell of urine -- and either take the escalator or the stairs up to the platform. The People Mover itself bears some resemblance to the New York subways, the T, the Metro, BART et cetera if you use your imagination. The doors whooshing open, the recorded announcements of stops, the aisle-facing seats and the cars rattling along the track are similar. But the difference is in the people. On an average People Mover trip, there is one other person in the car. Sometimes there aren't any. Sometimes the one person in the car sees the dog and quickly exits to another car.
We take the dogs on the People Mover because, for one, it is the only thing we have that is anything like the real mass transit systems in other cities and we want to make sure the dogs are comfortable riding on it, and for two, that's where we teach platform work. A guide dog's job on the platform is to keep its handler safely away from the edge. Teaching this used to be a lengthy process at Seeing Eye, but since coming here I have seen that I can get the exact same level of responsibility from my dogs in less than ten minutes of work, leading me to wonder what exactly I was spending all that time at Seeing Eye doing. (I don't remember any more how we trained it at Guiding Eyes; it was too long ago.)
We were all soaked by the end. The most delightful part of the whole day came when I was working down the nearly flooded sidewalk of a nearly flooded street. A car came speeding down the street. Now, I want to tell myself that the driver did not deliberately swerve in the general direction of me and my dog in order to plow through the giant lake taking up the whole right lane of the road just so he could get us wet. Maybe there was a huge pothole that he swerved to miss. But, whatever the reason, the car threw up a giant tidal wave of water. My dog reacted like it was a dramatic traffic check -- threw herself backwards and yanked me along with her to avoid the worst of the tidal wave. I was proud of her! Even though she then decided, for sure, she did not like being close to the standing water. (Even before the tidal wave, she had required some persuasion that the giant lakes were not really obstacles and that she wouldn't melt if she set foot in them, but after the tidal wave she was sure we should just go back inside and not come out again until circumstances were a little more reasonable, thank you very much.)
I love how even on the terrible days I can get so much happiness from the dogs' work, and get so thoroughly absorbed in what I'm doing with the dogs, that I almost don't care what's going on in the world around me and whether it's good or bad.