Detroit was once the heart of the US car industry. But, as Andrew Whitehead discovers, declining sales and rising unemployment means the city is facing difficult times:
Don was happy to meet - but I would have to head his way, and travel into Detroit. That sounded just fine. I was keen to touch base with Don, a regular radio listener with insights to share, and curious to get a chance to see a little of Michigan's biggest city.
It could not be too tough to get there from where I was staying at Ann Arbor - a leafy campus city just thirty-five miles out. But this is Motown, the heartland of a car culture so pervasive, that my quest to travel to Detroit by public transport marked me out as an English eccentric.
Don had no idea how to do it. I asked around. There is no bus service from Ann Arbor. The cach - fine for long haul if you really had to, but wildly unreliable for a short hop.
"Why not hire a car?" a friend asked, with just a hint of impatience. But that would be giving in.
The map puts Ann Arbor on the main rail line between Chicago and Detroit. A patient hotel receptionist pointed me towards Ann Arbor's Amtrak station: clean, modern and deserted, apart from a solitar ticket clerk.
"The day's first train into Detroit?" I ask. "A little after 2pm sir".
"The last train back?" "It leaves Detroit just before six".
"And are the trains usually on time?" "No sir. Engineering works in Indiana", he explained, before suggesting that a day trip to Detroit by train was not a good idea. With a sales pitch like that, I could see why there was not a queue at the ticket window. But I persisted and, an hour late, the train lumbered in, hooter sounding, on the only set of tracks.
The conductor got out his portable steps - all aboard. I had a comfortable seat. Indeed there were rather a lot of comfortable, empty seats. Then I sent a quick message to Don who was going to meet me at the Detroit end. Although he had spent his life in the city, he had asked me to tell him where the statin was. When we arrived I could see why. Serving a city of 900,000, it was smaller than a suburban halt back home in London.
Don's top-end convertible looked a little incongruous in the grimy station car park. So too did Don, a successful local businessman with sun-bleached blond hair and an easy smile. He was brought up in Detroit, he told me, and had stayed when so many white families had moved out. The city is now 80% black.
He was proud of Detroit, but conceded that it was not an easy place. The mayor was about to be sent to jail, he explained, and folks from out of town kept out of town, or if they came in for a ball game or concert, they stuck to the highways and headed straight home afterwards.
But he wanted to show off the positive side. And with the roof down to make the most of the autumn breeze, he drove me round the city centre. Past the Institute of Arts and other fine municipal buildings from the inter-war years, when the motor magnates wanted to be remembered as benefactors as well as business pioneers. Then to the new Tigers ball stadium - shiny and showy. And on to the towering, sparkling General Motors world headquarters.
Don shepherded me to a waterside cocktail bar and we sipped expensive white wine as we gazed across the Detroit River to Canada beyond.
But the talk quickly turned to Detroit's difficulties. The new downtown is just a few blocks wide and I had not spotted any smart shops. There is not an up-market retail centre in the heart of the city.
On the train in, I had seen what seemed like remnants of a lost era - inner city areas that were grassland, not park, but semi-derelict, and industrial buildings that were silent, sealed off.
The motor corporations which made Detroit, which attracted the workers and produced the wealth, are now facing hard times., though their lobbying power is still blamed, by some, for the stifling of public transport.
The city has lost half its peak population. Once with a claim to being the second city in the US, it is no longer in the top ten. Some of the districts burnt out in race riots forty years ago have never been redeveloped. Mainly white Michigan, a big state with ten million people, sometimes seems to have turned its back on its principal city.
We had to hurry the bar bill and Don dropped me at the station just in time for the last train out. A burly security guard gave the ticket office the feel of a prison waiting room. He unlocked the door to the platform as the carriages pulled in.
With the handful of trusty passengers on board, the train edged its way out of Motown through an urban landscape made and unmade by the motor car.