Jewfro: The Game of Huntington Woods

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Lately, I find myself talking less about why I don’t live in certain places — Detroit, Bloomfield Hills, New York, Oz — and more about why I do live in Huntington Woods.

We’ve called “The Woods” home for eight years (an eternity to my nomadic friends, scarcely a long weekend for some of my neighbors) and there are now four generations of us here.

I may come across as a booster. At least to my neighbors, who are moving (reluctantly) after living here just a few years and so bequeathed to me a treasure chest they discovered in their attic: The Game of Huntington Woods.

Officially, the board game is called Wheeler Dealer, “a fast-paced, action-packed game of skill, strategy and the ‘luck of the dice,’ where two to six players wheel ‘n’ deal their way around their own town, buy up, trading & selling local business properties that actually exist.”

They actually actually exist(ed): Michael Glenn designed Wheeler Dealer in his (I assume) basement in Allen Park and made custom versions for many municipalities — near and far — with local businesses occupying the squares around the board.

According to boardgamegeek.com, alternative venues for Wheeler Dealer include the Game of Iqaluit (in Canada’s Nunavut Territory); the Game(s) of Naperville, Sedona, Little Rock; The Sesquicentennial Game of Dundas (Minnesota) and Missouri’s Chesterfieldopoly.

Wheeler Dealer is not Monopoly. I know that because it says so, not because I’ve played it. I haven’t played it for a few reasons. First, my set is in mint condition, and I’m not going to let my kids ruin it like they ruin all my toys.

Second, the rules are extensive. One short example: “If a player lands on B3 and rolls a 4, and the owner of B3 owns all the B’s (and none are ‘debt ridden’), the player landing on B3 would owe the owner 4 X 600 X 4 X 10 = $96,000 [of more than $2.5 million in the set].”

Third, I have seen too many movies (two is too many) where a dusting off of a mysterious board game causes the play to turn into real life with noisy consequences. Also, no one I’ve shown the game to has suggested we play. Perhaps the similarity triggers PMSD (Post-Monopoly Stress Disorder).

The game was commissioned as a fundraiser, at $10/set, by the Optimist Club of Huntington Woods. It isn’t clear if the club is still active, but I’m not optimistic. Rimshot!

Even for a pessimist, it follows that Huntington Woods has a long tradition of concerted, creative community fundraising. Recent efforts have outfitted us with rolling 64-gallon recycle bins and a new elementary school playground.

Nor can I tell exactly when this version of the game was produced, partly because Glenn wrote the original Wheeler Dealer copyright in impossible-to-decode Roman Numerals (MCMLXXX! 1890? 198 AD? Adult-Rated 1950?). The game certainly had longevity; everyone knows Dundas’ Sesquicentennial was in 2007. A newspaper clipping in the box has no date, though the lede — “Forget about those hard to get Cabbage Patch dolls” — suggests it was in the materialistic mid-1980s. In any case, the game offers a reminder that the city has both faced uncertainty and demonstrated durability over the past 30 years.

Huntington Woods wrestled, in particular, with I-696, the Walter P. Reuther Freeway, for years. In the Game of Huntington Woods, a player landing on the Interstate 696 corner (like Free Parking or Go to Jail, depending on whom you ask) must “put down a payment on new house. Pay to Bank 2,000 times the roll of one die OR 25 percent of all your cash on hand — whichever is more, and move immediately TO THE PARK.”

The Park is the “Detroit Zoological Park” (the game’s GO corner). While I am not familiar with anyone displaced from the 10 Mile corridor moving into the Zoo, I’m not going to risk it by rolling the dice.

Easy as it is to point to bygone businesses (Pub 1881, Billings Feed Store, Friend Catering, Weber Brothers Greenhouses), I’m more inclined to note the staying power of some of our local haunts. Contrast National Bank of Detroit — “One of America’s Great Banks,” which merged with First National, then merged with Bank One, which was then purchased by JPMorgan Chase — with Durst Lumber holding off Home Depot. Lincoln Drugs keeps answering the phone at (248) LI-DRUGS. And Armitage Collision can only have benefited from the invention of text messaging.

All the same, I wish we hadn’t said see ya later to Alligator Alley (“Family Arcade”) and that Roberto’s Putts ‘N’ Round was still putzing around.

As noted on the game board, Ron Gillham was an Optimist Club member in the 1980s. He has made his way around the board a few times since then. Until the next election when he steps down from the unpaid position, he will hold his claim as being the longest-standing mayor in Michigan.

Ironically, one main difference from Monopoly is that Wheeler Dealer doesn’t involve houses, Huntington Woods’ stock-in-trade. From my seat on the Zoning Board of Appeals — “Negligible power corrupts negligibly” —  I can see the care and craftsmanship that go into building and renovating in this, the (self-proclaimed) City of Homes.

In another 30 years, we will probably be looking back at, albeit not in board-game form, the one-in-320-year storm of  2014, when Sam’s Market became a gastropub and/or pilates studio, and when M-1 Rail crept up to 11 Mile.

And I mean “we,” since most folks here don’t seem to have any plans to move. For those who must, let me know if you find anything in your attic.

By: Ben Falik

Karen Couf Cohen
Karen Couf Cohen 07.30.2015

Hi Ben, did you know that Monopoly is based on an actual city? It's an actual place, Atlantic City in New Jersey. My dad grew up there and we got a big kick out of seeing where he lived when we played Monopoly..Dewey Place right between Pacific and Oriental Avenue. But those were the old days...