The end of an era is official, as the Palace of Auburn Hills is closing its doors. Honestly, it’s hard not to get sentimental. And all due respect to Bob Seger, a great Pistons fan and great Detroit musician, having the rock & roller close the place down just doesn’t do the Palace justice.
Detroit Bad Boys will have more about the Palace in the near future, but first I wanted to ask a pretty simple question — what are your fondest memories of The Palace of Auburn Hills?
I grew up in Toledo and despite the relatively close distance didn’t get to games nearly as much as I’d like. A combination of no money and being just fine watching on TV is mostly to blame.
Still, I have some very distinct memories, even if I never really got to attend any iconic games.
My nose-bleed experience
My wife and I started dating in 2001, which coincided nicely with the Pistons’ resurgence. Being the wonderful girlfriend she was, she bought us tickets to go to the Palace to see a Pistons game.
This was before Seat Geek or any super sophisticated online interface, also, we were dirt poor. So my then-girlfriend surprised me with some tickets at midcourt in the upper bowl. She was very excited to go to the game with me.
We got to the upper bowl and started walking to find our seats. And we kept walking. And walking. Up. Up. Up. It turns out we were in the very top row of the stadium with our backs pressed against the walls.
My wife was mortified. But it turns out that the silver lining was that it was quite a ragtag bunch of misfits up there with us. Including the roughly 14-17 year-old girl sitting beside us. Boy, did this girl love Carlos Delfino.
Every time she saw him she would shriek with delight and clap her hands. Or grab her mother’s arm and squeal. And it never stopped. It was as close as I’ve ever been to the kind of reaction you see when someone is inches away from their favorite pop star. Except this person was a hundred rows up in a 15,000-person stadium going crazy for a little speck of a human playing 15 minutes per game.
It was strange, then endearing, then annoying. By the 50th squeal it just became surreal. I don’t know this girl’s story, and it doesn’t really matter. All I know is that I got to be witness to the essence of pure joy in the nosebleeds that night.
It was strange and frustrating and lovely and I’ll never forget it.
My concert experience
If you were a exurban or suburban white 15-year-old in the late 90s you were almost guaranteed to be obsessed with Rage Against the Machine. And so it went for me. The only group to get rap-rock right, the wizard Tom Morello on guitar and Zach De La Rocha spitting vocals that were, like, deep, man.
So my mom got me two tickets to see Rage Against the Machine at the Palace at what turned out to be their final tour. She drove me and my friend (natch), dropped us off and took a book to a nearby Big Boy to wait out a few hours while these nerdy white boys rocked out.
I knew RATM albums backwards and forwards, but I was completely clueless about most other music. I was also an impressionable little shit so I let the mob mentality lead me wherever the older, cooler kids with Free Mumia shirts and tatttoos wanted me to go.
Things I distinctly remember about this night: 1. The sound was AWFUL. 2. The crowd was worse. I’m not sure if one led to two or if it was just a bunch of “socially conscious” assholes that couldn’t be bothered to have any perspective whatsoever.
Because it turned out that while the crowd spent two and half hours booing everything and everything that wasn’t RATM, it was a classic show in retrospect.
The opener was a little band called At The Drive In. This was 1999 so Relationship of Command hadn’t come out yet. All I knew is some tight-jeaned dudes in leather jackets came out, one said, “We’re from fucking Texas” and I was assaulted with noise for 45 minutes. BOOOOOOOOOOO said the entire stadium for no good reason whatsoever.
Even worse is that the next band to perform was classic hip hop group Gang Starr. Did the 10,000 people in attendance care? Nope. BOOOOOOOOOO. Endless boos. Now, I love listening to old Gang Starr albums but at the time I didn’t know and didn’t care.
Then Michael Moore waddled out in a Detroit Tigers baseball cap, and I knew who he was because I remembered Siskel & Ebert reviewing Roger & Me. I’m a nerd, remember? Anyway, Moore introduces Rage as “the real fucking deal” and the stadium goes nuts.
Then Rage plays their set, but the crowd of assholes decides they are going to work in throngs of 50-100 go to the concourse and collectively rush the aisles to try and get past the barrier to the expensive floor seats. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t but I’ve never seen security punch so many people directly in the face.
Expensive Seats at Last
The last memory I want to share is actually my most recent game. My wife and I now have a little more disposable income (no kids) so on the rare trip to the Palace we get relatively decent floor seats that sit at an angle near where the tech person sits. I even have pictures of Greg Kelser and George Blaha’s chairs for when they are put to the side after pre-game. I’m a nerd, remember.
Anyway, I am a hugely expressive fan when watching. I just get into it and perhaps it drives the people around me nuts or perhaps they couldn’t care less. But I am not just sitting on my hands.
But the last time I went we were seated directly in front of rookie Jamaal Murray’s family, who must have driven in from Canada to see his fifth ever pro game. Murray was awful for three quarters and the Nuggets got blown out by Detroit.
I could feel in my bones how disappointed and bored Murray’s family was and I couldn’t help but root for him to do something, anything positive. It also meant that despite the Pistons jumping out to a 34-17 lead, I had to bottle it all in because I didn’t want to be completely rude.
That’s it. Three innocent anecdotes, and nothing really special. But I know everyone has a great Palace story in them. What’s yours?