This Will Always Be The Place

WARNING: Epic stuff coming up here!

I’ve got the goods for my Detroit trip blog now. It’s no small task for me to blog about going home, because it’s always a multi-layered story.

Everyone knows I live with a constant pang of homesickness; it’s not easy to leave a place like Detroit and move to the Bay Area (yes, you read that right). Even though I met the love of my life here, I built a great career, I’ve fallen in love with the landscape, and I’ve made a slate of awesome friends. I am still — yep — homesick.

This beautiful place I live in is still not the ugly place I came from — no place is. And I’m sure lots of people think no place is like their hometown, for better or worse, but really — NO place on earth is like Detroit. Yet.

Urban prairie in downtown Detroit.

Urban prairie in Detroit’s center city.

People wonder why I love it; how I could long for “the armpit of America,” still, after going on seven years in the Bay Area. I know it seriously confounds them, but all I can say is…

Everything that makes Detroit appear awful to outsiders, makes it special to the people who actually live there. It makes them tough and resilient, and defiant in the face of outsiders’ judgment. It makes them creative and hopeful. It builds community and inspires ingenuity. It makes them call on a legacy of hard work and discipline to find immediate solutions to really big problems. That’s a skill I wouldn’t trade in for anything less armpitty.

(Here’s an example of what I’m talking about, if you’ve got the time to watch:)

And if there’s one thing people in Detroit know a thing or two about, it’s hard work. The more I live outside Detroit, the more I realize my standards for dependability and gettin’ shit done are not normal. They were shaped in Detroit, and that’s the only place where people have so far met them.

And so I miss it. I chose to get married there last year in part to pay homage to it and to remind my friends and family there that they’re still just as important to me as ever, if not more so. I call both Detroit and the Bay Area “home” and I probably always will, although only after I took out a marriage license in the state of California did I really start using “home” to refer to San Francisco.

Oh — and I will never be a Bay Area sports fan. NEVER, EVER.

Dressed for a Detroit Tigers game with my dad and sister, mid-1980s.

Sleepover with my neighborhood bud, Kristi, after dad took us all to a Tigers game in the mid-80s. BLESS YOU BOYS!

This trip back was for my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary. I rarely miss a chance to go home to Detroit, but there’s no way in HELL I would miss my grandparents’ anniversary. If there are two people who deserve to know how important they are to me, it’s them. I lost my dad when I was 15, and since that time (and even before), my grandparents have always been there.

It wasn’t cheap or easy to make this trip, and needless to say it came at a tough time with the house a literal construction zone and our personal possessions quite literally scattered all over it (ask me in person about the unpacking/packing meltdown I had when I couldn’t find ANY of my jewelry in ANY of our boxes). Yet somehow we managed to get out the door at 3:00 AM on Wednesday and board our shuttle for the airport.

We were at Munga’s house for the first two days of our trip, and we spent ALL of those two days on three very important tasks:

  1. Eating whatever the grandparents put in front of us
  2. Giving a fifth and FINAL interview for my new job as Manager of Curation & Content at art.com (okay, so only I did that, but Trent helped by keeping me cool at the prospect of giving an unplanned fifth job interview over the phone while on vacation)
  3. Buying and setting up a new Macbook Pro for Munga, who has never used a Mac before — ever (along with setting up her wireless printer, and updating and synching the iPhone we bought her for Christmas)

Number 3 up there was NO SMALL TASK, people. That is how hardcore we are. We spend our VACATION HOURS on tech support for MUNGA. But, it makes her happy. See?

My mom with her new Macbook Pro.

Munga at the Apple store with her new ‘puter, as she calls it.

That is one happy Munga right there.

Come Friday morning, my interviews were all over, and party preparations were reaching a feverish pitch. The grandparents’ celebration was that night, and our three friends from San Francisco who made the trip to join in the fun — Carla, Amir, and Marlene — had all arrived. Trent and I were slated to stay with them Friday through Monday nights at a little place I’d picked out in Corktown called Honor & Folly, so Amir came and picked us up in his rental car on Friday afternoon and we got ready there.

Me and Marlene in the living room of Honor & Folly

Me and Marlene chillin’ before the grandparents’ party at Honor & Folly. On our iPhones. What else would we be doing?

I really dug Honor & Folly. It was just a loft for rent (albeit, an incredibly tasteful loft, owned by an incredibly savvy design blogger named Meghan McEwan) above Slow’s BBQ — one of the popular businesses responsible for keeping the Corktown commercial district thriving since the closure of Tiger Stadium over a decade ago.

And yet — I couldn’t help but feel that the arrival of something like Honor & Folly meant the death of something else about Detroit that I loved. Or rather, still love — I think. More on that in a second…

So the five of us headed to the party together on Friday night, rejoining my family and another 175 distinguished guests. Because that is how this family of mine rolls — we don’t do anything small. It’s all big time.

Oh, and just as we were walking out the door, I got a call informing me that the job at art.com was officially mine. So that made everything EXTRA big time. Yes.

The band warming up at the grandparents' anniversary party.

Jazzistry, our family friends and renown jazz masters, warming up for the grandparents.

The party was just what the grandparents wanted, and it made them and me and all of us very happy. They looked amazing, too. Check out the smile on my grandfather in this pic:

My grandparents at their anniversary party.

That is one happily married man right there, even after 60 years. We should all be so lucky.

If, by the way, you don’t know the story of my grandparents’ love affair, here’s the extremely abbreviated version:

She’s six years older than him. They grew up together in Detroit: just a block away from each other in the Italian neighborhood. Her parents occasionally ran the booze that his family made (she even once spent a night in jail as a toddler with her parents when they got picked up by the cops).

His father died at age 29, and he left school in the eighth grade to try and make a living. When she decided to run off to New York City and marry an Irishman in the ’40s, he figured he couldn’t really offer her anything, but he tried to stop her anyway. He got all the way to her aunt’s house in New York before the aunt turned him away. And so she married Jimmy Gallagher, and he went back home, moved to Toronto, and married “Crazy Florence.”

Jimmy Gallagher turned out to be a drunk, and she left him. And Florence was, well — crazy. They both wound up back home in Detroit, divorced. And available.

In 1952, women rarely married younger men, and Italian women rarely got remarried without an annulment, but she did both. They ran off to Los Angeles to start fresh together.

In the 60 years since then, they’ve done a lot of stuff. None of it ever conventional. If you missed my earlier post, you can see more of Sam and Lucy (and some pics of me when I was real little and adorable) here.

Definitely a lot worth celebrating, and celebrate we did.

Toasting my grandparents.

Toasting the grandparents and hoping we soak up some of their mojo.

When the party was over, those of us that stuck around until the very end saw my grandparents off like a new bride and groom, with my mom chauffeuring and everyone cheering the car on while they waved goodbye. I don’t have a picture of it, but it’s okay — I’ll remember that sight for the rest of my life.

We headed back to Honor & Folly then, and decided to go downstairs and check out the new bar that had opened right below us, next to Slow’s BBQ. And that’s when a bittersweet sadness starting washing over me about Detroit’s future.

The bar is called The Sugar House, and there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just a nice, artsy, high-end cocktail bar, with waiters in vests and ties speaking with emphatic hand gestures. The only thing wrong with it is that it’s on the same Corktown block as the legendary dive, LJ’s Lounge. On Michigan Avenue. Just a couple blocks from the giant gaping hole where Tiger Stadium used to be.

If you aren’t from Detroit, you’re probably not going to understand why this made me sad. But it did. It made me sad on several occasions, actually, to see San Francisco-type establishments popping up in Corktown and even other neighborhoods in Detroit. It was the first time I’d noticed these kinds of places in the D. And they were overflowing, literally, with… gulp…

Hipsters.

Yes, Detroit has always had hipsters, but HOLY GOD did I see a lot of hipsters on this trip. It was shocking. Clearly, there’s been an influx in the past year. Where did they come from, and why?

I guess the answers to those questions don’t necessarily mean anything bad. They probably mean good things. Hey — if hipsters are coming to Detroit, then they must think it’s cool — for God only knows what reason in hipster logic, but there’s gotta be one. “People” is the magic ingredient Detroit desperately needs for its long-awaited rebirth.

And yet, I’d always hoped that the people it already had would be enough to fix its problems. The people who already built cool restaurants and bars with a character all their own, that didn’t need to emulate the “finer” tastes of the Coasts. People who were a little rougher around the edges and didn’t necessarily need or want to pay *cough* $9 for a beer to believe they were at a place worth their time.

I guess there just aren’t enough of those people, is what I’m realizing. And I guess I can’t complain, because I was one of them, but like so many of the others I know, I left.

So now when I return, I have to accept Detroit as the city of the people of the moment. And they are no longer all my people. And that’s a bittersweet thing. But is it bittersweet like a Fernet Branca Blackberry Lime Winter Cobbler?

I don’t know. Guess we’ll find out in the coming years. As the Talking Heads say,

“The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It’s ok I know nothing’s wrong”

Good news, though: LJ’s still kicks it. And the bartender hates the f#@%ing hipsters. And at least one bar on Michigan Avenue locked us out when they saw us coming, which I accepted with a smile. I take it the Old Vanguard is taking a stance. More power to ya, my friends. Go Tigers!

So, the morning after the party, Trent and I woke up extra early to get to Eastern Market before the masses and meet our friends Kim and George for breakfast at Russell Street Deli (OMG SO GOOOOOOD LIKE ALWAYS!). Then we strolled the market for a while until Kim and George had to split off for a wine pouring event, after which we were joined by Anna and Vince and the kids, and Carla and Marlene who had roused and hitched a cab over.

Saturday morning at the Eastern Market.

Just another Saturday at the market.

Me with Anna and Vince's son, Henry.

Me and Henry. And a delicious pretzel roll from Zingerman’s.

By the way, I bought the best bunch of Michigan strawberries I’ve ever tasted at the market. IN LIFE. Stop eating whatever strawberries you’re eating RIGHT NOW and fly to Michigan and get some farm fresh MICHIGAN strawberries. They will blow your mind.

After the market, there was nothing else to do but drink beer, which we did pretty much for the rest of the day. Starting in the backyard of one of my faves — The Old Miami.

Everyone in the backyard of The Old Miami.

Group shot with gargoyle, Old Miami.

My mom, Char and Bud, my cousin Nicole, and her boyfriend Evan all joined us there (Char came with bling for the Californians) and we started to pick up steam. We headed back to Corktown next, to the Mercury Burger Bar (hipsters everywhere!), picked up Kim and my sister and a few more friends of my mom’s, and then ventured on to Casey’s (hipster-free; phew!), the Corktown Tavern (punks, not hipsters), and Nemo’s (ah — just some old men).

Kim and Marlene in Nemo's.

Kim and Marlene, Nemo’s, 1:00 AM.

Sunday we woke up in pretty good shape, and packed it off to the Detroit Yacht Club for the day to sun and swim. After which my family met us for Sunday Soul Food Brunch in the grill and I got a little belated birthday cake (that I couldn’t eat, of course, but I took the strawberry off the top!).

Dinner at the DYC with my family.

Amir puts away some all-you-can-eat fried chicken to impress my grandfather.

After dinner, we walked the docks and I showed my friends the inside of the clubhouse. It made me super nostalgic for my childhood at the club. Spending long summer nights with my sister, “exploring” areas of the island where we weren’t supposed to go, or taking our dinghy out farther than we should and being terrified we’d run out of gas and drift into the freighter channel…

Main Dock at the DYC.

DYC Main Dock.

Coming “home” to the boat at 10:00 PM, with the sun still clinging to the horizon, covered in mosquito bites. Lying awake in my cabin hearing the waves lapping the side of the boat, eavesdropping on my parents’ grownup conversations on deck above me, while my father drank a beer to celebrate his too-short weekend.

Sunday night, you’d have thought we’d be tired, but we hit up some more bars (just the Californians this time). And by the time we were done, I had eaten FOUR SERVINGS of french fries. Ugh. Score -1, Detroit, for no healthy bar food.

We rolled to Midtown and made a stop at the Garden Bowl, then headed over to The Bronx.

The gang at the Bronx Bar.

The Bronx: remodeled, but still dark.

And of course, we ended the night with a coney throw-down. I mean, we had to. Amir was with us.

Amir at Lafayette Coney Island.

Coney #1: Lafayette. With chili cheese fries, of course.

Amir at American Coney Island.

Coney #2: American (note how bold this man is — he’s eating MORE fries and a FULL BOWL OF CHILI in addition to Coney #2).

Not surprisingly, everyone who partook in the coney throw-down felt like ass the next morning (not me, of course). And the Californians had to fly out that day. Still, we managed to rally, check out of Honor & Folly, go eat some more food in Greektown, and get to the Guardian Building (formerly the Union Trust Building) for some shopping and a quick tour before it was go-time.

The Guardian Building lobby.

The Guardian Building: Detroit’s Art Deco masterpiece.

Unfortunately, though, we had a VERY abrupt parting when Grandpa Sam called to report he was having chest pains. Munga, Trent, and I hugged the Californians goodbye, and raced an ambulance back to the house. We spent the rest of our last day in the Beaumont emergency room by Gramps’ side, finally learning that he had come down with pneumonia.

Needless to say, leaving the next morning was extremely difficult, especially on top of all the emotion I was already feeling on this trip. I boarded the plane a guilt-ridden wreck (as I mentioned in my last post), worried to death that I would never see Grandpa Sam again.

I’m happy to report, though, that one week later, he’s doing much better. See? This is him on Father’s Day, this past Sunday:

Grandpa modeling his new t-shirt in the hospital.

Oh, if only you could read what those shirts say…

Here, let me help you. That’s a photo of my grandfather, waving money out a car window. His shirt says, “WHO’S YO DADDY?” My mom’s shirt says, “YOU MY DADDY.” My grandmother’s shirt says, “YOU MY BABY’S DADDY.”

I think he’s going to live.

And Detroit is going to live. On. It will always be my place, but I have another place now, too. Home, is where I want to be, and my tears stopped when I got back here to my construction site with my wonderful husband.

I’m just always going to have two places, I guess. You’ll have to keep lifting me up and turning me around (thanks, David Byrne).

See all our pics of this Detroit trip here.

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6 thoughts on “This Will Always Be The Place

  1. Marlene says:

    I LOVE Detroit. Thanks so much for including me and sharing your awesome family.

  2. […] people live in Detroit because they were born there, not because they want to be there — but maybe soon that will change?). They learned to love the Wings by watching them with their grandfather at Olympia Stadium, or […]

  3. Temple Times says:

    […] We didn’t make it to Michigan for Christmas this year, so we were in need of some Munga/grandparent time (the last time we left Gramps, remember, he was in the emergency room). […]

  4. […] We didn’t make it to Michigan for Christmas this year, so we were in need of some Munga/grandparent time (the last time we left Gramps, remember, he was in the emergency room). […]

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