My husband and I were lucky enough to find ourselves in Detroit on Sunday with tickets to a Red Wings game in our hands. It was still morning and the day was sunny and brisk. We stuffed our hands in our jeans pockets and kept our heads down against the wind as we rushed through Monroe Avenue. The smell of smoked meats from Red Smoke mingled with the smell of sulfur wafting up through the sidewalk grates. The streets were empty except for a man sitting on the ground; he asked us for change, but we didn’t have any. The automatic doors at Greektown Casino opened before us, and we shook off the cold as we moved through the brick building and up the escalator to the People Mover. The rickety train thundered into the station within minutes, and we boarded with a few other people in Red Wings apparel. The train rocked us back and forth as it gave us a bird’s-eye view of this beautiful and wounded city.
I love Detroit. It’s a love that a lot of people in West Michigan don’t understand. Whenever I tell a friend I’m going to Detroit, I unfailingly get the advice: “Don’t get mugged!”
It’s a common enough response for people who live over two hours away from the city, who have probably never been to the city, or if they have, never been there longer than the length of a baseball game or a concert. Drive in, enjoy an event, and drive home like a bat out of hell. There’s been hardly any good news coming out of Detroit for the past two decades, so people who rely on the news for truth about this mysterious city assume that it’s better left alone.
I grew up on the east side, though, a mere 45 minutes south from “D-town,” as we affectionately call it. No one knows where Ida Township is. It doesn’t clear anything up when I say it’s in Monroe County. But Detroit—ahh, they know that name. Once, when I was in Italy, on a date with a waiter from our hotel who didn’t speak a lot of English, I told him I was from Michigan. He scrunched his brow at this, clearly not understanding. I held up my right hand to show the recognizable shape of my state—still nothing. I did not understand a lot that he said, but I did understand that he liked the rapper Eminem. “EMINEM!” I gasped with elation. Of course! Eminem is from Detroit! I am also from Detroit!
Only I’m not.
True, I’ve been to Detroit far more than my West Michigan counterparts. My family made the drive up I-75 multiple times a year for plays, musicals, and, yes, concerts and baseball games. A fond childhood memory of mine is spotting landmarks that prove we’re almost there—the fireball at the oil refinery in the industrial River Rouge, the haunting 21-story train station with all of its windows missing, the tall white walls of the old Tiger Stadium, and finally the iconic Renaissance Center, its glass towers sticking out like sore thumbs amongst the brick skyline of downtown. Many of my fondest childhood memories begin with this journey.
Yet I have no idea what it means to be a Detroiter. I don’t know the hardship or the fear. I don’t know what it’s like to see my city collapse from the inside out. And sometimes I feel like an imposter, the way I love the city so much.
But I do love the city, and it is my city, too. I have made a wish on the fountain in Fishbones. I have ridden the elevator in the Ren Cen all the way to the top. I have walked the length of the Riverwalk. My husband swam in the Detroit River. We picnicked on Belle Isle.
I know where the fuck Bob-Lo Island is.
I have walked the streets at night and not been afraid.
Detroit is my home. And like my family home, it’s always been a little dysfunctional. It’s never been perfect. But it’s working on making things right. I believe in it and its ability to be whatever it wants to be. Most importantly, I am proud of it.
We emptied off the crowded train full of red-and-white dressed strangers high on adrenaline from an overtime victory. Back on Monroe Avenue, the streets were full of activity. Musicians were playing upbeat melodies. Friends were congratulating each other on an excellent win. We thought for a moment about staying in the city for a while and celebrating, but a sea of red jerseys was visible through the windows of Astoria Pastry Shop and Pegasus Taverna. Rather than battle the crowds of out-of-towners, we decided to just get to the car and go home. We’re no strangers to the city. We’ll be back soon.
Do you have a city that feels like home to you, even though you don’t live there? Or are you trying to make a new city your home? Share your story in the comments.