I Can Never Go Home

(Google maps)

When I think about Detroit, my hometown, it’s a mixed bag of good and bad, but I think everyone’s hometown is like that to some extent. My hometown and I share a deep bond, a connection born of living on its streets. I have collapsed on its cold, bare sidewalks and slept in its abandoned houses. I know it intimately, but like an estranged lover, I don’t know it now. I only know my Detroit of twenty years ago, because that’s how long it’s been since I called it home.

I had to leave. It gives me a sense of guilt that, like so many others, I abandoned my hometown when it needed me most, leaving it to rot in its own rubble. However, unlike many, I didn’t leave for a better job or more opportunities; I left because it is where I was beaten and raped. I left because I was a homeless drug addict prostitute on its streets.  I left because that’s where the monsters live, physically and figuratively. I left because my friends and family betrayed me when they didn’t believe me; instead, they believed the monsters who destroyed my life. I had to forge a new life in anonymity, because my old one was destroyed.

Every corner of my city holds some memory. I can drive down any random street and a host of memories flood to my consciousness. That’s where my Uncle lived. I did drugs in that house. I sold myself on that corner.

A lot of the places etched in my memory are no longer there. The apartment building where I lived, did drugs and prostituted myself was torn down and is now a pharmacy. People go in and get their prescriptions filled never realizing all the horrors that went on in that same spot. People work there. That’s a strange concept. The sidewalk where I was sexually assaulted at gunpoint is still there. The sapling tree where all of my belongings were piled up under a blanket of snow when I was finally evicted is much bigger now.

(Google maps)
(Google maps)

A decade or so ago, I went into the pharmacy and stood in the approximate spot where I once lived. All the memories came flooding back. No other drug store holds as much personal history for me as that one. I haven’t visited since.

There are ghosts on every corner. They’re not all bad ghosts though. In a lifetime spent in a city, there are always good times. There are memories that make me smile with a wistful yearning for youth. There are places that I still love, that make me feel at home, like the Detroit Institute of Arts. During one, particularly hot, dry summer, I spent a lot of my time there because they had excellent air conditioning and it was cheaper than a movie. Nothing evil ever happened there, at least, not to me. I go there every time I visit and drop as big of a wad of cash on them as I can in repayment for the respite they offered me so long ago.

Every sidewalk in every city as old as Detroit has history. Countless people have walked on it, all with their own stories, their own preoccupations. Most people don’t think about all the things that have happened on that spot over the course of decades. I don’t often think about all the things that have happened on the sidewalk in front of my house here in Los Angeles. My story is just one among millions.

Detroit was there long before I was born and it will still be there when I am gone. The tree will continue to grow. The street will still be a street. The sidewalk will still be a sidewalk. They will continue to do their jobs just as they always have. As I sit here, several thousand miles from where that image was recorded on some sunny day a while ago, I try not to let the ghosts engulf me. I try to leave them there on that sidewalk. I mostly succeed, but every once in a while, I think of that sidewalk, and all the others like it, where terrible ghosts live to haunt me.

I no longer have a hometown, a home. I can’t go back. I cannot live there. At least, not until I’m ready to face my past head on. Until that day, I keep moving from city to city, sidewalk to sidewalk, hoping that one day, my city and I can call each other friends again, without enmity and without ghosts.

Let’s Riot!

(ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

I grew up in Detroit, a city that loves its riots. I remember being a wee thing and having my mom push me way down behind the driver’s seat. She told me to cover my head with my hands and not to move until she told me to. I’ve never been one to listen. As we drove very slowly, I heard things hit all the windows. The car started swaying from side to side, and as something hit the window in front of me, instinctively, I popped my head up and looked out. I saw a crowd of angry people throwing things. I put my head back down right away.

That incident was a decade after The Big Riot (capital letters even) of 1967. I wasn’t even alive when that one happened, but my mom was, so when we found ourselves trying to get gas at a gas station during the gas shortages of 1979, and a mini-riot started, my mom freaked out and got us out of there ASAP.

When I was older, there was another spate of riots in Detroit. There were riots at the same time two years in a row. The first was because the Detroit Pistons won the NBA championship. The next year, there was a riot because they lost the championship. Win or lose, the end result was a riot. Wooo!

Every year in Detroit, the night before Halloween was Devil’s Night. I had no idea that Devil’s Night wasn’t a thing anywhere else in the country until I moved away. Devil’s Night was like a mini-riot that happened every year. Buildings were burned, property was destroyed or vandalized, mayhem ensued. From the wiki: “The destruction reached a peak in the mid- to late-1980s, with more than 800 fires set in 1984, and 500 to 800 fires in the three days and nights before Halloween in a typical year.”

I lived in a two-story house in southwest Detroit in the early 90s. Southwest Detroit, at that time, was one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Detroit, an already super dangerous city. During the last week of October, things got a little tense. My neighbors started a neighborhood watch of sorts. We’d take turns sitting out on our front porches keeping watch. That last Devil’s Night I lived there, at least 400 buildings went up in flames. One of them was a shed across the street from my house.

Now, I live in Los Angeles, another city that has a history of riots. In 1992, seven years before I moved here, there was the Rodney King riot. Six days of rioting spawned when police officers were acquitted of severely beating an unarmed man named Rodney King. The exchange was captured on video and there was really no doubt of their guilt. That was the last large-scale riot in this city, but there have been small flare ups here and there.

I have never rioted. I’ve never understood the point of it. Yes, Rodney King was a fucked up situation and it still pisses me off to no end that those officers got away with it. I can completely understand the fury, but rioting has never seemed like a good solution to me. You are destroying your own neighborhood. The people you are hurting are not the ones guilty of the crime you are protesting against. They are the small business owners in your own community. They are regular people trying to make a living and you are hurting them. They are your neighbors and they are innocent of whatever injustice has been committed, yet they are the ones who pay.

I’ve never understood Devil’s Night in Detroit where you would light your own neighborhood on fire. What if that fire spreads to your house? What about your neighbor’s house that catches on fire because you burned down an adjacent property? Devil’s Night seems even dumber than a real riot. At least real riots have a purpose. Devil’s Night is just assholery.

On Saturday, when I heard the news that George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges for killing an unarmed 17-year old that he was stalking for no reason, I was infuriated. That whole case pisses me off. Initially, Zimmerman wasn’t even charged with anything. They brought him into the police station, where he admitted to shooting Trayvon Martin, and then they let him go. It was only after mass outrage that they charged him with anything. They had a sham trial and let him go again. He killed an unarmed 17-year old boy who was walking home; he walks away free.

So, last night, when I saw the news that there was a riot starting in Los Angeles, I had mixed feelings. Honestly, my first thought was that Angelinos apparently don’t pay attention to the news since the verdict came out on Saturday and the rioting didn’t start until Monday night. Ever since I heard the news on Saturday, I was expecting this to happen.

I can completely relate to the outrage at the legal process surrounding the Martin case, just as I did with Rodney King. It’s bullshit. It’s a fucked up decision. It’s unjust. I’ve had my personal share of injustice and I fucking hate it. But is throwing a rock through the window at Jack In The Box in your own neighborhood the solution? Is storming a Wal-Mart the best way to show injustice has occurred? Is pouring bleach inside you local dollar store the best way to express your outrage? What started as a peaceful protest quickly turned into hooligans destroying their own community’s property.

While I sympathize with Martin’s family and I am as outraged as everyone in that protest, please, let’s stop the riots. They don’t change a thing.

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A Problem Named Sherman

lunch3
Weekly Writing Challenge: Write a post written entirely in slang, dialect, or a regional accent.

Author’s note:
This is Detroit slang, but it’s been over fifteen years since I’ve lived there, so some of these terms might not be common anymore.
lunch3
Image from michiganexposures.com

Fiddy was sitting by the window at coney in the D having a Vernors and fries, when Lil G rolled up: “What up, doe?

“Yo, doe, what up?”

All right.”

Pop a squat.”

Lil G sat down and a tired waitress in a stained apron came over, “Can I get youse anything?”

“Yeah, can I get a pop?”

“Coke alright?”

“Yeah. So, Fiddy, what up with your yung dawg Sherman?”

“Why, what up?”

“Well, my dog Lee tell me Sherman shootin’ shit with them bustos instead of them custos. Lee say the hook rolled up and he ain’t even notice til they was up on him.”

“Where was his eyes?”

“Right next to him, talkin’ to them freak girls, too.”

“Where he be at?”

“Out on Wooderd.”

“Go fetch him for me.”

Aight.”

Fiddy looked out the window. He had been slinging a long time. Back in the 80’s, when he was still radish, he worked for a MFIC slinging rock. He didn’t even have rotation, but he managed on the freight. It only took him a year before he had his own turf and yung dawgs, and was off the streets. He thought about how nice it was to just be a slinger and not have to worry about shit like this. Nowadays, rock was dead. Lotto tickets and ganz was where it’s at.

Fiddy’s pa worked at Jimmy’s his whole life driving a hi-lo. When he was just a kid, Fiddy swore he wouldn’t live like his pa. He would do whatever it took to avoid the big 3. He started when he was little running for the party store, buying loosies and beer for a buck here and there, and when he was old enough, he started slinging. He’d done alright for himself.

Sherman and Lil G sat down and the same tired waitress asked the same tired question. No one said anything until she had gone, come back and gone again. Fiddy watched Sherman, who sat with his head down fiddling with his hands.

You all right? Lil G told me what he tell you,” Sherman started, “I ain’t mean to…”

Fiddy raised a palm and cut him off. He took a sip of Vernors, long and slow. He swallowed as if he was swallowing a big marble. Finally, he said, “Sherman, we were solid. I gave you your own patch. This is how you repay me? What did the hook get?”

“Nothin’, Fiddy! I swear! They ain’t seen nothin’. They just slow and roll.”

“Damn straight. You know if they get my stash, Ima beat the bitch out of you.”

“I know. These skeezers roll up and I thought they was custos, but they wouldn’t bug. That’s all. And then the 5-O show, but they ain’t got nothin’.”

“Where was your eyes?”

“He came over a try to get them scrubs to leave, but they was leaking real bad and wouldn’t go. He know it was wrong of him to come over.”

“Fuck, Sherman. Ain’t you got no sense up in that head? Why you got eyes?”

Sherman just looked down and didn’t say anything.

“I’m ’bout to go ham in this bitch. Why you got eyes?

“To watch for the hook.”

That’s right. To watch out for the hook. What good do eyes do lookin’ right at you?”

“None.”

“Now you’re gettin’ it. Where do eyes belong?”

“Down the street.”

“You a smart boy, Sherman. You mean to tell me you cain’t take care of some old skeezers on your own?”

“No, Fiddy. Course I can.”

“Good. I expect you’ll handle your bidness from now on. If you don’t, Ima send you over to Gary in Wasteland. See how you like it.”

Sherman looked at Fiddy with fear in his eyes. “Really, Fiddy, I got it.”

“Aight then. Go on. And you tell your eyes the same. If he ever come up on you again, he get the same.” Fiddy watched Sherman walk out. “Lil G, you got to keep an eye on these young’uns. You to blame too.”

“I’m on it, Fiddy.”

“Aight then. I don’t wanna hear about Sherman and his crew no more. You beat that boy if he mess up again.”

“Aye.”

Fiddy walked out of coney and turned down Lafayette. Lil G followed, “Where we goin’?

Windsor ballet. Gotta talk to a supplier.”

They stepped around a sheeny lying on the sidewalk.

Can I bum a square?”

Fiddy took a pack of Kools from his chest pocket and pulled out two. It was going to be a long night.

Glossary:


Fiddy – slang for fifty. I actually knew a drug dealer named Fiddy. The rumor was that they called him that because he either had fifty weapons or fifty thousand dollars on him at all times.

Coney – Coney Island, a type of restaurant very common in Detroit best known for chili fries and chili dogs.

The D – the city of Detroit. Probably derived from the Detroit Tigers baseball team logo, which is a capital D.

DetroitTigersD

Vernors – a delicious carbonated ginger soda made in Michigan.

What up, doe? – a common greeting like “How are you?”

All right – All is right. It’s equivalent to “fine” when asked “How are you?”

Pop a squat – sit down

youse – plural of you like “y’all.” For some reason, a lot of Michigan waitresses use this term.

pop – soda

yung dawg – young dog. A junior.

Shootin’ shit – talking.

Busto – street prostitute

Custo – a customer purchasing drugs

The hook – the police

Eyes – someone whose job is to watch out for the cops, a lookout.

Freak girl – another word for street prostitute.

Wooderd – common pronunciation of Woodward Ave, the central north/south avenue that separates Detroit’s east side from the west side.

Aight – alright, pronounced “ite.”

Slinging or slanging – selling drugs

Radish – Short for hoodratish or like a hood rat. A hood rat is a young hooligan who doesn’t take care of business.

MFIC – Mother Fucker In Charge, a term for someone who owned a certain territory to sell drugs.

Rock – Crack, a form of cocaine sold in small rocks that could be broken up and freebased.

Rotation – transportation, a variation of wheels.

The freight – a department of transportation (DOT) bus

Off the streets – a drug dealer who is successful enough to have his own crew to sell drugs so he doesn’t have to be out there himself.

Lotto tickets – Heroin, the drug was often sold in old folded up lottery tickets.

Ganz or gans – A very high quality strain of marijuana from Detroit.

Jimmy’s – the car manufacturer General Motors (GM). It is very common in Michigan that a family will have allegiance to one auto manufacturer, and more often than not, will work for the same company as the rest of their family.

Hi-Lo – forklift

The big 3 – the big three automotive companies in Michigan: Ford, GM and Chrysler.

Running for the party store – convenience stores like 7-11 are called party stores or beer stores in Detroit. Running means running errands up to the party store to buy things for neighbors and taking a small cut.

Loosies – In poor neighborhoods, cigarettes were sold individually at party stores for anywhere from 10 to 25 cents. They were usually in a paper cup at the counter.

You all right? – A common greeting like “How are you?”

Patch – patch of land, a small territory.

Slow and roll – when the cops drive a squad car down a street very slowly without stopping, sometimes shining searchlights, sometimes, dark.

Skeezers – female drug addicts who will sell themselves for drugs, not quite professional prostitutes.

Bug – bug off, leave.

5-O – police, pronounced five-oh. Detroit police cars were Ford Crown Victoria interceptors with 5.0 litre engines.

Scrub – Another word for skeezer.

Leaking – out of drugs and desperate to get more.

Go ham in this bitch – “go ham” – go crazy, ham from hog-wild. “in this bitch” – in here.

Wasteland – Local nickname for the city of Westland, MI.

Windsor Ballet – strip clubs across the Detroit river in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

Sheeny or sheenie – a trash picker, not necessarily homeless. Sheenies searched for scrap metal or other things of value that they could sell to make a living.

Can I bum a square – can I borrow a cigarette

The Keys To The City

This is the actual house from Google street view.

I was born here:

I think that’s where I was born anyway. Actually, I’m not sure if that is the right place since the hospital I was born in no longer exist as such. That could be an entirely different hospital. I was a little too young to remember.

The important thing is, I was born. I spent several months in that hospital, or one like it, dying slowly from Pneumococcal Meningitis, but I survived.

Looking at that map now, it all looks vaguely familiar. West Outer Drive, south of Seven Mile Road at Schaefer Highway. Those words used to mean something to me beyond just a fuzzy recollection. There was a time when I knew exactly what that looked like. I knew the landmarks. I could tell you the fastest way to get there depending on where you were in the city. I knew which lane to be in on Eight Mile Road to avoid the worst potholes from the abandoned railroad tracks. I knew how the lights were timed. Detroit was my city, but like so many others, I abandoned it.

Whenever I think about my hometown, I feel sad and guilty. I am sad thinking of what has become of it since I left. I am guilty because maybe, had I stayed, it might not have gotten so bad. When I lived there, it was a proper city. Now, there are barely 700,000 residents. It makes me feel wretched for leaving it.

Today, because the Daily Post asked me to, I’m going to wallow in it. I will share with you my old haunts. I will rub salt into those wounds. I will reconnect with my hometown.

Woodward and East Grand

My very first apartment, when I was just barely eighteen years old, was torn down not too long after I left it. It was replaced by a pharmacy (Point A):

Woodward

The rent was something like $300 a month. It had no heat, no air conditioning, no hot water. I was in the middle of filing a complaint against them for same when they evicted me in the middle of winter. At the time, I was indignant, but now I don’t hold it against them since I had stopped paying rent some time back. I might have paid rent if there had been heat and hot water, but realistically, I probably wouldn’t have. I was a drug addict and drug addicts don’t tend to keep on top of their household bills.

It was a hot summer and a cold winter that I lived there. I remember one surprise July rain in the middle of a summer-long drought that brought everyone outside. All of my neighbors, young and old, were splashing in puddles like schoolchildren. I remember turning on the oven in the wintertime and leaving the door open for heat. I remember heating water on the stove so that I could take a lukewarm bath. I remember walking down Woodward Avenue on blazing hot afternoons to the Detroit Institute of Arts, which was free in those days (well, “suggested donation” free), to bask in their lovely air conditioning and stare at all the amazing art.

Anyway, the eviction process went ahead without my consent until one day, I came home to find all of my belongings piled up under this tree with two or three inches of snow on top:

It made a strangely pretty sight, like a demented Christmas tree. That tree was right outside the window to my apartment. That there sidewalk is the setting for a story I wrote called The Missing Shoe. After I was evicted, I was homeless for a while in that neighborhood. Some of my neighbors stored my belongings, but I just had clothes left anyway. I was homeless, it was winter and I was literally starving, but I still managed to find money to buy drugs.

Point C was where I used to buy crack. Lots and lots of crack:

Picture 12

Strangely, it looks almost exactly the same now and as it did then. It was in that house that someone I did drugs with sold her daughter to the dealer to buy more drugs. I walked out of that house to the payphone that used to be outside of Point B and made two calls: one to the police to narc on what had happened and the other to my parents to come pick me up. My parents made it there before the police, so I’m not entirely sure what happened after that.

I suppose I thought that, based on the awful things that went on in that house, it would have spontaneously and poetically burned the ground right after I left, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I was mildly disappointed to find it still standing and looking almost exactly the same. I wonder though, who is mowing that lawn?

Downtown

I lived in this building twice:

The first time was in a tiny little studio apartment. I had the two windows on the front of the building. I lived there by myself with a rat named Plague. This building was where I first realized that something was seriously wrong with my brain. I wrote awful prose and awful poetry. I became a hermit and hardly left.

The second time was in a penthouse at the back. It was a beautiful apartment with three sides of the building. From my bed, I could watch the fireworks at the old Tigers Stadium. I could watch thunderstorms coming from the north for miles and miles. I could see forever.

I had my car broken into at least twelve different times there. There were two entire floors of that building that were abandoned. Detroit is well known for having abandoned buildings, but even in the ones that were occupied, there were abandoned floors.

Southwest Detroit

This was my favorite house in Detroit:


It took some doing to find it on Google maps since I couldn’t remember the address or even the street name and it looks a little different now. There used to be a huge tree out front that shaded my bedroom window (second floor right) and the house was painted red when I lived there. I had that whole house and the yard in-between:

stjohn

The trees in the side yard were just saplings when I planted them. The ramshackle garage in back is just gone. The house across the street was not the burned out husk it appears to be now. This was not a good area of Detroit even when I lived there. The house right next door was a girl gang. They did carjackings.

That is the house from the post Wounds That Never Heal where my dog Maddy took off to the fence line in the alley and caught a prowler. It is where I came home to find a puppy that had peed on the living room floor, that living room floor. This was the house I lived in with an abusive Monster. This is where the violence began. This is the first place he tried to kill me. This was the last place I lived in Detroit before I moved to Boston with him. I thought maybe a change of venue might help him not want to kill me so much. I was wrong.

That house protected me from the wind, rain and snow, but it couldn’t protect me from the monster that lived inside of it.  I hope the people who live there now, if anyone does, appreciate it as much as I did, even with all the evil that happened there. It wasn’t the house’s fault.

These are the reasons I had to leave my city. There were too many memories on every corner. But these things are also the reason I am sad that I didn’t stay. These things are mine.

Get Me To Move

New York City Marked on a Map

The Daily Post asked what it would take to get me to move out of state. “If someone you trusted offered you $1000 to move to a different city, would that be enough? More? Or would you need other things (the promise of friends or better weather?) What would they need to offer you before you’d instantly say yes?”

That’s a lot of questions. And those questions only breed more questions.

First, is $1000 just bonus money or do I have to pay moving expenses out of it? If I have to move on only $1000, I’d say it can’t be done or it can’t be done easily at least. It costs about that much to move out of state. That’s not worth it. However, if it’s just a signing bonus and my moving expenses aren’t included in that, then maybe.

Second, where am I moving? If you ask me to move to Iowa or the North Pole, $1000 isn’t nearly enough, but if we’re talking somewhere civilized like New York City, London, Tokyo or Paris, then maybe. It all depends on where.

Third, would I have a job or an apartment when I get there? If not, $1000 is not enough to move out of state and support myself while looking for both a home and a job.

In summary, if you ask me to move to Iowa with no job or apartment, my minimum payment would be $50,000. If you ask me to move to London with a job and apartment lined up for $1000, sure, I’ll be ready in an hour.

I’ve already uprooted myself twice. I’m originally from Detroit. I lost my job there, and on a whim, applied for a job through the same company in Boston. I moved a month later (only to find out there was no job after all). I didn’t know a single person in the city. I stayed there for four years until pretty much the exact circumstances that made me leave Detroit happened again.  I moved to Los Angeles with no job, no apartment and I didn’t really know anyone besides a few acquaintances. I’ve been in LA for a dozen years.

In both instances, no one paid me $1000 to go anywhere, so maybe I’m being a little too picky about the hypothetical moving circumstances. The thing is, I moved to Los Angeles too soon. I should have hopped around the country or the world a little more before I settled here, because now that I’m here, I don’t really want to go anywhere else. This city feels like home… that is, unless you’d like to make me an offer I can’t refuse (cashier’s check or money order, please).

Are we too dependent on technology?

Look at the resolution on that thing!
(image from www.ecodaddyo.com)
Look at the resolution on that thing!
(image from ecodaddyo.com)

“Of course, humans aren’t dependent on technology. That’s just preposterous! I could totally survive without it,” she typed on her computer while listening to music magically stored there in bits and bytes. She sipped her coffee and looked at the time to see that there were still almost two hours left in the workday before she got in her car to go home. Sigh.

I freely admit that I am entirely dependent on technology. I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea how to do my job without a computer. I heard tell that, before the days of computers, graphic designers used to mock things up with tape and glue. Tape and glue! Can you imagine?

All of my music is stored digitally at this point. This afternoon, I’m listening to my entire music collection on full shuffle mode. I remember when compact discs were amazing because they didn’t have a side A and a side B like records and tapes. When the concept of “shuffle” came along, I fell in love. Before digital music players were invented, I had to schlep CDs around with me. I had many stolen or damaged in the process, and it seemed I never had the exact song I wanted to hear even though I had 100 of them in my car. Now, I can listen to anything I want in a matter of seconds, or if I’m not in the mood for anything in particular, I can listen to everything. For an audiophile like me, the iPod is the best invention ever.

I’m sure I could probably figure it out through a complicated process of trial and error, but I haven’t the slightest notion how to make coffee without a coffee maker. I’m pretty sure that the basic components are the same –namely coffee, water and fire– but I’m sure I’d mess up at least half a dozen pots before I got it right and that just won’t do. Messing up coffee is no good. Coffee is just as important a part of my life as the computer or music, maybe even more important.

As far as transportation, I am selfishly and unapologetically all about the car. I am from The Motor City after all. Most businesses in Detroit have parking lots. There are even drive-through liquor stores. Detroiters drive cars, everywhere, always. Homeless people live in them. Most Detroiters would give up their homes before they gave up their cars. Sometimes, we just drive cars around in circles like on Belle Isle in the summertime. Don’t question it. It’s what we do. So, yeah, the car is pretty important to my hometown and it’s certainly a technology I’d prefer not to live without.

Finally, my home is chock full of awesome technology that most of us take for granted like running water, the water heater, gas or electric stove, washer and dryer, a refrigerator, microwave, air conditioning and heat, and finally, the thing that makes most of those other things work, electricity.

Am I too dependent on technology? Damn straight, I am. If it came down to it, could I survive without it? Sure, I could. I know how to build a fire and a shelter, I know how to fish and I can cook on an open fire. These are all things my childhood taught me. I could survive without the magical modern conveniences of technology, but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to.

Detroit, My First Love

Looking north on Woodward Ave. - DIA on the immediate right, GM headquarters on the left in the distance.

I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, USA, western hemisphere. I was first brought into the world at Grace Hospital just south of Seven Mile Road. I’ve lived in the city of Detroit longer than any other locale. The city is in my blood. It always has been.

Detroit is a word with which people all over the world are familiar, but hardly anyone has ever actually been there. It’s not exactly a tourist destination anymore, if it ever was. When you say that you’re from Detroit, people think they know a thing or two about it. It either calls to mind cars, Motown, the best hockey team on earth, techno music (did you know that techno started in Detroit?), racketeering teamsters like Jimmy Hoffa, arson, abandoned neighborhoods, political corruption, murder or riots. All of those things would be true. I experienced all of them when I lived there. However, the city is so much more than that.

Having Detroit as your hometown is a kind of calling card. Just that single word says something about you. I’ve witnessed people from all over the world perk up when I say that word. “Oh, really? Is it as bad as they say it is?” It has a certain je ne sais quoi that being from other cities, like Des Moines, Iowa, just doesn’t have. It says that you’ve experienced something. You were born and raised in the former murder capital of the world.

Looking north on Woodward Ave. – DIA, immediate right, GM headquarters, distant left.

When I say I’m from Detroit, I mean that I’m from the city of Detroit. Lots of people will say they’re from New York City when they’re really from Connecticut. I lived in Detroit’s suburbs for a while. My parents decided Detroit proper wasn’t a place to raise children when I was in high school, a little too late if you ask me, and dragged us out to the stifling suburbs. I hate the suburbs. For three years, I lived out there in the boonies, far away from the love of my life. The first chance I got, when I was eighteen and my parents could no longer legally stop me, I moved right back to Detroit. My very first apartment was on Woodward Avenue at Grand River, near General Motors headquarters and just north of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

I lived all around Detroit in houses, apartments and sky rise buildings for more than another decade before I moved away for good. I saw whole neighborhoods set on fire on Devil’s Night. I didn’t know that Devil’s Night didn’t exist anywhere else like I knew it until I moved away. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Devil’s Night is the night before Halloween. In Detroit, it means, or at least it used to mean, setting your own neighborhood on fire. One of the last years I lived there, there were over 300 fires in abandoned buildings on Devil’s Night. The last year I lived in Detroit, I volunteered for Angel’s Night, patrolling my neighborhood with an amber light on my car equipped with a walkie-talkie patched straight to the police. There was only one fire in my immediate neighborhood that year. I’ve heard that this ridiculous tradition has lessened since I left and there are hardly any fires at all anymore. That’s progress. When I visit now, some parts of the city are hardly recognizable.

Detroit breaks my heart. It’s part of the reason why I left it; I could no longer watch something I loved be slowly destroyed and be powerless to stop it. I didn’t want to watch it dying, so I left, which actually just helped it die a little bit faster. My departure was inevitable though. I left because I had wanderlust. I needed to break off the shackles of the familiar and see the world for myself. It had nothing to do with my city. I would have felt that way had I been born and raised anywhere.

When I left, I thought I would come back. I thought I’d only be gone a year or two, and then I would come home, settle down and begin the process of adulthood. I considered subletting my house in southwest Detroit so that I’d have a place to live when I got back. Things didn’t quite work out that way. It’s been over fifteen years since I lived there.

Even though I still feel a twinge of guilt for abandoning my city, and it still is my city, all hope is not lost. There are people trying to change it, one abandoned building at a time. Who knows, maybe when I get old and gray, I will move back. Maybe I’ll retire there. It is a pretty city in an absolutely beautiful state. Detroit is old and full of grace, unlike the city in which I currently reside, Los Angeles. Detroit has character and I have character because of it.

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Snow Day

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How do you stay entertained when you are snowed in?

I live in southern California where snow days don’t even exist. I know people who have never experienced a real snowstorm and wouldn’t have the foggiest idea what a snow day is. If Los Angeles ever has a snow day, we’ve all got bigger problems than just snow.

That being said, I grew up in Michigan, so I’m quite familiar with the concept. When I was a kid, snow days were the best of all possible days. I remember gathering around the radio in the kitchen first thing in the morning to find out whether my school was on the list of school closings that they read aloud. When I was in public school, where they had things like buses, my school was usually listed. When I attended Catholic school, where they expected you to get there yourself anyway, we usually had to go. Apparently, the nuns at my Catholic school figured that you should be able to make it to school regardless of the weather conditions. If they didn’t live on-site, they probably would have had a different point of view.

When my school’s name was read aloud, I’d do a celebratory dance, run into the hall, wriggle into my full-body snow suit, which was much like those hazardous materials suits that the CDC wear only better insulated, and out I went to play all day. The worst snow day we ever had, we got about six feet of snow overnight. It was the good stuff, perfect for packing, not that slushy wet stuff that doesn’t stick together. My sister and I made an igloo in the front yard and a tunnel to get there from the front door, which was covered all the way up in snow. When you opened the front door, it was just a wall of white. The tunnel system to our igloo lasted for a week or two before it finally collapsed. We had sleeping bags, a radio and a lantern out there by the end.

The first year I moved to Boston, we had record snowfall. Like an idiot, I moved there in November, the beginning of winter. We had so much snow it was ridiculous. There was blizzard after blizzard and the city was impassable more often than not it seemed. Snow days as an adult were a lot less fun than when I was a kid, mostly because I no longer had a full-body snowsuit and an impulse to go outside and make igloos, yet they were no less enticing.

I once spent almost an entire snow day just trying to dig out my car from under a mountain of snow. It took me roughly five hours. Digging your car out isn’t fun. Boston has an unspoken rule though. Parking is very much at a premium and most streets are very narrow. Streets that barely pass for two lanes when there is no snow, sometimes turn into one-way streets. If you spend five hours digging out your car from a parking spot, that spot is yours until the snow goes away. You can take a busted up chair or a parking cone if you want to get fancy about it, stick it in that spot, and when you come home, the spot will still be there. If it isn’t, you are well within your rights to key the entire side of the interloping vehicle or break the windshield. Because of this threat of vehicular violence, hardly anyone takes a parking spot that’s marked off with something. I thought it was very strange that a broken chair would save my parking spot until I tried it. It worked. However, this strange, spot-saving practice only applies to vast quantities of snow. If you try putting that chair out there when there is no snow, you’ll come home to find the chair in a tree or crushed under the wheels of an SUV that stole your spot and there is nothing you can do about it.

In some ways, I miss snow days. In some ways, I miss snow. There’s nothing like that crisp chill in the air or the sound of fresh snow crunching under your feet. There’s really nothing prettier than a fresh blanket of snow covering a city, hiding all the dirt and grime underneath. There’s nothing quite like knowing that you have a day’s respite to stay inside snuggled up under a blanket to do nothing but read a book or watch old movies on television (or dig your car out).

Overall, I don’t really miss winter. I don’t miss having to keep a shovel, an ice scraper and a bag of kitty litter for traction in my car. I don’t miss a two-hour commute just to go ten miles. I don’t miss fishtailing. I don’t miss having to sit in my car for ten minutes, waiting for the defrosters to do their thing. I don’t miss having to dig my car out from under a mountain of snow, but sometimes, it would be kind of nice to have a snow day.

What My Home Says About Me

Diego Rivera - Detroit Industry Murals

My home says that it’s not my home. My home says that I live with a boy who, admittedly, has no sense of personal style. He owns the house; I just live in it. There’s very little decoration and everything has a purpose. As long as it functions within normal parameters, that’s enough for my roommate. It doesn’t need to be fancy or even look good. In fact, little effort at all is made to ensure that it does look good.

On the other hand, my room is all me. It says that I like the color blue as the curtains, rugs and bed coverings are all matching hues. It says that I like to read a lot as, crammed into a rather small space, are rather a lot of books. There are just as many dvd’s and cd’s scattered about as well.

My room says that I like art as the walls are covered in it. There are prints by artists like Mark Ryden and Salvador Dalí, and a print of one half of the mural that Diego Rivera painted on the walls of the Detroit Institute of Arts. When I was young, poor and lived in Detroit, I spent much time gazing at that mural since, at that time, the Detroit Institute of Arts was donation based, nicely air-conditioned and conveniently located just down the street. I spent many a sweltering afternoon with Diego Rivera and friends. Going to the art museum was cheaper than a movie. I knew the whole place by heart and Diego’s mural atrium was one of my favorite rooms in the whole building.

Diego Rivera - Detroit Industry Murals
Diego Rivera – Detroit Industry Murals

There are paintings and sculptures done by friends, and works of art I happened to find throughout the years. I have some hand-crafted art done by unknown artists working for minimum wage and struggling to feed their families. Some of my artworks are worth some money, others are valueless, but they all are worth something to me. I would never sell them anyway. Some of my own art hangs there from back in the day when I was a regular artist who worked in regular artist media instead of on a computer. I have priceless wood carvings and sculptures done by my dad who is an artist in his own right.

On another bookshelf, there is a collection of oddities like a single femur and a single spur (both of which I already discussed in the post The Best Kind of Gifts), a bottle of red goo and a tiny cement block atop of which lives a little, angry Viking head carved out of stone that a friend bought for me in Minnesota. There are also more natural exhibits like rocks from various places on Earth, sand, shells and even a small tree branch. These things remind me of the places from which they came. I look at the little branch, unknowingly illegally plucked from a eucalyptus tree, and it reminds me of the time a friend tricked me into climbing a mountain. She knew I’d never climb a mountain otherwise, so she told me it was just a hike.

There are remnants of my childhood, which I don’t really remember. I have my first big girl cup. It’s a small, ceramic coffee cup with a family of rabbits living happily underneath a banner of the letters in my name written in gold leaf. I don’t remember using that cup, but it’s in my room just the same. There’s also my first piggy bank, which is actually a lion. That lion has been with me most of my life and he looks blankly but kindly down on me from a shelf in my room just as he has always done.

There are pictures in antique frames of relatives I never knew. There’s an oval picture of three of my grandmother’s siblings when they were babies. There are pictures of my great-grandfather and my grandfather, neither of whom I ever met. Also on display is my grandfather’s gold and mother of pearl pocket watch engraved with his name and the date 1937. Next to that is my other grandfather’s Finnish knife, apparently given to all Finnish boys at an early age. It’s contained within a leather sheath and has Finnish words written on the blade. I have no idea what it says. It’s still very sharp even though it probably hasn’t been sharpened in decades. The watch and the knife are two of my most prized possessions.

All of the things that make up me live in that little room. They go wherever I go. The room is comfortable, cozy and inviting. It has all the things that mean the most to me even though most of them are valueless to anyone else. It says that material goods are unimportant to me unless they hold sentimental value. Nearly everything in that little room holds sentimental value and everything has a story. My room says that I have lived an interesting life in which I have collected various treasures and there’s room for more. It says that I’m not done living it yet.

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Road Trip!!

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travel-industry.uptake.com
travel-industry.uptake.com

I’ve taken a lot of road trips over the course of my life. Some of them turned out to be disastrous, some were amazing, others were hardly noteworthy, but there’s one thing you of which can be assured with a road trip – at the very least, it will be interesting.

Road trips get you out of your routine. They pry you loose from your daily life to experience new things, new people and a tired butt. You have no choice but to try places you’ve never been. You are a pioneer, discovering the best places to run in just to pee and where not to eat. I adore road trips.

When I was a kid, my family had an RV in which we’d take off for weeks at a time. I’d been to every single state in the continental United States before I even hit double digits. I lost my favorite doll at one of the campsites and cried for days. I drove over mountain passes and vast plains. I still have some souvenirs from those childhood jaunts along with precious few memories.

Towards the end of my last year of high school, my two best friends and I ditched school, got in the car to go to my friend’s house and just kept going. Our impromptu road trip lasted for five days. We drove all the way up to Copper Harbor, the very northernmost tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, jutting out into Lake Superior. I had lived in Michigan my whole life and had never been the Upper Peninsula before. We came down around Lake Michigan through Wisconsin into Illinois and spent a few days in Chicago. It was our final fling as high school friends. After we graduated, we hardly saw each other again.

Once, I was driving through eastern Canada late at night. I turned to my friend and said, when are going to stop going uphill? He panicked and told me to pull over right then since that section of eastern Canada is as flat as a board. I had been driving so long that I thought we were scaling the imaginary hills of Canada. I spent the night sleeping in the car along the freeway, nestled between miles (or kilometers) of semi trucks who had the same idea. It’s a strange, but common practice there.

Another time near Toronto, I had to take a detour of many miles because the friend I was with was scared of going over open bridges. That was our last road trip together, not because I was annoyed by the bridge phobia, but because that friend, my oldest, died this year.

I called in sick to work and drove from Boston to Pennsylvania with my best friend to go to some crazy event in the woods of western Pennsylvania where we stayed drunk for days and lived in a tent. A few months later, we took another road trip from Boston to Los Angeles in my little car with a huge trailer loaded with all of our belongings where a new life awaited.

I flew from Los Angeles to Boston only to drive to Detroit, and eventually, to New York City touring with my boyfriend’s band. I spent the night in a love motel in Detroit with mirrors on the ceilings and shower nozzles at waist height. I had lived in Detroit most of my life and never knew such a place existed until I moved away. I watched as he ran laps around a public rest stop off of the highway in nowhere America because he had been in the car too long and was slaphappy. I fell in love with him as he scaled a rock at that rest area, raising his arms victoriously like Rocky and singing Eye of the Tiger badly at the top of his lungs, immune to the askance scowls of normal travelers. I peed in a cup (a difficult task for a girl) while stuck in Manhattan traffic. I watched the sun rise in Brooklyn. I drove by ground zero a week after September 11th happened.

Those are just a few of my many automotive adventures, but probably the best road trip I’ve ever taken was all by myself. I bought a brand new car, took a month off of work and just drove. Wherever I felt like going that day was where I went. I ate in a restaurant by myself for the first time. I saw sunrises and sunsets all over the country. I went everywhere from the Atlantic Ocean through the Blue Ridge Mountains over to the Mississippi River and down to the Gulf of Mexico. After three weeks on the road, I decided that I wanted to sleep in my own bed that night. I drove from Atlanta, Georgia to Detroit, Michigan without stopping. Less than ten hours later, I saw the sun come up over downtown Detroit as I pulled up in front of my building. I’ve never slept so well.

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