Friday, November 5, 2010

Why I Love Detroit. No, Seriously.

I was born and mostly raised in Detroit. Well, okay, not quite in Detroit, but near Detroit. I was actually born in Grosse Pointe and raised in Harper Woods, Clinton Township, and various areas of California and Arizona. Detroit is grimy and imperfect, but I have a fierce love for the city.

My love began as a youngster whose family was not opposed to spending afternoons on Belle Isle, with close relations who actually did live in the city, with family stories of the Detroit of many years ago, with field trips downtown. Here are just a few reasons why I love Detroit.

  • My great-grandpa lived in Detroit when I was very young, in the house his parents built when they moved here from Germany in the 1800's, the house my grandpa grew up in, across the street from the house my grandparents lived in when they first married. Sometimes I still drive by and have a look at the old place on Harding (truthfully, it's been awhile), standing amongst the shells of its burnt out neighbors. I remember my great-grandpa pushing a manual lawn mower in the backyard, and my grandpa telling me stories of how he and his friends used to smash Tiffany lamps in the alley with their baseball bats.
  • Feeding deer on Belle Isle. I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to do this anymore.
  • The Belle Isle Zoo, which sadly closed its doors before my oldest was born. 
  • The aquarium on Belle Isle, which also sadly closed its doors years ago, although my two oldest did get to visit a few times. Rumor mill purports that it may re-open some day...let's hope.
  • The conservatory on Belle Isle, a place I still visit every year with my kids because it is beautiful and I love it, and it's free, which is also quite important to me. And when we are there we also visit the (free) nature center, and the really cool playground. We have even been known to take swan boat rides.
  • The very fact of Belle Isle's existence. Okay, I really love Belle Isle, and that such an awesome place exists right in the midst of the Motor City.
  • My grandparents took my cousins and I for a tour of the salt mines when we were kids. Something else I'm pretty sure you can't do anymore. My grandpa lifted a hard hat for me, which is likely still in a box in my mom's basement. He wasn't like a clepto or anything, he simply sometimes felt justified in taking things he maybe felt he had paid for with the price of admission.
  • My Uncle Herb took my cousins and I to see Sesame Street Live at Cobo when I was a kid, and it was seriously so much fun.
  • My grandpa used to take me to Tigers games at the old Tiger Stadium, sometimes even on school nights, and it felt pretty cool to get to stay out late and brag to my friends the next day.
  • My beloved aunt lived, and still lives, in a green brick house in Detroit which was one of my favorite places to be as a kid. 
  • The DIA, which I first visited with my 3rd grade class. I loved it then and I love it now. One of my favorite pictures of Bethany and Connor when they were really little was taken at the DIA.
  • The Detroit Historical Museum, which I also first visited with my 3rd grade class (thank you Miss Rose!). I am long overdue for a visit, since my two youngest have never been there, and I know they would love to see the streets of Old Detroit.
  • The Detroit Science Center, which I first visited with my friend and her mom many years ago. Another worthy kid friendly destination in the city.
  • Greektown, especially Astoria Pastry Shop. I love the street artists and musicians and the food and the people watching and the scenery.
  • The People Mover. It's super cheap (50 cents to stay on as long as you like, kids are free), the kids love it, and it's a great way to get around and see the sites from above. 
  • The Detroit RiverFront, which became one of my favorite Detroit destinations this past summer. People are walking around with their families, riding bikes, jogging, doing cartwheels on the grass (that would be my daughter...), and in general enjoying the best of what Detroit has to offer. There is a carousel, with all the seats being animals indigenous to Michigan, concessions, benches overlooking the Detroit River, boat tours (Diamond Jack's river tours), the Ren Cen with the fantastic fountain outside for the kids to play in on a hot day, and Coach Insignia on the inside, for special occasion dinners with a view like none other, and Hart Plaza, that deserted urban wasteland that is really cool but for some reason no one seems to want to hang out there. I have heard tell that the plan is for the RiverFront to eventually lead all the way to Belle Isle. 
  • Both of my in-law's and my father grew up in Detroit. Chris's parents actually met while ice skating at Belle Isle (yes, I'm back to Belle Isle). While they are no longer married, if not for that fated union our family would not be here as it is today.
  • Faygo pop (all you people from other parts of the world, to me soda is a nasty substance used in mixed drinks and has nothing whatsoever to do with the delicious sweetness of Red Pop or Rock 'n Rye).
  • Eastern Market, another place I visited with my grandparents as a child. I have yet to take my children there, shame on me.
  • Three of my children were born in Detroit, at a pretty awesome hospital, nearby my awesome ob/gyn's office, also in Detroit.
  • During the early years of our marriage, Chris and I lived in a sweet little one bedroom house in Detroit. I have many happy memories of this place, like the time someone was being beat to death in the street in front of our house and by the time the police arrived the culprits (and the body - dead or alive?) were long gone and the police officers didn't so much as get out of their cars to investigate, and how our mailman used to hang out at the corner bar, in uniform, with his mail truck parked outside. But since I'm writing about what I love about the city, I will just say these were happy times for us.
  • I went to Wayne State University with one of my best friends in the world, and going to college there got me driving on the expressway for the first time. And we have some good Getting Lost In the City stories.
  • Its proximity to Canada. Yeah, it's pretty neat that I can cross a bridge or go through a scary underwater tunnel and wind up in a foreign country. Way cool.
  • That one can take Jefferson Avenue, a street that goes through my very own city, all the way downtown.
  • The Fisher Theater, The Masonic Temple, The Detroit Opera House, and The Fox Theater. I love me some theater (and some Sesame Street Live), and these gorgeous venues are just heaven on earth for me.
  • That there are still plenty of things I haven't done in Detroit that I really want to do and share with my kids. 
This is definitely an incomplete list. I know some people are afraid to venture into the city, and there are some valid  reasons for this. Sure there is a lot of crime (like any big city), lots of scary looking neighborhoods, and not nearly enough signage to help visitors find stuff. Detroit is kind of for insiders, and it has no business being as such, since the city really needs people to love it. Well I love it, warts and all.


Unknown said...

I absolutely agree with everything you just said about the city...minus cartwheels(we are more like invisible sword fighters on the lawn) boys love running around Hart Plaza and the fireworks on the river front are amazing.

alyaia75 said...

mine have been known to do invisible battles as well - although the weapon of choice is generally a light saber (SW brainwashing started early in our home...)