Second Time Around

I think I may have fallen half in love with Detroit. The strange thing is that I feel I've been here before, although I haven't, of course, I've just seen pictures. These pictures feature my newly-married parents at their youngest and most untethered---even as the first child, I wouldn't come along for a few more years---and the quality is grainy and blurred, the colors washed out, the edges rounded in the way drugstore-developed pictures from the 1970s often were. In this cache of pictures, my parents range from 24 to 27. It startles me to think the oldest they ever were in Detroit was the age I am now.

And here I am. I arrived in the darkness of an early Wednesday morning, dazed and dazzled, clicking along the traveling walkway of the sparkling and desolate McNamara terminal in my inappropriate cowboy boots. I should have taken the indoor shuttle, I realize that now, but something compelled me to walk, and so I walked and walked and walked, willing myself awake, at least for as long as it would take to check into the airport hotel for a shower and a snooze before my first afternoon meeting. On the plane, I'd been dreaming, constantly, that there was an earthquake. Turbulence will do that to you, I guess. Or is it living in San Francisco that'll do that to you?

Falling asleep finally in the half-light of the morning, horizontal at last, I realized I hadn't turned my cell phone on again since shutting it off in San Francisco. From my mother, there was a text message: "Welcome to Detroit---the first bit of American soil I ever set foot on." A few days earlier, my father had sent me an email: "If you're in Dearborn, look out for the Hunter Inn, where I spent my first ever night in America."

Here's a secret: I wondered if by simply being in Detroit---by breathing the same air, seeing the same sky, photographing the same buildings as my parents once did---something might reveal itself to me. I wondered, perhaps, if a clue would be given as to what, exactly, kicked off this great DNA-transmitted love affair with America, with moving, with beginning all over again. Could I trace it, I wondered, this family history of wanderlust, the way you'd trace a record of heart disease or cancer? Could I pinpoint it, the moment my parents fell in love with being somewhere else?

At the end of my second day in Detroit, I'm overwhelmed by an eerie rush of emotion I can't get a handle on. Every minute presents another case of deja vu. "I know that building!" I'll cry from the front seat of the car, face pressed against the window, and the others will turn to me: you said you'd never been to Detroit, you said you lived in San Francisco. Everything awes me: the brown of the buildings against the blue of the sky, the broken windows like missing teeth, the church spires I somehow wasn't expecting. "The leaves!" I'll cry, as we crunch through banks of ochre and saffron. "Look at them!" These leaves are the most beautiful leaves I've seen in my life. I want to roll in these leaves, dance in these leaves, scoop up handfuls of these leaves and take them home with me to look at. "Oh, they've been better," shrug the others, Michigan natives all. But how could they be better, I think. Don't you see them? They're perfect.

I hadn't expected this, you know, this feeling of kinship. Or rather, I had expected it. I knew---despite the wrinkled brows and the befuddled rudeness of "you're going where?", despite the desolation and decay---that I'd love Detroit. I hadn't expected the feeling to slam into me like an eighteen wheeler truck is all.

Nov 16, 2007

Well if you are lucky today it will snow for you too! I am just across the border a little bit further north and there are some light flurries this morning.

Nov 16, 2007

I can't believe I am doing this... I am the queen of lurkers...but I have to finally come out of the closet.... ummm
That didn't come out quite right. since I am a 47 yr old mother of 2 but anyway...
I had to say 2 things...
1st Thank You for making me feel that where I live is so special... You are right, as with many things in our lives,when we see them everyday we tend to NOT REALLY see them.Wether it is the beauty of the fall leaves... or the people we love.
Dearborn is where my parents and myself came to live (with relatives) when we were fresh off the boat ( literally) from Italy.. it was/is a place very dear to my heart. I hope you do get a chance to find Hunter Inn... and maybe even go through Yipsilanti where Your parents lived. I live so very close to that city.. I feel like I would love to have you over for a fresh cup of coffee and once you found out that I was not a creepy stalker you might even stay for a lovely italian style dinner. ( Wow that really did sound creepy and stalkerish) anyway... my novel will end soon..
my 2nd point ( and I do have one....)
My daughter and I just love to read about all your travels... talk about living through someone else.. One of us will alert the other of a "Holly
Post" So if it is Asia or Marshall's, We both love hearing about what you have found....
Best wishes for your stay here in Detroit.

Nov 16, 2007

If you can make it to Ann Arbor, you should definitely go. There are TONS of used bookstores and it is such a gorgeous University town. Definitely worth an afternoon visit at least. I went there for a conference 13 years ago and wished I could stay for more than the three days I had alloted.

Nov 16, 2007

Hi! Detroit girl here - I love reading about your trip to the area. And I really liked this part of your post:

"“Oh, they’ve been better,” shrug the others, Michigan natives all. But how could they be better, I think. Don’t you see them? They’re perfect."

I just love what that last line captures...going way beyond leaves.

Nov 16, 2007

yay, now all your Detroit readers are coming out of the woodwork.

Thank you for this beautiful post. We get a bad rap, and yes it's just the midwest, but it's still a great place to be. It's true, Detroit, no matter where you've been or where you're coming from, always feels so familiar. A little bit of home is here for everyone.

saucepan Man
Nov 16, 2007

I knew you'd love Detroit, too. I could feel it in my old bones. We must talk more about it.

Nov 16, 2007

Yep. Somehow Detroit gets in your bones. As much as I say I hate it, I really just hate the north and the cold. Spring, Summer and Fall in Detroit is a wonderous thing.

Bet you didn't know there were so many of us reading you.

-From the one who is now in Ann Arbor.

Nov 16, 2007

Welcome to Detroit..

I am glad you can appreciate it's beauty. We are poorly portrayed in the media but all in all it's got a huge heart thats still beating..

Nov 16, 2007

All the pictures at Sweet Juniper make me sure that I, too, will love Detroit someday. There's something hauntingly beautiful and eerie about it, at least from those pictures. Something that really touches me.

Nov 16, 2007

Another Detroiter coming out of the woodworks. Three cheers for good Detroit press!

Nov 16, 2007

It warms my heart to know that so many good people are able to love what so many others have called an unlovable city. It's like you're all doting on the snaggle-toothed runt of the litter or something.

(Give the you-know-whos a hug from me!)

Nov 16, 2007

Ahhh, the charm of the strangely familiar (if only from photos and other people's memories) yet brand-new. I have a feeling that if I ever go to Taos, NM the same sort of thing will parents wintered out there about ten months before I was born (and about four months before they were married haha). About Detroit, I'm afraid all I know is probably gathered from movies and books so it will be interesting to see and hear more.

Funny to think about being older than your parents were when they did XYZ- I am older than my mom was when she got pregnant for the third and last time. Wow.

Nov 16, 2007

Detroit has that tendency. It gets under your skin. Or maybe it was there from the beginning.

Nov 16, 2007

Yah, I know this feeling. The City of Philadelphia, where my parents were born, got married and had my big brother before moving to the suburbs and having me, always does this to me. It's a strange sort of nostalgia for something you've never seen before.

All Californians dream of earthquakes. Welcome to the Golden State! I think you're becoming One Of Us. (I don't know whether or not that's a good thing.)

Nov 16, 2007

I'm not from Detroit, I'm a Minnesota girl born and bred (only escaped for one year and that was to Wisconsin) but you have made me want to visit it.

I am trying not to fawn all over you with the "Oh my God, you're such a great writer" but I can't help it. You really are.

done fawning. Continue on with your day. Oh, and write a book, damn it. That is all.

Mrs. Who
Nov 16, 2007

We flew into the Detroit airport a couple of years ago, on our way to Wisconsin to visit relatives. There were these incredible walls with lights in them and music as you were on the moving sidewalk. We tried to be cool and not show what hillbillies from Kentucky we really are, but it was hard. And from your description, I think I would like to see the rest of the city next time!

Nov 17, 2007

My parents were born and raised in Highland Park and nearby Detroit but I never lived there. Still, I feel the same sort of connection whenever I go. It's as if your footsteps fit perfectly into those trodden by your parents'.

And I just have this love affair with the city and to a lesser extent, the metro area. Sure there are parts of it that are rotting and falling into ruins but in a way that's also somewhat romantic in the sadness. I still love it and always will.

Nov 18, 2007

Moved to Istanbul for work, but I still love Detroit and can't wait to get back on break. I'm so glad you like it too!!

Nov 18, 2007

Beautiful post. Makes me want to travel...

Nov 19, 2007

I was born and raised in Michigan and lived in many of the suburbs of Detroit. Even had a Detroit address for a while. I'm glad you're enjoying your stay. But curiosity begs this question: will you hook up with Sarah and Jim while you're there?