Detroit works into your heart

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Detroit Free Press

Detroit works into your heart

 

Detroit was never on any list of places I dreamed about living.

Hailing from the Northeast, I grew up sheltered by a white neighborhood with lots of trees. My future naturally involved cities like Boston and New York, Chicago or the West Coast. But Detroit? So I spent about 11 years lamenting the fate that landed me here. After marrying and following my husband to his Detroit hometown, we bought a house in the suburbs, where every day I navigated a massive perpendicular grid of “Mile” roads, lined by half-empty strip malls, factories and bland-looking brick homes with tiny slits for windows.

At best, I was antagonistic toward the metropolis I lived in but stubbornly refused to call “home.” I grumbled about its absurd lack of public transportation, stoically endured the six months of arctic freeze, and thought it quite fitting that Detroit would hail a giant bronze fist as high art. I had no desire to spend time in the city — no need to do anything more than pass through it on my way to the airport. And then a project for my nice, safe, suburban job required me to spend a summer coordinating video projects around Detroit. I expected to find more reasons to wish I lived anywhere else, but I was surprised to find something else: reasons to actually like Detroit.

I liked the way it tasted. I’d never had a Coney dog until I discovered a local Coney Island where a waiter named Abdu yells “One up!” over the din of fryers and conversation and plates colliding in the stainless steel sink. I’d never had saganaki until a waiter at Pegasus practically set my hair on fire.

I liked the people. The blue collar assembly-line worker who helped me change a flat tire. The gray-haired Italian men, like my husband’s grandfather, who waxed nostalgic about Bob-Lo Island and picnics on Belle Isle. The tattooed black men who helped me push an uncooperative vehicle into a gas station. They didn’t mug me, pull a gun, or ask what a white girl was doing alone in that part of town.

I liked the underground creativity of the city. Just beneath the surface, I found a whole creative movement about to open up like a vein down Woodward Avenue — fueled by people like the techno artist I met who turned down a profitable corporate sponsorship in favor of creative freedom. And the students at the Center for Creative Studies who find inspiration in a backdrop of concrete and urban decay. Home at last.

I used to talk about all the ways Detroit needed to change. Now I find that Detroit has changed me. I identify less with my sheltered suburban life and more with the working class grit and authenticity of the city. Master crime writer Elmore Leonard once said, “There are cities that get by on their good looks … and there are cities like Detroit that have to work for a living.” Detroit is a city with a story that has to be lived, day in and day out, to be appreciated. And that’s just fine with this local, who is finally proud to call Detroit home.

CORRIE COMMISSO, 33, is a writer at Campbell-Ewald Advertising who moonlights as a freelancer from her home in the Detroit suburbs. She is still known to occasionally “pahk the cah.” Write to her in care of the Free Press Editorial Page, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit 48226 or oped@freepress.com.

Copyright © 2007 Detroit Free Press Inc.

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~ by Keith A. Owens on May 4, 2007.

One Response to “Detroit works into your heart”

  1. amen.

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