Wednesday, October 15, 2008
I grew up in Detroit. Not Detroit proper. But pretty close. There are cross streets heading north from the center of Detroit (much like the grid system in Utah) that are numbered: 1 Mile Road, 2 Mile Road, 3 Mile Road, etc. At 8 mile Road, Detroit ends and the suburbs begin. I grew up just off 9 Mile. So I was only barely living in a suburb.
Although Detroit is probably best known for having been the murder capital of the country for several decades, or maybe for being the Motor City (where many of the car factories of the last century were located) or even Motown (where some of the greatest music of the 60's and 70's was created), there's a lot about Detroit and Michigan that most people don't know.
1) Michigan is very green. In a lot of the western U.S., trees were planted as the settlers arrived. In Michigan, as in lots of the Midwest and Back East, cities had to be carved out of the amazing greenery that existed there. Trees and underbrush covered the whole area without a single break. So you never see a house without trees there. Or a neighborhood that is bare or brown. The greenery of Michigan is a huge part of who I am, and I miss it terribly.
2) The Great Lakes are GYNORMOUS. You can't see across them. It takes days to sail across them. Some of them are as crystal clear as the Caribbean, but very cold. Some have pebble beaches, some have golden sand beaches. They even obey the tidal pull to some extent because of their size. And major storms can brew in the Great Lakes. There are sunken ships all over them from even very large ships underestimating the size and depth and power of these lakes.
3) Party Stores. All over Michigan, at least in the Detroit area, there are little mom-n-pop owned stores called party stores. These don't sell party decorations. They sell all the kinds of stuff you'd need to stock a party: beer, wine and liquor, candy, treats, chips, magazines, and--because most of them are owned by people of Middle Eastern decent--big barrels of exotic olives and trays of fresh baklava.
4) Speaking of people of Middle Eastern decent, Detroit has a very colorful ethnic population. A big percentage is African American. The school where I went for middle school was about 60% black. There are lots of Jews. We even got Jewish holidays off from school. I was told at the Holocaust Museum there that Detroit has the largest population of Jews outside of Isreal. I'm not sure if that's true, but that's what we were told. There are also lots of Arabic people there. Iraqi, Iranian and Syrian, mostly. There are Chaldeans. I'm not 100% sure what/who they are. But they come from that same area and definitely distinguished themslves as different from the Arabs. There are a lot of Greeks in Detroit. There is even a Greektown downtown. Finally, there are a ton of Indians (from India) in Detroit. A good portion of my friends at private school in high school were of Indian decent. There are also a lot of Poles, Germans, and Dutch in Detroit. There is even a Holland, Michiagan with its own tulip festival. I grew up with people of all different cultures and different colors. It really, seriously freaked me out when I moved to Utah and everyone was so white. So homogenous. I still sometimes feel like I'm living in an Aryan Nation poster.
4) Michigan is made up of two barely connected sections, or penninsulas: the lower penninsula, and the U.P. (Upper Penninsula). Everyone in Michigan knows what you mean when you say "the U.P." But no one from the lower pennensula refers to themselves as the L.P. or even as the lower penninsula. There's just Michigan, and the U.P. Also, since the lower penninsula is shaped like a mittin, whenever anyone in Michigan wants to show you were another city in Michigan is, they hold their hand up like a mittin and point to some part of their palm or fingers. Also, all Michiganders know what "up north" means. Almost everyone has a cabin "up north." This rarely refers to the U.P. It just means somewhere farther than the suburbs of Detroit. The climate is much cooler, there are tons of lakes, and not much has been carved out of the amazing greenery. If you ever go to Michigan, make sure you go up north--it's breathtaking.
5) Michiganers have one of the most unfortunate accents in the United States. It's vaguely like a Canadian accent (), not quite a Minnesota/Wisconsin accent, closer to a Chicago accent. Very flat "a"s. Everything is nasal. "Mom" sounds more like "Maam." "Car" sounds more like "cair." And the R's are harder. If you've ever heard me talk, you'll know that those hard R's is one of the parts of my Michigan accent I just haven't been able to shake.
6) Speaking of Canada, Detroit is one of the few places in the country where you can travel SOUTH to get to Canada. If you look at my map above, you'll see that from the northern suburb I lived in, we had to drive south to hit the border between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario (Canada). We went to Canada a lot as a kid. It was only a 20 minute drive to Windsor, a 3 hour drive to Toronto, and we launched our sailboat at Tobermory on the Georgean Bay into Lake Huron. I took for granted that everyone went back and forth across the two countries several times a year. In fact, in Detroit, people used Canadian pennies, dimes, and quarters interchanably for a long time, even though they weren't exactly equal, just because they were the same colors and sizes and had a pretty close value. But now, I've heard, they won't do that any more.
7) Michigan was one-time Indian country (Native American this time). It was also settled by French fur trappers. So you see alot of strange names that are either French or Indian in origin: Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Saginaw, Sault Ste. Marie, and Kalamazoo, to name a few. Also Mackinac Island (where Somewhere In Time was filmed) is pronounced Mackinaw, FYI.
8) Michigan is HUMID. The weather only gets into the 80's and sometimes 90's on average in the summer (at least in Detroit), but it feels like you're in a steam room all the time. The winters are freezing cold. Literally. None of this 20 and 30 degree stuff we have here in Utah. No, I'm talking teens, single digits, and below zero temperatures on a regular basis. I can remember wind chills of -30 where your eyelashes froze and your nose hairs froze the second you walked outside. I remember standing at the bus stop waiting for the bus with my damp hair actually forming icicles. No lie. And because the winters are damp, the cold goes right through you and chills you to the bone. The snow doesn't melt away over and over there like it does in Utah. So by spring, there are huge mounds of hard, grey, dirty snow everywhere you look. I miss a lot about Detroit. But the winters are one thing I will never ever miss.
9) Wildlife. Despite growing up in a suburb just on the border of Detroit, I felt like I lived in a little oasis. My street was a private lane. Dirt, not paved. Huge expanses of trees were left untouched with a few houses built into the edges of them. Our backyard of several acres was all trees with a river running through. And it was filled with all kinds of wildlife. Racoons, Opposums, rabbits, muskrats, squirrels, blue jays, cardinals, pheasants, stray cats....pretty much every small animal you can name was living right there in my back yard. Whenever we had leftover food, we didn't throw it away or put it down the disposal. We just chucked it out the back door and the animals would eat it. The downside of all the wildlife in Michigan? Roadkill. EVERYWHERE. You can't drive 10 feet without seeing numerous animals smashed to oblivion on the side of the road. That was the one thing that startled me when I went back there last time.
10) Michigan may be in the Mid-west, but it always seemed more like Back East to me. Maybe because it's in the Eastern time zone. I don't know. But for all its crime problems and its bad reputation, it's got a lot of culture. It has a huge art museum, lots of cultural events, Greenfield Village (both an outdoor village and an indoor museum--one is a recreation of an 1800's town with authentic bakery, farm, blacksmith, carriage house, etc., and lots of historical buildings transported there. The other is an indoor museum dedicated to the ingenuity of man. Every kind of car, train, carriage, airplane, dishwasher, lightbulb, etc. is in that museum on display), Greektown, the Rennaisance Center, and I'm sure a lot of other things I'm forgetting.
So now you know a little more about me. And a LOT more than you ever wanted to know about Michigan and Detroit.