A Fifth of Jack: Say Nice Things About Detroit

I got a little angry last night after the Tigers loss to San Francisco.  No, not because our boys didn’t show up in the World Series, but because of the negative criticism people who have never been to our city had online and on TV for Detroit.  See, I grew up in a Midwestern city which has long been the butt of jokes and wisecracks, so when I left Peoria, Illinois at the age of twenty, and saw how outsiders saw my hometown, I always got upset and defended it.  I’ve lived in five different cities before calling Detroit home last year, and let me tell you what, for the first time since I left Peoria back in the mid-1990’s, I defended where I live.  It’s bad enough that Detroit gets a bad rap across the nation from people who haven’t dared spend more than five minutes in our city.  Sure, we have problems, and the city itself is not exactly a welcoming place with its reputation for crime, but I gotta tell ya… there’s a special feeling of pride that I get when my wife Karen and I drive into the city.

There are many similarities to Detroit, and the small city in Central Illinois where I was raised.  Both are blue-collar factory cities, with a solid middle-class.  Both have assembly lines… Detroit, cars… Peoria, tractors.  We both like our hockey.  There’s crime.  There’s blight.  There’s unemployment even.  Sure, these aren’t necessarily positives, but it makes us who we are.  One thing about Detroit I love, is the fact that we survive the obstacles and wear our “D” proudly on our sleeves.  Tell you what, after sixteen years of “town to town, up and down the dial”, it’s nice to call someplace “home”, and feel such a strong attachment to a city that I want to defend it.

To those who have never been to Detroit, or those who haven’t been outside of your suburban town in sometime, let me remind you of some of the things that make this city amazing.  First off, there’s all the sports.  Aside from New York and Los Angeles, here in Detroit, we not only have the American League Champion Detroit Tigers, but our Red Wings have won more Stanley Cups than any other American team in the NHL, our Pistons are comin’ back this year, and our Lions, just like Detroit itself take a lickin’ and keep on kickin’.  Not to mention, Ford Field is one of the most awesome stadiums in the NFL too.

Aside from sports, Detroit’s Eastern Market is an amazing place to get lost on the weekend.  Karen and I love going down there, and shopping for fresh Michigan-grown produce, and locally raised meats.  There’s a sense of pride in supporting the local economy, and those who bring their crops and products to the city every weekend.  Belle Isle (during the day) is simply fantastic.  Designed by the same architect who designed New York’s Central Park, it provides all one needs for a relaxing day.  Karen and I have enjoyed many a picnic down there, and when my parents came to visit over the summer, Dad and I even threw a line out and caught some fish.  Fun times.

The Detroit Institute of Arts is now FREE to Metro residents.  Karen and I became paying members after our first visit, and did that ever feel good.  When was the last time you got lost in the company of Rembrandt, Matisse, Picasso, Warhol and other greats?  We have a world class art museum right here in Detroit that rivals museums of larger cities.  The Henry Ford is incredible.  Greenfield Village is also special.  I was proud to bring my family there and show them the historic exhibits when they came to visit.  My parents especially enjoyed the Diamond Jack’s river cruise from Downtown, where we were able to capture amazing photos of our beautiful skyline from the Detroit River.   Casinos, concerts, coney islands.  Culture, creativity, cuisine.  Yep, Detroit’s still got it all.

Step beyond 8 Mile Road, it’s the greatest suburbia of any major metropolitan area in America.  Woodward Avenue North is a wonderland of towns with amazing local restaurants, local businesses, and communities one can get lost in on any given weekend.  The Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak is home to thousands of species, and aside from being one of the oldest zoos in the United States, it’s also one of the largest.  Cider mills in the fall are a great way to take in the beauty Michigan gives us before we all hibernate for the winter.  I don’t need to tell you how great a crispy, sweet cinnamon donut with a cup of hot, spiced cider tastes on a cool, Fall morning here in The Mitten.

We may not be modern, shiny, and new.  We may not be cool, contemporary, or even “hip”.  But what Detroit doesn’t have there, we have in heart, and we have in character.  There’s a resilience here that I’ve come to love and feel a part of.  In my year of living here, I’ve got a closet full of clothing proudly declaring where I live.  I tell people who’ve never visited this area that Detroit is more than an old city, it’s a feeling, it’s a sense of pride, it’s an emotion.  It’s the city that put the world on wheels, that created so much, and it’s people and newcomers like me, can help bring back to life and appreciate all that it is, all that it used to be, and all that it can be.

So, go ahead, make the Detroit jokes.  Keep crackin’ on The Motor City.  It’s okay, we’re always gonna be tougher than your town, and we can take it, baby.  While the rest of the world is worrying about superficial crap (and I used to live in Nashville, the HOME of superficiality), I’ll just be over in Hamtramck enjoying a cold pitcher of beer and some Buddy’s Pizza thinkin’ about what a great place I get to call “home”.

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