The kids are already heads down and eyes glazed over as they stare mindlessly at their electronic devices. The car is quiet as we begin the 5 hour journey back to Chicago. Another family visit for the holidays becomes a memory. For once, I’m not behind the wheel. Sitting in the passenger seat I take in the scene around me as we head down Outer Drive. We get the neighborhood tour while making our way towards the highway that will take us home.
It’s late afternoon gray and the city absorbs the winter feel. Cold, abandoned, bleak. We pass burned out and abandoned homes, one after another. I point out a tiny white house to Drew and remember stopping in it’s driveway everyday for our carpool ride to school. I wonder if any life exists inside it’s walls these days? The decaying boards and peeling roof seems to say that no one loves this property anymore.
This place- city of my youth, the community that raised me, my old stomping grounds.
Detroit, my first home.
My first love.
I’ve lived away longer now than I ever lived here. This doesn’t change how I feel, it’s contains my childhood. But it’s hard to ignore what a wasteland it has come to be. My eyes grow used to the stripped housing lots, trash heaps and vacant buildings. It wasn’t always this way.
Flipping through shows on Netflix a few months ago, I stopped and watched food adventurer Anthony Bourdain’s episode on the cuisine of the Motor City. He highlighted many of our favorite places, but was also brutally honest about his perspective on our blessed metropolis. A comparison to the nuclear-ravaged Russian city of Chernobyl was made, ouch. A stinging remark, then followed by this-
You have to admire the bold, proud, ferociously enterprising survivors who have decided to hang on, hang in and figure out a way to not only survive, but do something extraordinary.
Maybe it’s an attempt to soften the blow of the war torn analogy? Doesn’t matter, he’s very right.
The gray sky can’t hide the colorful murals painted across the boards that cover the broken windows. Naked plywood now transformed by acrylic flowers, majestic rainbows and inspirational quotes. There is hope in there somewhere. Gardens occupy many of the grassy lots and artist’s sculptures watch over the overgrown parks. All this evidence of seeds of life among the dead.
I remember just that afternoon my sister purchasing the Christmas wreath outside the local soul food restaurant where we ate lunch. A group of residents raising funds for boarding up homes and taking care of the neighborhood. The women behind the table have hope in their eyes as they gratefully take cash in exchange for the fragrant pine dotted with a red bow. Some beautiful things are brewing here.
Our silver mini van bumps along the pot holes, and a sign comes into view for the highway up ahead. We slow, turn and point the vehicle west towards our now home. I whisper goodbye and my chest fills with warmth. I’ll be back for another visit soon. This city holds my heart, however bleak it may appear to be. The people of this place- my family, my friends, and my neighbors, continue in their commitment to it’s restoration. They’ve never stopped calling it home.
The City of Detroit, forever rising from the ashes.