A Couple of Surprises in Motown

I love going to Detroit. I’m sure those of you who have never been there are wondering and saying, “Why in the world would you feel that way?”

To those of you who feel that way I can only say, “Give it a chance!”

About those surprises? Well as you know as it is ripped from the pages of ESPN it has nothing to do with any Lion’s or Tiger’s victories. None of those happened but as I said last year when we went to the World Series and a Lion’s game on the same weekend the thing we don’t have control over is the outcome. What we do have control over is our experience.

0I love living in Chicago and enjoy all the privileges of a well connected job and a great neighborhood and a super high standard of living. But if there was any way to make a living and raise a family in downtown Detroit in this moment in time I would do it in a second. Maybe we should take a chance…who knows? There is a definite excitement to being a pioneer and taking a chance. There is a vibration in Detroit that says welcome and give us a chance and we are the nicest people on the planet. On the flip side there is comfort in our current situation that is the known and the stable.

We took our long weekend road trip with the two focal points being the Michigan football game on Saturday vs. Indiana and the Lions vs. the Bengals game on Sunday. As it turned out those two events while fun were the least significant experiences of the trip.

So about those two surprises?

After the Lion’s game on Sunday we did as wifey would call it a little urban exploring. We  grabbed our camera and wandered around the city as dusk came on and took photos of businesses trying to make it happen, renovations waiting in the wings, rotted out houses photowaiting to be demolished and a scant of post-Detroit marathon tourists wondering what in the world this city was about. It had a bit of a feeling of post-appocalypse and a bit of a feeling of urban pioneer all rolled into one. We took photos at the fist and down dark graffiti filled alleys and then we went and ate crab legs and lobster at one of very few Detroit fine dining restaurants called Detroit Seafood Market. Part of us felt guilty for enjoying something so privileged at that moment and part of us felt so satisfied for supporting a business and workers who might have otherwise have had an empty table on a night if in Chicago would be chaos after a Bear’s home game. Strange and thought provoking indeed.

Then this morning after getting up earlier that we planned and taking a side trip we went and visited a place called The Heidelberg Project just off of Gratiot Avenue in a wasteland of a neighborhood about two miles out of downtown. If you want to read more about the details you need to check out the Wikipedia synopsis but suffice it to say it made the entire trip, the gas money, the Lion’s loss in the last second and the Tiger’s elimination from the post-season seem like money well spent and very insignificant.

0-1Detroit is a sleeping giant that was a former giant. I’ve learned more about this city in the last five years while I’ve been visiting it with my awesome open-minded life partner than I learned about it for the first 20+ years of my life when I lived at the edges of its’ borders. It is a pulse and a vibration of survival, perseverance and hope that is what America was founded on. The Heidelberg Project has an energy like few places I have experienced in my somewhat sheltered lifetime. Like the church on the top to the mountain in Ez, France. Like the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Like the beaches in Negril, Jamaica. Like the floor of the dojo I practiced on for years. Whatever it is to you doesn’t matter. It is just a place where your mind opens up at a higher level and you feel closer to source. On a cloudy and subdued autumn morning on this day I got to walk a street that resonated with life even in the midst of decay and waste.

As we parked on an otherwise empty Heidelberg Avenue a bearded man in his early fifties pulled up in a white, rusted out late model Buick and said, “Friendly tip. You can’t park on that side of the street.” We laughed and wondered why it would matter but I turned the car around and parked on the other side. Then we explored houses that were both condemned and resided in side by side. A perfect microcosm of this amazing city. 0-3Some had dirty, tattered stuffed animals attached to their siding. Some had old LP’s nailed on. Some were burned to the ground with scorched plastic dolls and vacuum cleaners serving as statues. There was no rhyme nor reason at all but as an art form in its entirety it was as powerful as the Mona Lisa which I had the honor of viewing and writing about in this blog almost exactly two years ago.

As we were getting ready to leave the bearded man who we then learned was named Jeff said he moved here seven months ago and was volunteering on the project. He said he had never felt more at home or had met more friendly people in his life. He asked if we saw the plexiglass poetry at the entrance to the block we had not. He said if he wasn’t unemployed he’d be an English teacher and no words he had read were more true to him. We walked back to look at it and it said:

“Detroit…the primary care resources meet only 1/4th of the needs of approximately 200,000 residents that are in need that are uninsured. I’m not the only one this is happening to. My Dad was in the hospital for an aortic aneurysm and had to sell his motorcycle to pay the hospital bills. They have to treat you but they don’t treat you like they should. Once you’re done it’s see you later! And like me, I have cancer, it’s a whole big run around. It hasn’t hit me yet, but if it does what are we going to do? Even if it isn’t full coverage a bit here and there could help. You see something coming from a visit here and there could be preventative…”

As we walked back to our very nice car my awesome wifey said, “It’s hard not to walk away from a weekend like this and not think we have way more than we need or deserve…part of me wishes there was a way we could live here…”

Maybe someday we will be lucky enough to do that my dear. Maybe someday…


About Jim Herbert

I've been wanting to write my whole life. By age 45 it had amounted to nothing more than a storage locker of half full journals and a lot of unfulfilled dreams. Then Paris in the fall of 2011 happened. It was the catalyst I needed to consistently blog. At first I had a hard time hitting the publish button, but now two blog sites and over 300 posts later I'm hitting my stride. I'm also a budding speech writer. I've recently been heavily involved in the Chicago Storytelling scene and have also won the Chicago Toastmasters Area 66 International Speech Contest. Check out our website at www.emergingintojoy.com for more details about the amazing things that are happening in my life. A book or two are nearing completion. With another Paris trip on tap for Easter of 2015 I can only imagine that there are Infinite Possibilities on the horizon!!!
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