A bitter wind relieves me of exhaust fumes as I wait for my ride, shivering with my fellow Holiday travelers. I’m looking for a black Ford Fusion…and they are everywhere! I approach one to find a woman, not my mother, looking anxiously out the window. I used to live here, how can it feel like being in a strange land? And how can American cars seem foreign to me?
I could wait inside but am too anxious for my homecoming.
Finally, half frozen, I hop in the car; Mom’s expression transforms from airport traffic stress to joy and relief, mirroring my own feelings. We glide into the night, onto the broad, flat expanse of I-275, heading north from Detroit Metro Airport; home at last.
Will it feel this strange in the daylight?
That was December 2012. I moved to Boston in January of that year, a city I had not visited until my friend relocated there eight years prior. I was taken in by Boston’s vitality, the presence of history, its cosmopolitan vibe. Mom says she knew after my very first visit I would move.
I was ready for a big change, and Boston spoke to me. Like I’d lived there before; Boston felt a part of me.
I knew I loved Detroit—but I didn’t realize that this shell of a city, the only home I’d ever known, was truly in my blood.
When I go home to visit my family and friends I always make at least one trip downtown.
I-96 to Michigan Avenue, I drink it all in: the derelict homes, buildings reborn as dazzling mosaics of mirror and found objects—a shimmering rainbow of hope—and finally the downtown skyline.
Rome has its ruins, so does Detroit. Signs of life are now evident at the Michigan Central Station. Once compared to The Coliseum, the old train station is finally being reclaimed for use. My historic preservation heart skips a beat.
The famed corner of Michigan and Trumbull, the former home of the Detroit Tigers, my former home for four-plus years, is now a seemingly empty lot. However, the fans never let The Corner die. The flag flies on the old Tiger Stadium flag post, aside from the field, the only remaining evidence of over 100 years of baseball on the site.
Growing up I had no idea how this place would impact my life. My time in the Tigers Front Office surfaced my interest in historic preservation, ultimately sending me back to school. The eventual razing of Tiger Stadium was the final push that sent me to Boston.
But my favorite Detroit place is in the heart of downtown: the Guardian Building. Having spent weeks studying it while in grad school, it feels like family. This Art Deco gem was dubbed the Cathedral of Finance when it was built in 1929 just before The Crash; it’s one of those places you feel as much as see.
Not surprisingly, Detroit is a city built for the automobile. One expects a sense of open road in the suburbs and on expressways, but not in the heart of a big city. It startles me every time I visit! I’ve become accustomed to a place devised for horse and cart, for foot traffic. Another difference: pedestrians…there aren’t many in the Motor City; Detroiters drive!
Where is home? Is it the place that speaks to me with its respect for the past, its vibrant urban scene, or the place that I want to put my arms around, and promise “it will get better,” the place I want so badly to resuscitate?
What is home? Is it my future, my wellspring of inspiration? Or my past, the place the ones I hold most dear make their lives, the place I once thought I would never leave?
It must be both, Detroit and Boston. I miss them both when I am away, and learn from that longing.
I see Detroit slowly righting itself, and mingled with that pleasure is guilt; I left.
I see in Boston the place Detroit should be (could be?), alive with the past and the future.
So I embrace both. I accept the surreal sensation of home being a foreign land…ever strange, strangely familiar.