First of all apologies to my friends who still live in Michigan. I tried desperately hard to love the state as fiercely as I know you do. I even have met a few people abroad who encouraged me that Detroit was going to be a rival to New York within the decade and that I should look forward to integrating myself into its revival. Your optimism is infinitely appreciated by all who live there and I am sure is shared by many citizens. However, Michigan is horrible. This is the conclusion that I have finally reached and am willing to support with brutal honesty.
People abroad don’t think anything about Michigan besides the simple acknowledgement that it is one state of many of the states in the U.S. When I used to hold up my hand to point out where I lived on the map, I was met with confused stares like some lunatic who was trying to convince a group that an inside joke existed that everyone knew I had just made up myself. One conversation I had with friends led me to remark on how there is a special segment in driver’s education specifically for driving on the road with deer. “Don’t be ridiculous,” they chided me. “Deer don’t just run out in the road in front of cars.” The carcasses on the side of any major, or minor road for that fact, will tell a completely different story. The state of Michigan to foreigners is just a part of the blur that exists in America between the cities of New York and Los Angeles.
When I thought of moving back originally I was only thinking about living in Michigan as a base for my operation to find a better job, my way back into a major city, and the opportunity to visit family. Settling at this base took longer than expected. I thought I was going back for a month, three months tops. I instead ended up staying a year.
In my head when thinking back to the state where I was born, apart from my horrible family history, through rose colored glasses I knew what to expect. I had enjoyed making a massive deal of holidays. In Michigan you had autumn colors to go with autumn celebrations like Halloween and Thanksgiving. I had loved freshly fallen snow to go along with Christmas festivities and icicles dripping from rooftops. Thinking back now that’s all that’s come to mind. I put a lot of stock in this one wish to have seasons go along with my holidays. I now am surprised I wasn’t disappointed sooner during my stay if this was the highest regard I could give to my time growing up there.
To get anywhere in Michigan you’ll have to own a car. Most of your days will be spent driving short, but otherwise unavoidable distances, back and forth in a car that takes up most of your paycheck to keep on the road. And the paychecks are small. It’s amazing that anyone could live properly on the wages they make in Detroit let alone the hourly wage in the rural areas that surround it. Theaters, museums, concerts (real concerts, not the annual Kid Rock show held at Pine Knob) were few and far between to come by. The more I witnessed and experienced day to day life the more impressed I became that I developed an interest in anything culturally stimulating. I saw a few Broadway shows touring at the Fox Theater. I adamantly patrolled the halls of the local library although most of the books on the shelves were romance paperbacks (at the time that I worked there, there wasn’t even a copy of The Great Gatsby available to check out). For someone with a degree in Art, I had been to the Louvre before I’d ever seen the murals of the DIA which is sort of ironic. I had to travel to a world class art museum across the Atlantic when another was located less that two hours away on the highway.
It did not surprise me in the slightest when the Flint Water Crisis broke over the news. Cities like Flint and Detroit have been a highlighted plight among not only Michiganders, but the country at large. They are areas of violent action, disrepair, and poverty. No wonder however big you want to take the conspiracy, the city, state, national government effectively ignored a threatening health crisis on such a dangerous scale. This is the same state where I stood in disbelief, driving home through a snowstorm unlike I’ve ever seen, to hear that the snow plows would not be used to clear the roads because the state wouldn’t want to pay the drivers overtime for working on Sunday. Having to pay $14 an hour just so families can get home safely without swerving on black ice seems a small price to pay, but too much still for Michigan’s tightly drawn pockets. I can’t imagine what kind of money they would have had to initially put out when the first of Flint’s citizens complained that something was wrong with the water coming out of their tap. Evidently the price was higher than the average civilian.
One part of Michigan I do want to leave untouched from this scathing review is Ann Arbor. Like a glorious vision just about two hours away from Detroit is a haven that should really be the capital instead of Lansing. I had never ventured to Ann Arbor before visiting friends there during an Easter break my second year. The stately brick buildings, the stature with which the campus held itself against its surroundings, the liberal community on its doorstep….I told my parents that had they bothered to have me visit the University of Michigan campus I very well could have ended up going to U of M. Last year I struggled to find any opportunity to visit Ann Arbor. I treated myself to all-day film experiences at the State Theater. I wandered the bookshops and wandered around thrift stores. Ann Arbor is an oasis in an otherwise rather bleak state.
I don’t regret going back to Michigan one last time as it revealed to me that nostalgia and reality reside far apart from each other. I could see that there was no unfinished business left or loose end I would have to tie up coming back to the States. There was no practical life I could build for myself or home I could create out of these conditions. I don’t regret returning to Michigan one last time, but I’m never going back again.