A Provincial Life in Detroit


First, let me say I have come to love Detroit with everything that comes with it. Blight, political corruption, wonderful architecture, a wonderful art museum, racial division, music and too much more to list.

When I moved to Detroit, MI from Berkeley, CA, I was moving from a small town to a big city. I learned soon that I may have had it backward. The first time I went grocery shopping, I could not find at least one third of my list in the store. I remember asking the grocery clerk for directions to the mushrooms. He pointed me to the canned mushrooms. The selection of fresh fish was pathetic. This was not California. And in the intervening years, I can say that Detroit grocery stores have caught up.

In California when you. met someone, they would ask where you came from. The assumption being that you were no native to California. In Michigan, they would ask where you went to high school. So the issue of Detroit being provincial has been one of those things, to use a computer analogy, running in the background for many years.

When I went back to work after my youngest was three years old, I found a similar attitude at my new workplace. At the time, I was hired as a telephone installer for Michigan Bell. With all the communication changes and deregulation, Michigan Bell was changed in the eighties. My coworkers asked me which relatives of mine worked for the company. I replied tht none of my relatives worked for the company. They could not understand how I got hired.

Over time and as I met more and more people, I met so many who had never been out of Michigan and some who had never left Detroit except for school trips. It was foreign to me. I had visited quite a few states and to Europe. I can remember one guy I met, a college graduate, who had never been out of Michigan. He wanted to take his kids to Disney World in Florida and was not sure he could manage a plane flight or spending time in Florida. The common denominator for those who had not been out of Michigan was that their entire family lived in Michigan row the renegade out- of-stater came back to visit. I traveled more because I had relatives in several states.

Over time, I thought Michigan would become more cosmopolitan and it has slowly. However, the is still the hard core Michiganders and Detroiters who think there is nothing the rest of the world has to offer. When I go out for music, I am sometimes told that all the best musicians are in Detroit. Maybe some, but not all. And further, Eastside musicians are better than others.

More are traveling. Recently, an acquaintance of mine and her husband went to France. She is proud of her new sophisticated traveler status and talks about her trip every where she goes.
So, it is changing.

There are places and people who give me great hope. More and more are letting the world in to their lives. It is especially evident at the Detroit Jazz Festival held the first weekend in September, Labor Day Weekend. People and musicians come from everywhere. Each year I see the impact of this wonderful music celebration on Detroiters and a time when Detroit shows its best face to the world.

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