What do I know?
I’ve lived in Detroit for a couple of years. That’s a few nanoseconds to somebody who’s persevered the economic earthquakes, aftershocks and continuing tremors in this city.
The stories of desperation are legend. And so with this backdrop how does a woman landing in Detroit find a way of embracing her new home?
More to the point, this woman happens to be white and the city happens to be 84% African American. How will I fit in? This is how I found out:
“Excuse me! Hello! Hello?” Standing in the corridor of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center (City County building) in downtown Detroit I look across the hallway expanse. Bursting with enthusiasm is a middle-aged black woman. “I just love your dress!” she shouts to me from about 25 feet away.
I’m wearing white. It’s my wedding day and my new husband, a native Detroiter, and I just eloped. The dress is simple cotton, has a vintage ‘50s look to it with a halter-style bodice and flared skirt; I bought it a few years ago. It’s one of those pieces that a woman keeps around – never quite finding the right place to wear it but hanging on to it just in case. This 100-degree July day seemed appropriate, as I felt ‘50s sultry.
“Thanks!” I shout back. “It’s my wedding dress.”
“Honey, you just got married?!” she starts striding excitedly across the hallway. “I’m coming over there to give you a great big hug!” … which she did, giving my man one too – along with sterling well wishes.
There couldn’t have been more shared joy in a receiving line. Or so I thought.
“I love your dress!” purrs the woman gliding by our table about a half-hour later as we’re toasting our newlywed selves at the Renaissance Center.
“Thanks!” I gush. “We just got married.”
“What! Married? I’m so happy for you!” and just the way this older black woman declared it, you know she’s truly thrilled for us.
“I work down at the coffee shop,” she chirps, “You come by after you’re done here. I wanna buy you both a cup of coffee to celebrate.” Moving on, she says, “See you soon!”
My man and I moved to Detroit, I think, as an act of defiance, more than anything. Having been away for 15 years, he was pissed off at seeing his beloved Detroit repeatedly being given last rites.
I didn’t have any place else to be in particular. So why not Detroit? I had just closed a business in Vancouver, Canada and we were headed back to the states.
He spoke so lovingly about this city and its people. (I now get it that Detroiters, even when they don’t live here anymore, still consider themselves Detroiters, usually having some sad love story of how the city broke their heart and they had to move.)
Back at the Ren Cen, following our wedding lunch and our celebratory coffee, we slip over to the little post office to buy envelopes. “My, don’t you look beautiful!” the young postal clerk, a sunny black woman, remarks from the counter.
“Thanks! It’s our wedding day,” I say while she rang up our purchase and I handed her the $2.
“Oh, you’re not paying for this!” pushing the money back across the counter. It’s your wedding day!” Standing up, she pulls $2 out of her own purse and slid it into the cash drawer.
She cuts us off. “Nope, this is my wedding gift to you, honey. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
I’ve come to understand that warm interactions, regardless of diversity and race, are normal and frequent in Detroit – and that’s why its fan club is so deep and wide.
When the two of us eloped last summer, we had no family or friends with us. But that’s not exactly right.
And therein lies the mystique of Detroit.