Every October for at least a decade now, I’ve read the year’s issue of The Best American Essays. I don’t remember if previous volumes featured any, let alone two, pieces dealing with Detroit, as the 2011 edition does. (I can’t easily check, either. When preparing to move back to the city, I culled my book collection, keeping only the Best Essays that named one of mine as “notable.”)

Toi Derricotte’s essay is not really about Detroit, but her references to eating Coney Islands and driving around Belle Isle make it clear that the childhood she recalls occurred here. Charlie LeDuff’s outraged examination of the death of seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones is very much about the city and its myriad problems. (The website of Mother Jones magazine includes updates on what has happened in the case since LeDuff’s essay first appeared in print.) Too much can be made of the nugget “there are no chain grocery stores in all of Detroit,” in my opinion, but that’s a quibble over a very powerful piece. I’ll refrain from quoting any more from the essay, since it really deserves to be read in its entirety.


So Floyd Mayweather, Jr., notched a win, his 42nd, against Victor Ortiz. No surprise there. Lately, I find, I’m less interested in fights between boxers who’ve achieved phenomenal wealth and fame (I didn’t watch the fight Saturday night) and more interested in fighters no one has ever heard of and who most likely will never even turn professional. I’m thinking of youngsters whose boxing experience provides lessons in dedication, determination and discipline, whose time in boxing gyms may never lead to a career in boxing but very well might help them to hone skills necessary to survive and thrive. More specifically, I’m referring to participants in the Downtown Boxing Gym’s Youth Program. As the founder, Carlo Sweeney, and its community service director, Jessica Hauser, described it to me when I visited the gym, the initiative not only helps kids develop ring savvy; it also connects them with on-site tutors, covers travel expenses to amateur events (including a recent one in New York, which included a visit to good old Gleason’s Gym) and after-school food. If this doesn’t qualify as a too-little-known Detroit gem, then I don’t know what does.

Despite appearances, this site remains an active work-in-progress. New posts haven’t appeared recently, not because of a shortage of incidents to report, but because of a lack of time. Buying an 85-year-old house previously owned by someone older still ended up involving far more work than we envisioned. Fixing up the place takes all our time. The last several weeks have been filled with plumbing, patching, sanding, painting and the like. And that’s just what we’ve been doing ourselves.

We hired others to remove the tree that fell on our roof just days after movers delivered our belongings. More on that episode later.

Occasionally we have managed to get out of the house and experience our city. At a nearby neighborhood restaurant recently, I ran into one of my favorite musicians, for instance. We’ve enjoyed doing again something we missed about Detroit when we lived elsewhere: shopping at the Eastern Market. We’ve also spent a great deal of time at our new home-away-from-home: the Home Depot on Seven Mile, where I’m now recognized by cashiers.

More about these and other activities to come…

Made in Detroit” is more than a slogan emblazoned on snazzy-looking T-shirts and accessories. It’s also my story.

The year after the 1967 Detroit riots, I was born, and, when I was one, my parents bought a house in the city. That’s where I lived until I went to college on the other side of Michigan. Following four years in Kalamazoo, I returned to Detroit to attend graduate school at Wayne State University and stayed in what back in the 1990s was still called the North Cass Corridor, which now goes by the name Midtown. During this period, I met my wife, Nancy, whom I married in the living room of my folks’ place in Sherwood Forest, a neighborhood bordered on the south by Seven Mile Road and on the west by Livernois. In the mid-1990s – on our first wedding anniversary, actually – Nancy and I moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where we worked for a United Nations agency. We returned to the states at the start of 1998. We spent nearly eleven years in Brooklyn, New York, and then decided we’d try something different and moved to Portland, Oregon, where we resided for about three years. We chose to make another cross-country move when we bought a house in Detroit. It’s in a different neighborhood from where my parents live – on the other side of Seven Mile – but it shares the same zip code: 48221.


That’s the question I’ve been asked repeatedly when I tell people that my wife and I decided to move back to Detroit after about fifteen years of living elsewhere. People in Portland, Oregon — the city we’re leaving — ask it. People in Detroit ask it. The implied full-length version of the question usually is: “Why would anyone want to live there?” Askers often do say they thought people only left Detroit.

Here, in future posts, I intend to explain why a couple who could live anywhere — and have lived in cities where residence raises no questions — chose to live in Detroit. Saying that my family still lives in the city where I grew up satisfies some who wonder about our departure from the Northwest. But that doesn’t explain everything. Pointing to the relative cheapness of real estate and the lower cost of living reassures at least some who initially doubt our sense. But that’s not the whole story either. I’ll be telling that story at Detroit48221.