Years before I even dreamed that I could live in Detroit, I’d see them on the highway and it would make me wonder. On summer road trips I would often see shiny, shark-fender cars headed west as we headed east. Cars of bygone eras in reds and powdered blue. Some being driven, some being transported on flat beds or in tow.
Little did I know back then but they were probably headed to Detroit’s Dream Cruise.
I first heard about the Dream Cruise at a lady’s evening out. Being the newbie that I am, when I hear the word cruise, I automatically think – big boat with a midnight buffet.
“No, no, this is the CAR CAPITAL! You have to go to the Dream Cruise, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen, man! They rev up and down Woodward for days! Some even pour some kind of bleach in their tail pipe so when they rev their engine they get a big puff of white smoke. It’s crazy!” Said one woman, a slim attorney who sipped away at her white wine.
This is not called the Motor City for nothing. And I’m learning that in Detroit, people take their cars very seriously.
Drive around any time of day, in any part of the city, good and bad, and you will see how people take pride in their cars.
Me? Well I don’t think I waxed a car since I helped my grandpa wax his Oldsmobile Cutlass in our driveway.
Earlier in the summer, as a prelude to the Dream Cruise, I attended an open house at the General Motors Powertrain plant in Pontiac. On display were cars owned by GM employees as well as the Stingray that was used in the Transformers 4 movie.
This week, NPR featured a series about the millennial generation and their disenchantment with car ownership. The series spoke of urbanite teens and 20somethings preferring Zip Cars, sharing cars, tweeting to bum a ride, or moving back to cities with public transportation. That’s a big U-turn from the decades past when teens and those in their twenties couldn’t wait to get their first car. When a whole lifestyle was built around the car.
Can you think of any songs these days written about a car?
But a desire to live one’s life without the love of a set of wheels?
Not in this town.
Last week, millions came to Detroit from all over the country in their roadsters to cruise up and down Woodward Avenue, from downtown Detroit all the way up to Pontiac.
Then there are the crowds who come to just WATCH CARS. All week. They bring their lawn chairs and sit on the curb with family and friends.
Some take this to the heights of tailgating, complete with tents, hibachis and picnics.
Do these people care about the carbon dioxide they emit from their gas guzzling vehicles? Or the price of a gallon of petrol these days?
When a particular car they like goes by, they whooop and cheer and shout out comments and questions to the owner:
What year is that?
Did you build that yourself?
And the traffic is crawling along so slowly, proud drivers are actually able to give answers to the spectators. They are more than happy to brag about their baby.
Overall, Dream Cruise was a beautiful night and we had a great time. But I couldn’t help but think: these people are willingly – willingly - sitting in traffic. For hours. To show off their chrome exteriors and leather interiors. To breathe in all those fumes. To come together and show off the best of what Detroit has to offer, cars built in the glory years of the American automotive industry.
I spend a lot more time in my car now that I’ve moved to Detroit. No longer are the places I need to get to the most under 5 miles away. No longer is anything just a short ride away.
I don’t care if I had the most souped-up ride in my garage. in my spare time, even in the Motor City, the last place I want to be in, is in a car.
About nine years ago, it seemed like my family and the extended family of my husband wished to run away and join the circus.
So, in honor of my mother-in-law’s 60th birthday, we booked a family getaway to Club Med Sandpiper in Florida.
Fearless flyers that they are, my WHOLE family, with the exception of my then-pregnant sister-in-law and my husband’s 80something grandmother, had no qualms of climbing a narrow, straight-up ladder nearly 50 feet to the trapeze platform.
It was a slow week there – the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas – so my flipping and catching in-laws had ample opportunities to perfect their trapeze swinging, hanging from their knees, and even getting caught by the muscular trapeze artist who effortless swung from a trapeze on the other side of the net.
Then, at last buckling to the pressure to suck it up and get over my fear of heights, it was my turn.
At 15 feet up, and unharnessed (adults didn’t get a harness until we stood above on the trapeze platform), I just lost it. And started to cry. But a Sandpiper staff member wouldn’t let me give up.
From the opposite side, she nimbly climbed the ladder until she was eye level with me.
“You’ve got this. Just hand over hand. And don’t ever look down.”
I made it to the top. I swung. It was all captured in this very unflattering picture of me. The look on my face shows I would have been MUCH happier if I just stayed on the ground watching the rest of my circus-crazed family.
This has been a surreal summer. Summer usually offers a welcome change of pace, even though it can be lonely at times when friends all scatter and go off on vacation.
But when the shortening days of August arrive, they serve as a signal that it’s almost time to go back.
Back to routine.
Back to the friends, neighbors, faces and places that are so familiar.
Back to school.
Back to normal.
In the life of being a multiple-city transplant, there exists three rings.
There is the ring of your own upbringing and the family and friends you’ve left behind in your hometown.
There is the second ring of the surrogate “family” you’ve just left behind in the town you made into your new hometown but was truly your children’s hometown. The only place they’ve ever called home in their memory.
Now, I stand in the third ring of the new city. At the edge of a new school year in a school district that is completely unknown and strange,
it is easy to get sucked into all those memories and thinking about all those familiar places and people with whom you usually reconnect at summer’s end. But right now, thinking of old friends and places I’ve left behind in Rochester, thinking about how hard it will be for daughter to say those last good-byes to her friends as they board one bus and she boards another, is just too hard. It’s too sad right now to look back.
Years later, I’m taking the advice from the circus lady: don’t look down.
When my kids get off the bus from camp tomorrow and step into their new life, into their new home they have not yet seen and into three separate school buildings, this time, I will play the role of the seasoned circus pro, telling her kids from the other side of the ladder not to look back and down, but only, if only for the next few months, up and forward.
This summer, I traveled around meeting great people in the Great Lakes State. And I’ve also taken up palm reading as a new hobby.
When you meet a Michigander, one of the first things they will talk about is where they are from. And to do this properly, they will show you on their palm. Their right palm to be exact.
Michiganders proudly refer to their state as the Mitten. So much so that you can buy Michigan Mittens or oven mitts at kitschy and cute tourist shops Up North (yes, it’s capitalized) or like the ones I found on Karin Marie’s “talk to the mitten” Pinterest site.
To demonstrate, I will call upon my lovely assistant and local hand model.
See, we live in the Detroit suburbs, right here:
If you want to vacation on Lake Michigan and swim and sail where the water is warm and mostly calm all summer, go to any town located here, like Bay City, between the thumb and the index finger.
Last week, I went “Up North.” for a quick getaway. We stayed at a lovely Inn in Leland, on the Leeelanau peninsula. That’s here, in the pinky:
While up in the pinky, we went on a hike in one of the last remaining Cedar forests in North America. On the trail, we met an older woman who lives in the thumb, near Port Huron
We stayed at a wonderful place called the Whale back Inn, named so because the area where it is situated, when viewed from Lake Michigan looks like….
yes, you get it.
The grounds of the Inn overlooked a pristine and inviting lake (of course it did, we are in MICHIGAN!). There, we met native Michiganders now living in Palo Alto, Calif. (I don’t know what body part California looks like.) They have relatives who farm land in the center of the palm, right between the fate and life lines.
Finally, a guy I met in synagogue the other day held up his palm and said he grew up around Benton Harbor, and that’s right here, at the heel of the palm.
All this palm reading and thinking got me thinking about a country famously known for its shape:
If you travel in Italy and converse with Italians, do they locate their cities of origin on “the boot?” Do they point to their knees, heel or toe when asked where they are from?
Or, what about New York, my home state? Sure, New York has the Big Apple, but what is it shaped like? My best bet, if I had to make a hand shape for New York, it would look like the Vulcan hand salute. Rotated. And reversed.
Or, or, as my hand model – his hand getting tired from twisting from these poses and working for me for 20 minutes -said maybe we should just leave the hand symbol for New York at this:
It’s getting a bit late and this is a blog post I meant to write before i went away on my vacation but my printer wouldn’t scan and I had to paint stripes in my other kids’ room before he gets back from camp is summer going fast for you because it is going fast for me…
Now, if I were to write all my blog posts in this style – one devoid of sentence structure, or any clarity of thought – I wouldn’t be much of a writer. And you would absolutely be in the right for clicking away from this blog in disgust, murmuring aloud, “Where does that woman get off thinking she can write!?”
However garbled the messages may be, letters from camp are regarded as true literary works from their loving parents.
And I know my son is a writer. He has been writing funny stories for school and just for kicks as long as I can remember. Like his fifth-grade essay assignment about his first roller-coaster ride. His teacher told us that in this essay he had a great sense of voice and composition.
But, for some reason at camp, all rules learned about writing – sentence composition, transition of thoughts from one paragraph to the next, and even legible handwriting are cast aside for the sake of getting back in the game of swimming, water skiing or just plain hanging out with your bunk mates.
I’ve been inspired to share one — just one hand-written letter of several we received from our three children — by several blogs, including Letters From New Jersey, who shares the letters she writes to her children at camp, and renée a. schuls-jacobson, who is holding a hand-written letter to camp contest. Her son at camp is the judge on the best letter. Go check these blogs out, you wont’ be sorry!
With all this blogging material on camp and letters out there, I tried to avoid the subject. Until I got the letter below. It left me in such a fit of laughter on my front lawn I just had to share it. Here it is!
What? You didn’t get all that? Can you not read?
It’s okay. I have become quite the sleuth decoding and deciphering my 15-year-old’s harried handwriting. Seriously, is there a place where they pay you for reading horrid handwriting? if so, I have found my new calling.
Just be glad that this was not written on a crag of a stone in the dark, as he claimed was the writing surface of his last letter.
And it reads, unedited for punctuation, as such:
Dear Mom and Dad
2nd month is better than I expected it to be; I am spending most of my time in (bunk) 11. I made friends with lots of Israelis and that Tresame shampoo is awesome, Girls are literally feeling my hair and saying how soft it is. I’m practicing frisbee got to go to the Aga’am (lake) bye.
He’s actually washing his hair now?? To the point that girls, not just one girl but girl(s) in plural – want to touch his hair?
A whole year last year of nagging him to better wash his hair, of saying, not a drop of water touched your hair in that shower, how can it be CLEAN?!
And now, my son has silky soft, clean and touchable hair!
You can learn a lot from a letter from your kid at camp. I’ve learned to buy Tresame by the gallon.
You have learned that you may want to buy stock in the company which makes Tresame.