Yes. I know I really botched up the words of that song. But with the odd concurrence of Thanksgiving and the first light of Chanukah falling on the same night, and our first trip back to Rochester since departing for Detroit, my family feels like they are going through some surreal times.
Rochesterians, very well-meaning and sincere, actually said it to me:
“Are you glad to be home?”
The word “home” was not something I expected to hear out of the mouths of my many Rochesterian friends and acquaintances I saw in the weekend leading up to Thanksgiving.
This is a homecoming of a sort. For my kids. Because after I checked off every last detail of what to pack, what to turn off and turn down in our new house. After the kids packed whatever they needed to eat and entertain themselves in the car. After the last seat belt had been clicked and the six-hour trek from Detroit to Rochester lay before us, my children said it:
“We are going home.”
Yes. Rochester is their home. Where they spent the better part of their formative years. It’s where two of three of them took their first steps and all of them lost their first teeth. It’s where their friends live who know them best. Who share some weird private jokes, shared histories, and their own strange way of talking in a fake accent.
For me, Rochester is not home. New York City is home. Or is it? I haven’t lived in the area for almost 20 years.
I am trying to make Detroit home. But it’s tough to make it home when we leave it for holidays. It’s not a home if there are no aromas of turkey and stuffing , and this year, the smell of potato latkes frying in a pan, and the sounds of grandparents, siblings and cousins hanging out in the family room. It’s just a house we live in.
Because home is where you go for the holidays. And if the majority of family do not live in your current city of residence, like the way smaller celestial bodies are drawn to larger ones in the universe, the pull is greater the other way. So home we must go.
Still, Rochester feels a lot like home now that we no longer live here. Yesterday, we spent the day in some old familiar places trying to catch up with as many people as possible. We got hugs everywhere. We are missed. And thought of. I lost track of how many hugs I gave and received. It truly was a homecoming.
But there are places you really cannot return. My youngest wanted to go into his old house. That, we told him, was off limits. He was able to peek into the downstairs family room and said he didn’t like how the new owners painted it blue.
The big kids tried to
loiter in visit their old high school. To them, that was home too. They had it all planned out. They would enter the building in the morning, loaded backpacks slung on backs and blend into the stream of hundreds of other teens before the morning homeroom bell. Either in the library or cafeteria they would study and receive friends, and hugs, during their free periods.
But their old principal, who had known them since their elementary school days, apparently never forgets a face. And, knowing that these two faces had moved to Detroit, he kindly but firmly told them that new high school policy forbids non students to visit during school hours. But he gave them a valiant A for effort.
Sometimes, you really can’t go home.
I need to get out more often. And by that, I don’t mean dinner at the Outback and a movie at the local suburban multiplex.
I am going to put this blog post into a new I-know-you’ve-lived-here-all-your-life-but-ya’ll-it’s-all-new-to-me category. Because, I know all of you Detroiters know all about the Fox Theatre like I know about Radio City Music Hall (but hey, real New Yorkers know a trip to Radio City is just for TOURISTS).
But for me – the New Yawker newbie, a babe in the urban D woods – I am loving discovering my new city.
Last night, I had my first nighttime visit into Downtown Detroit. We were invited out by the same very interesting new friends (the ones who press their own apple cider) to a benefit to support the Jewish Association for Residential Care. The featured act: The Rascals.
You know, the Rascals:
My husband and I still don’t know how to get around downtown. ( I really don’t understand how to traverse a metropolis without a subway system.) They offered to drive. We happily accepted the ride.
Driving down highway 10 at night to downtown Detroit, you really get an understanding of just how blighted some sections have become. As you leave suburbia for downtown, the highway submerges, and what’s left of neighborhoods peek out from concrete walls that rise to the right and the left. Every now and again you get a glimpse of houses. Completely dark. What’s left of houses. What’s left of churches. And stores. And housing projects. Empty shells. Dark and lonely.
And then, reaching downtown, the lights, and life, emerges again. If just for a dozen or so square blocks that house the city’s businesses, theaters Detroit nightlife post baseball season is still trying to go on.
Though Comerica Park now stands quiet, it is lit up. Giant stone tigers roar into a post-season sky and roar into a mostly vacant parking lot. I make nice to them and promise I will come cheer for the Tigers (because they don’t play against the NY Mets) come the spring.
Across the street stands the glorious Fox Theatre:
Built in the grand style of the 1920’s, when auto manufacturing was in high swing, it has a 3,600 square foot lobby and a grand auditorium that seats 5,000. And every square inch drips with restored opulence snatched from the mouths of the Blight and Decay demons that caused many of Detroit’s architectural treasures to crumble or lay in waste.
Though I wasn’t that excited to see this 60’s band, it was the venue itself – plus a fundraiser supporting independent lifestyles for adults with disabilities – that made me plunk down the cash for the tickets.
“I bet you have been craving for a night like this in the city,” my friend said as we crossed Woodward – a main thoroughfare in Detroit that is far wider than any avenue in Manhattan. Outside the theatre, a small crowd gathered and a ragged group of street musicians played and asked for change.
Oh yeah, I miss going out into a city for some nightlife. I miss packed sidewalks and even further packed subway cars. Even little Rochester had some hopping areas, some beautiful theaters, jazz spots and restaurants for entertainment.
I stepped inside the lobby. I knew I had to make my way to will call to get our tickets. I knew I should have been more friendly and engaged in conversation with new friends in the community who made their way over to say hi. But they had already been in the Fox theatre. They had lived here most of their lives. This was all new to me. And I was having trouble keeping my jaw from hanging to the floor:
The grandeur of the Fox Theater lobby made me happy and sad all at once. Happy that this gem has been restored and saved from blight and stands as a reminder of what Detroit could be again. Sad to think of all the other architectural treasures of the city – other theatres, the Central Train Station, hotels, schools, mansions, homes – that just lay in waste, I thought of the Heidelberg Art project that arsonists just burned to the ground. Again. Before I got to set eyes on it.
We spent the night listening to the Rascals play with new friends and some JARC residents, who quickly befriended us and were happy to sing and dance the evening away, even though I thought the Rascals depended very much upon their multimedia show than pandering to the crowd:
After the show, the city was dark. No bars open. No restaurants to spend our money in. Just a few lingering panhandlers and straggling musicians. So, back to suburbia we went for a late night bite to eat.
We really wanted to spend more money downtown. But there was nowhere open to spend it.
This is not the city that Never Sleeps. Not even by a long shot.
not sure if these guys are kicking it around in Victor, NY, but it was an honor to interview and write about them. Honor a Veteran Today.
Jack Hennessy’s handshake is still very strong at age
89. This enduring strength might be attributed to the rigorous training he
received decades ago as a member of the Glider Corps, a little-known part of
101st Airborne Division during World War II.
Last May, the father of four and grandfather of 10
received many firm handshakes of gratitude when he took an all-expenses-paid day
trip to Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Honor Flight Network. Hennessy is
just one of 63,000 veterans of WWII and the Korean and Vietnam wars who have
taken an Honor Flight since 2005 to see the monuments built for their
sacrifices. The nonprofit organization is fighting against time to bring all
able WWII veterans on this trip.
“People were rushing up to thank me. People I didn’t
know from a pile of brooms were lining up to shake my hand. It was all very
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I haven’t answered the WordPress photo challenge in a while, but this one seemed like a way to boost creativity and to remind me of what I should and should not be doing to keep myself healthy.
And, being the 40something woman that I am, another healthy habit I have tried to incorporate into my daily routine is taking at least one of these:
But, as a mother of three who tries to keep awake to write and read and, function, for better or for worse, this is the only daily habit, that I wish I would quit, that sticks:
It’s a good thing I never smoked.
I am a voter. In all the places I’ve lived in, I have registered and exercised my right to vote. I can only think of one or two elections (one was the 1988 presidential election, when I was away at college. But even if I cast a vote, Michael Dukakis had no chance of winning) that I did not participate in voting in election.
Even as a kid, my parents took my brother and I to our elementary school at night so they can cast their votes in the cafeteria. My brother and I sat at semi-folded up tables pushed against the wall and stared at the feet in the voting booths, wondering what those grown ups were doing behind that curtain. I remember I couldn’t wait to be old enough to get in that booth and pull the lever.
Here, in my new suburban surroundings, I noticed something strangely missing from the October landscape. Because, along with skeletons, gravestones and pumpkins adorning the lawns in my old Brighton neighborhood were political signs. Usually Democratic Party leaning, signs would urge passers by to vote for judges, school board members, Congresspeople. No or Yes on this or that proposition.
I did get a reminder call from my old town by a real (young sounding) person reminding me to vote and informing me of my polling place. I politely thanked them for the call but told them I had moved.
But here in West Bloomfield? No calls. Not a political sign to be found. I thought this was one more silly rule in our neighborhood association charter. Like the rule where you can’t have a shed or a different mailbox.
Signs or no signs, I knew it was election day. And it was my civic duty to vote. But where?
I asked two of my neighbors who were unsure. They were not even sure what there was to vote on.
Surely, other towns had issues and elections to vote upon. Just a few to mention:
- There was the mayoral election in Detroit, where former hospital executive Mike Duggan defeated Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napolean.
- Royal Oak voters approved a human rights ordinance banning discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation and other factors, making the Oakland County community the 30th municipality in the state to add such a law to its books.
- Voters in Macomb county approved tax hikes to support fire and police services
So, I figured there had to be something I needed to vote for in my new town. I registered to vote at my new town hall. I had my voter i.d. I was ready.
I waited until the evening to go vote, taking my two oldest children in tow. Hard to believe that come the next presidential election, my oldest will be eligible to vote. I went to the most logical places: the nearby schools. In one school, parents sat around watching their kids at an indoor soccer practice. None could tell me where to vote.
Next was my son’s middle school, where parents were gathering for a meeting about the swimming team season. Not only could a parent tell me where my polling place was, but she didn’t know it was election day.
How could this be? And how could I not exercise my civic duty to vote, this my first election day in my new state? The kids started to grumble. After all, the main objective of this outing was to do some shopping at Old Navy.
Finally, I went to town hall, where I should have gone for advice in the first place. The doors were open and there were some bins labeled as ballot boxes on tables outside the clerk’s office. The clerk expediently located my address and her eyebrows raised.
“Oh. You live in the section of West Bloomfield zoned for Bloomfield Hills schools?”
Yes, I thought, the much coveted section where we send our kids to school not within an earshot of our home but all the way the hell on the other side of town?
“You don’t have an election this year.”
No election? Not a single vote to be cast? On anything? Not one school official? Or County judge? Or proposition to release reserved funds for a new school roof?
I left town hall feeling strange but knowing I had done my civic duty of at least trying to vote. I had dragged my kids around town trying to fulfill my right to vote, trying to teach them a lesson that voting is something that should always be practiced. At least, on the years your town has something for which to vote.
And, without further delay, we went to practice our other right as Americans: the right to be consumers buying cheaply manufactured clothing from China at the nearest suburban shopping plaza.
Did you get out the vote in your town? Were you happy with the results? Leave a comment, I’m all ears!