One year ago, I was landing in South Korea to spend the turn of the year in Busan and the following months living on Jeju island. This time, I have landed in Detroit, the largest city in Michigan, and as my plane descended, I had no idea what to expect – my first surprise came when the roof panel of the plane fell to the floor as we made contact with the runway – I did not like this. After my first trip to America was somewhat unpleasant, I have returned (nine years older) with a willingness to try whatever is laid before me. I am excited for what I will find.
Before arriving in Detroit, I knew little of it, other than what people told me. Through following up on whispers, I learnt that Detroit is the largest city (by population) to file for bankruptcy, and in 2010, had a population of 700,000 – a decline of over 60% since 1950 when the population peaked at 1.8 million. I am told that this is largely due to the loss of the car industry which used to be the life source of the city. As a result of this financial ruin, Googling detroit brings up an assortment of abandoned buildings and the crime rate has spiralled – in 2012, Detroit was ranked as the number one large city in the USA for ‘violent crime,’ ‘murder,’ and ‘aggravated assault.’ It also ranked between 2nd and 11th for five (out of six) other categorisations of crime across American cities [Source: Wikipedia]. The average maximum temperature during January is zero degrees – thus it is literally (not figuratively) freezing, every day, and this is the city in which Eminem grew up. So sums up my prior knowledge of Detroit.
I arrived in Detroit to find out I am not actually staying in Detroit, but in a ‘city’ 16 miles west. As a simple country bumpkin from rural England, I separate settlements by fields and trees. If buildings run along a road, I presume I am still in the same settlement as I started. This is not the case here. Everything is much more spread out and sprawling – as you drive ‘between’ cities, only a sign indicates that you are leaving one city and entering another. My initial impressions are this: everything here is very big and people are very nice.
Everything is Big
The roads are wide, the lanes are plentiful, and the cars are huge – I haven’t seen a single hatchback and the vast majority of cars are bigger than almost all cars I regularly see in the UK. I suppose when fuel costs 44 pence a litre instead of £1.14 a litre [Source: Global Petrol Prices], fuel efficiency is less of an issue. Every every shop and bar has a car park, so people drive everywhere and buses seem far less prevalent than I am used to. Similarly, food portions are pretty big – which I love – because you can get full, and still take food home for later. Or eat it all and feel very unwell – as I have dog like tendencies to eat everything put before me (note lack of self-control), I feel this will become quite an issue.
People are Very Nice
Nice is a weak adjective, but a fitting one. It is refreshingly lovely to see, but in my first three days of being here, everyone I have encountered has been lovely. When you go for food, the waiting staff do everything to make sure that you enjoy your meal and they smile and chat with you, genuinely improving your dining experience. Admittedly, they are working for tips, but what does it matter if the outcome is a good one? It doesn’t. Outsides of eateries, I have again been met by friendly people who are all happy to say hello – and I really like it. As I stood in an elevator yesterday, coming out of a casino, an elderly couple turned and asked how we got on before making a joke about how badly they did and wishing us a Happy New Year. In my small village, I expect warmth from strangers, but in cities, I do not. Yet I seem to be finding friendliness here. As for the casino, I have not abandoned my low budget ways, but I said I would try everything and I was given a $10 free bet by the casino, won some money, then lost it, and came out two hours later with as much as I had when I started.
So far I am happy. I have watched two school basketball games, seen American Football on TV, and driven around several cities around the Detroit area – including passing 8 Mile, which like most things blown out of proportion by films, is just a street. Yesterday a headline in the Detroit Free Press yesterday ran, ‘Detroit boy, 9, killed by accidental shooting,’ but I have not seen anything bad of this place since my arrival. As I expected, it is cold, very cold – the maximum temperature today is expected to be minus eight degrees Celsius (eighteen Fahrenheit) – but I am yet to see snow. Funnily enough, on the day I left the UK, I woke to 2cm of snow – unheard of! Tonight I will watch ice hockey and while I am here, I will try to experience all I can so that I enjoy the place. I am looking forward to it. If you have any recommendations, they are appreciated.
My only concern is being vegetarian. It goes a little bit like this:
A man walks into a bar in Detroit, looking for some food. He’s vegetarian and when he sees a large ‘Vegetarian’ sign by the kitchen, he happily heads over to read more. The sign reads, “Vegetarian. Sioux word for ‘poor hunter.'” The man orders onion rings. This man is me, in Detroit, yesterday.
Cover photo, ‘Leap…’ by Vishal Patel.