–story by BIANCA BETANCOURT
If granted a trip to anywhere at anytime, there's a master list of cities that would instantly be flicked off my tongue to name: Barcelona. New York. Portland. Paris.
Never once did I think if granted the chance to take a getaway with a man I love and a freshly deposited paycheck, that I would venture off to Detroit.
"You want to take me to Detroit." I deadpanned when my boyfriend first suggested the trip. We both are workaholics, working multiple jobs to pay the bills or the rent, and to sometimes treat ourselves to a meal that costs more than ten dollars. I imagined our first trip together as a couple somewhere sexy, foreign and far away-like Buenos Aires or Rio de Janiero. Not Canada's neighbor. Living paycheck to paycheck or not, glamorous I can be.
"Do they even have a Hilton there?"
I don't remember what convinced me to agree to the trip, either the fact I needed a break from the bustle of Chicago or I loved him or whatever. Regardless, we made our plans to go, and as excited as I was to road trip every time I shared where I would be the following week, my peers only busted my buzz.
"Who vacations in Detroit?"
"I hope you come back."
For a second I thought my colleagues may have lost site of where we lived. As a newly planted Chicagoan it's been an uncomfortable growing pain becoming accustomed to daily headlines of gang shootings and violence. I've had to toss my fears aside in order to live comfortably in the new home I've chosen. Needless to say, though I was hesitant about Detroit's ability to entertain me, I wasn't scared of venturing in.
After a late night's sleep in a hotel whose decor was stuck in the 70s, our morning began with breakfast at a local hipster cafe, where giant painted portraits of Detroit natives surrounded the restaurant's walls and our waitress' hair was blue. Customers young and old came in and dined whether they were a group of the neighboring campus college students doing a study session on the second floor or a trio of older women, who simply wanted woman to woman time over coffee and brunch. By first glance, everyone around us seemed genuinely happy, the first scene I didn't expect to see based on the shallow knowledge I knew of the city. It was also a far cry from the faces I'm used to gazing at during daily walks back home.
In Chicago no one smiles. It's always get from A to B without pulling your hair out–whoever has an ounce of sanity left at the end wins.
Per typical foodie fashion, we ate our way through the city. Everywhere we went, whether at DETROIT VEGAN SOUL or MELT GELATERIA, we were surrounded by people similar to us. Twenty somethings and creatives, all eager to start something of their own.
Detroit is a city that was founded and built to be the Paris of the Americas, so the fact it's reawakening is being headed by this generation's artists comes as no surprise. What makes Detroit differ from say the Brooklyns and Portlands of the world however, are two factors: a sense of welcoming and lack of segregation.
At times we felt like the only tourists in the city–like everyone walking down the street knew each other, instantly didn't recognize us, but welcomed us warmly anyways. Every small store we stumbled upon we ended up staying for over an hour due to talking with the owners. As soon as we stepped inside they would inquisitively question us, asking where we were from, how we liked the city, and what brought us there. I was even more surprised to see how many of the owners of the bustling Midtown area were of color. They owned bookstores and galleries, restaurants and retail stores. But over here they weren't a "they" much like back home where blacks pocket the unwanted outskirts of the city. The characters of women owners we met reminded me instantly of my own family–independent females of color who don't allow their race to suffer their successes. They all instantly made me feel at home.
They were the type of people who genuinely cared about the future of their city for Detroit wasn't simply a city to them–it was home. Retail owners and walk in customers got into friendly debates over which Mayor headed the city's decline, and what hopefuls had enough to bring it back up. Their positivity about the fate of their city–handling the reputation that America has branded them balanced with their acceptance of the changes that artsy youth are bringing in–was admirable. It's a take on change that Chicago could take note of; those who have stayed in Detroit have agreed to work together to better it, rather than break off into segregated sanctions of the city, separating people, cultures, and communication.
Some natives asked whilst we perused different stores if we were husband and wife which amounted to me giggling and flashing the non-existent ring on my wedding finger. Joking aside, my boyfriend and I exchanged smiles with each other from across each store, the light in our eyes mentioning to each other "Maybe…"
Maybe this was a place we could potentially be together one day. Between gallery stops and lunch breaks we drove through the neighboring patches of the city that showcased more of the Detroit that the mainstream media addresses. Gorgeous, sky scraping vintage buildings were abandoned–windows shattered and doors boarded up. Lower middle class families had homes that some would say were the size of mansions. Children ran and biked through endless pathways of trees and weeds. But still they smiled.
People say Detroit is a deadbeat town, but all we saw driving through the green laced streets, was opportunity. The abandoned segments of the city have left room for young minds to discover, ingest and recreate.