Monday, March 21, 2011

Imported from Detroit

One could say I am a son of the Motor City. As a Michigan native, the automobile industry affected every aspect of my life during my youth. I grew up in Westland, Michigan, a suburb of "The Motor City". My father spent nearly his entire life working at Daimler-Chrysler, one of "the big three" of the industry. My father's father spent nearly his entire life laboring at the plants of the Ford Motor Company. I decorated my bedroom with winged wheels. And some of my fondest childhood memories stem from summer days spent alongside the banks of the Rouge River, a river infamous for being contaminated with pollutants from automobile companies.

It seemed logical, then, that I, like so many other Detroit suburbanites of my generation, felt an overwhelming sense of pride when the Chrysler commercial featuring Eminem aired during the Super Bowl. The commercial spoke for Southeastern Michigan's previously unspoken for automotive culture, a culture entirely unique to the greater Detroit area, and I felt proud to be a part of that culture. Yet things weren't always this way for me. In fact, I felt quite the opposite of pride for my hometown during one point of my life, particularly when it seemed the automobile culture was ripping at the seams.

During the autumn of my senior year of high school, I frequently went for walks alongside the Rouge River and bemoaned what that river symbolized -- the failing automobile culture I was born into. Sometimes I would drink whiskey by that river and wallow in self-loathing for being born into the stale world of the Midwest, or commiserate over being trapped in a world of middle-class mediocrity. I felt like my hometown, and the Midwest in general, catered only to simple-minded folk. Moreover, having recently discovered Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" album in my parents' music collection, I pretentiously clung to the notion that small town's like mine throughout the Midwest created death-traps for young people like myself; in Bruce's own words, I felt I had to "get out while [I was] young".

Five years removed from the day I first left my hometown, I realize that those conjectures were the product of a very young and very naive mind. Looking back nowadays, it's a little difficult to recognize that kid who walked along that river; I have done a complete 180 in terms of the perspective I maintain as to my hometown and to the Midwest. Where I once saw the men in the automobile factories as Simple Simons, I now see hard-working fathers who have a firm grip on reality and who put their families ahead of themselves. Where I once saw the Midwest as a dead-end road, I now see it as a region where traditional family values survive. And while I once thought I couldn't spend another day in my hometown, I now cannot imagine starting a career or a family in any place unlike it.

Time has a funny sense of irony. I'm now aspiring to be what I thought I despised as a high-schooler: a simple man in a simple town. Perhaps it's not unlike what Lynyrd Skynyrd said, "You can take a boy out of old Dixie Land/ But you'll never take old Dixie from a boy". You can take a boy out of the Motor City suburbs, but you'll never take the Motor City from a boy. Cheesy? Absolutely. But I've found it to be true, at least in my own personal experience.

1 comment:

  1. i could never appreciate the beauty (is beauty the right word? maybe) of growing up in the blue collar neighborhoods of SE MI until i left. living in a new, big city, with all types of people has its advantages, but there really is no place like home. meeting and talking to people from all different walks of life has made me really think about my neighbors back home, my family and friends, and, like you, since being removed from it, i see that world in a different light now.