Deadline Detroit | An Impassioned Love Letter to Detroit, ‘A Little Big City With A Flavor All Its Own’

A six word question recently posted on Reddit – why do you identify with Detroit? – drew more than 50 responses. Among the dozen of thoughtful, colorful, and entertaining responses is this essay by a 27 year old city resident who now lives in Hamtramck. Carie deals with art, writing and performance. Your contribution is published with permission.

By Carie Ann Costa

My parents lived on the east side. When I came of age to go to school, my mom had break-ins in our neighborhood “this far” and also felt that I wasn’t getting a great education at Detroit Public Schools. We moved to Roseville and that’s where I grew up.

“I loved the market as a kid – especially the way the sheds were painted with the produce and the chicken back then!“”

My father has worked for Wayne State for 35 years. My mom took me to visit him at work and we would go downtown or on campus for lunch. My father told me what it was like to grow up in the city and own a house there. He would take me down early Saturday morning and drag me around Eastern Market in a red car. As a kid I loved the market – especially the way the sheds were painted back then, with the produce and the chicken!

My dad took me down almost every weekend for one reason or another. Sometimes he just drove through the areas he hung around as a young man. It sounded like a great place to live, but also terrifying when he talked about the riots.

As I got older, I came to concerts. I remember when my older cousin Alex took me to the Magic Stick to see the Donnas. It was a show for all ages, but I was the youngest person there by far. I felt so cool I asked him to drive all the way home on country roads because I wanted to see the city and not just avoid everything on the freeway.

And I also remember my then boyfriend crashing the car into a pole a few years later (nothing serious) because he got a concussion on the punk show we had just left. I didn’t have a driver’s license, but had to drive myself home. I took Gratiot all the way back.

After I graduated from high school, I just drove down there when I had nothing to do. I would bring my mother’s 35mm Minolta and take photos.

Then came the parties. I was in town most of the time. Art galleries, camp parties, local bands – it was a whirlwind. Little did I know there were others in my age group who had a lifestyle in Detroit that was comparable to New York or Chicago – except for the kids who went to the city clubs. At that point, I just wanted to be in town. This is where things happened.

West Village Reality Check

Then I met someone. He lived in the West Village. We have made an appointment. We fell in love. I moved in. A couple of weeks after living there, I went to the kitty corner of the party shop by our building for a pack of smoke. The two boys on the corner mumbled that they “haven’t seen your kind here too often” and said that I wasn’t welcome.

Carie Ann Costa: “Every Detroit story is different. That’s cool.” (Photo by Ryan Standfest)

I felt so hurt. Don’t worry, don’t offend, just hurt. I had always known Detroit was racially segregated, but I was naive enough to assume that only white suburbanites were the racist ones. It was the first time I had noticed that for any idiot who told me, “It’s not safe to cross 8 miles,” there were probably people in Detroit saying something similar about white people just coming down To buy drugs or go to the suburbs meant they would assume you were up to no good.

I wonder how these two men must feel now that this area has a seasonal beer garden, cake shop and soul food restaurant. Maybe they meant it to mean that I wasn’t welcome. Not because I am white, but because they knew what the presence of another young white man meant. It meant changes were coming to their neighborhood. That party shop is no longer there.

When I lived there, my car was broken. My license plate was stolen. At some point I had sealed the broken window with plastic and without a radio and nothing in the car, a bat on the steering wheel and someone still trying to steal it. My neighbor across the street chased them away with a baseball bat.

I once took a couple of friends to the abandoned zoo on Belle Isle. We wanted to do some kind of photo shoot, I was the guide.

‘Wrong Assumptions’

I’ve been there many times, but we got caught that day. I was so upset when this white cop started berating us and asking, “What’s the obsession of your suburban white kids with coming here and defacing Detroit? You wouldn’t do that at home.” This comment made me angry.

Of the three of us, I was the only white one. And we were all Detroit residents – legal, taxable residents. He made so many wrong assumptions about who we were and what we were doing there. I felt better when one of the other officers leaned over and whispered, “He’s from Bloomfield and hates being stationed down here. He’s kind of an idiot.” before we go.

I got a job for an agency in Midtown. It is a non-profit organization that works with disabled adults and helps them build independence. After all, I lived and worked in the same town and did something that helped the community I belonged to. My customers thought I was a novelty. They couldn’t believe I was riding my bike or taking the bus to work, just like them. I would cut through Eastern Market to get to work. My shifts started very early and I watched the meat packers loading and unloading, the trucks playing tetris with lows and pallets. The early morning fog that blew around the RenCen was my favorite part.

When I lived in the West Village, I rode my bike everywhere:

  • To Comerica Park so I could stand between the fence rails, watch the field and hear the game.

  • Head southwest on Cinco de Mayo to drink tequila and see mariachi bands.

  • After Belle Isle, a RiverWalk to sit and people sketch.

I would go out late at night and drive downtown. I met other late night drivers occasionally and became known to some as “the purple lady” because I often wore purple pants and my purple coat perched on my light green and pearly white cruiser.

The thing that impressed me most about riding in Detroit was that people met your eyes. Old men on their porches waved or shouted, “Hey, vanilla ice cream!” Children ran and talked to me. Virtually everyone in Roseville would look away. Walking or riding didn’t matter; You’d pretend you’re not there.

Can’t make this up

Once, while driving home, I saw a man getting a blowjob in the parking lot of a store with his back leaning against the street lamp. I couldn’t help but stare as I drove past. He smiled and waved.

There is a game I played with myself called “Roadkill or Weave?” Pretty self explanatory – if I saw furry debris from a distance I’d guess which it was until I got close enough to confirm it. I am still playing.

After my relationship ended, I looked for a new place and found it impossible to find a place within my price range in any area I wanted. I’m not a roommate, I have two cats and I refused to live in a studio on Prentis so my options were limited.

I ended up in Hamtramck. I felt like I was stepping out and leaving the city I loved. But it was better than moving to the suburbs. In Hamtramck at least, I’m still close to every place I like in Detroit. Rent is affordable, I get more for my money, and can walk to almost anything. It has its own culture, and I enjoy that too. In time I would like to live in the real city again.

So many more anecdotes of city life could be shared. Every Detroit story is different. But that’s what’s cool. For me it is a “small big city”.

Detroit is something special. It has a taste all of its own, and that’s irresistible.


Dusty Kennedy