09 July, 2010

My Hometown: A List

Summer always makes me miss my hometown of Birmingham, Michigan. There are so many beautiful nooks and crannies in this seemingly sleepy, WonderYearsEsque suburban town complete with wide American streets peppered with Labradors, slip-n-slides and children on their bicycles. There is a buzzy downtown with two arty cinemas, boutiquey shopping, and utterly glorious places to eat for every budget.

And beyond Birmingham's borders lies the Detroit suburbs of Royal Oak, Dearborn, Berkley, Warren, and Bloomfield Hills... all of which have their very own personalities and some very impressive features-- such as Berkley's old fashioned drive-in A&W burger joint where they bring the food to your car, Royal Oak's Yuppieville delights including the best stamp store, goth scene, community theatre, and milkshake in town, and a plethora of 7-11s, millinery shops and quality people.

And that is it, of course: the people of Metro-Detroit are what I miss the most. My neighbors on good ol' Fairway Drive-- we all used to get together for actual summer picnics and barbeques, we'd drink sangria in our backyards on summer nights, we'd walk along the Rough River that flowed behind our houses, we gathered together at Thanksgiving.  Tom and Sal on the corner with their beloved dog Riley. Bill (with the beautiful radio voice). Anne from across the street, our beautiful Southern Belle. The almost frighteningly bright Augestein Family next door with whom we shared so many wonderful dinners. The Kuhnes moved away in the late 90s but we're still in touch today (I am, in fact, having dinner with them tonight on my less than 24 hour stint in the area).

So here is another list. I like to make lists. Favorite places in Birmingham: the town where I grew up. I miss it.


1. Dairy Deluxe - Dairy Deluxe is a classic Birmingham summer hangout that goes by many unnofficial titles. Among them, the "Twirly Dip," "Double D," "DD," "14 & Woody-Deluxe" to name but a few. The same people have been running it nearly 20 years and they still right down your order with their hands on bits of paper, count your change out with their minds and make your order themselves through a teeny tiny window box on the corner of Woodward and 14 mile road. A Snickers flurry is a summer classic. Or make it extra Detroit-y by getting a sundae with Sanders hot fudge. Unbelievable.

2. Greek Islands - Ah. My “Cheers”—words cannot describe how much time I’ve spent in this Coney Island Greek Restaurant from eating there to working there, the last 15 years of my life have been formed by this place. I know every single person that buses tables, waits them, cooks the food, runs the register. I know the paintings on the walls. I know the ins and outs of the lives of the workers. I know the menu backwards, I know what is better on Tuesdays. Go. Get the Greek Islands Special Salad and start with Saganaki cheese that, when lit on fire after being smothered in brandy, the waitress with yell “OPA!” before doused the flame with a fresh lemon. Enjoy

3. Quarton Lake - Another ah. Childhood spent walking its banks; picking berries for pie in the summer to ice skating in the winter.

4. My run:
starting at my old home at 1367 Fairway Drive
down Fairway
right on Pleasant
all the way to Maple (between the Methodist and Presbyterian churches).
From there it was either
right to Arlington to see the beautiful mansions, then Lincoln and home,
or left to Cranbrook/Evergreen,
back down Fairway and home again home again… jiggety jig.

5.  Woodward Avenue - ...and just after dusk (had many a meaningful, formative conversation driving with high school chum Justin Bodary to the soundtracks of several great films). But no one can deny the beauty and majesty of The Woodward Dream Cruise, a classic car event held annually on the third Saturday of August. During the post-war era, people would "cruise" in their cars along Woodward Avenue, from drive-in to drive-in, often looking for peers or friends who were also out for a drive, and perhaps seeking an opportunity for some street racing or at least a chance to "burn rubber" (or "light 'em up") in a quick getaway from a newly green traffic light.

The WDC Event spans much of Woodward Avenue all the way from Pontiac all the way to the State Fair Grounds inside the Detroit city limits, just south of 8 Mile Road. Today, the Woodward Dream Cruise is the world’s largest one-day automotive event, drawing 1.5 million people and 40,000 classic cars each year from around the globe. You can see muscle cars, street rods, custom, collector and special interest vehicles dating across several decades. The majority of the cars on display are those that were available and prevalent during the 1950s, 60s and early 70s.

6. Birmingham 8 Cinema (which specializes in art films, and employer of the previously mentioned teenage Justin Bodary. Perhaps the main reason the cinema became so sentimental...?)

7. The drive through the Cranbrook grounds (especially in winter)

8. Mills Pharmacy - on Maple across from the First Presbyterian Church where we used to buy as much candy as possible for $1

9. Summer Evenings in the Park (every weekend there is a live concert in the park between the Public Library and the Post Office. Live music, often Motown themed, high school bake sales. Dancing. Picnics. Patriotism. Community magic.)

10. The Rouge River Walk

11. Downtown Birmingham - a treasure. Shopping that caters to everyone tastes-- everything from locally made crafts, antiques, Mom & Pop restaurants, to Anthropolgie or handmade toys; downtown Birmingham has a thriving Public Library overlooking a beautiful local park that hosts a festival of twinkly lights in the winter, massive local carnival in the spring (complete with giant ferris wheel with views of the whole town!), and live concerts in the summer. And, because it is so easy to walk to the main strip almost anywhere in town, there is nothing like watching the tweenagers congregate on the streets outside the movie theatres trying to pretend they aren't waiting for their parents to pick them up around the corner... that was once me...


I recently had an incident with a several people who were very negative about Detroit, spoke of it with an almost savage, desparaging, flippant dismissal; as if there was nothing of merrit to see or do, spoke as if the people there were foresaken members of a larger American society.

I beg you, reader: be kind to everyone about their hometown. Everyone is from somewhere-- even Detroit, Hull, Queens and Bagdhad! If someone tells you they are from somewhere, that they grew up somewhere, that their days were formed and shaped in a place, be respectful for no greater a reason than that. Ask how they felt about it, ask about their favorite memories, places, their views on the merits and downfalls. You may be surprised. Enlightened. You might even learn something.

And secondly, in that vain, give Metro-Detroit a chance. I know that Detroit and Michigan are going through rough times, but the truth is it is a beautiful place filled with strong, industrious, resilient people and gem-like corners awaiting any traveler patient and open-minded enough to discover them.


  1. AnonymousJuly 11, 2010

    AH, Birmingham, Michigan!

  2. AnonymousJuly 11, 2010

    Ahhhh, beautiful Birmingham, Michigan!!!



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