You might not know it by looking at me, but I’m not from around here. That shouldn’t be very surprising, though, since Ann Arbor has a lot of transplants. Literally billions of people come here for school, get sucked into the seductive pull of Arbor Gravity, and never leave. (OK, not billions. It just seems that way on football Saturdays.) The weird thing, I have to confess, is that during the five years I’ve lived here, my first instinct hasn’t been to say I live here. I have this strange compulsion, when anyone asks, to answer that I’m in Ann Arbor “for now.” As if, at any moment, I could be launched somewhere entirely else, where there are fewer potholes.
Discovering America’s high five
I grew up in New Jersey, with a vastly limited understanding of America’s High Five. There were two peninsulas, the Lions played on Thanksgiving, you gotta lose your mind in DEE-troit, Rock Cit-AY. And “born and raised in South Detroit” seemed perfectly plausible. Even after I married into Midwesternism (in a small church in Monroe County) and began visiting during holidays, each trip was an exotic adventure. I discovered the joy of Vernors. I learned how to spell “pączki.” And once, I actually asked my in-laws if church was ever canceled because of the cold.
Then, after my wife and I split up, and we were raising our two boys in nearby Manhattan apartments, she got into Ross Business School and proposed relocating here. And when she did, I knew two things: wherever my kids were, I’d be there, too, and that staying in New York would have turned me into the worst helicopter parent ever. I wanted the boys to grow up with some sense of autonomy, and to walk to school on sidewalks less strewn with restaurant garbage. After I flew here to see the town, I knew a third thing: I could totally live here. You know what really sealed it for me? I saw the A2ICE3 sign at the Ice Cube and thought, “OK. This is the nerdiest place ever. Where do I sign?” Seriously. What other town refers to itself with exponents? How many even can?
Something flipped about a year ago
After more than 40 years in and around New York, I found that acclimating here was slow going. But I think something flipped about a year ago, when my parents flew out here for Thanksgiving. The boys and I took them around to all of our favorite places—French fries at Ashley’s, ice cream at Stucchi’s, hippie hash at the Fleetwood—and they were delighted. Then we showed them some of the 111,829 maize-and-blued fans hiking from all over to the Big House for the Ohio State game, and it blew their minds.
It was such a fun weekend that it started me thinking. The boys and I have done a lot here. We’ve hammered out “Hail To The Victors” on that pipe organ at the Hands-On Museum. We’ve learned how to pronounce Mackinac and Hamtramck. We’ve cultivated an instinct to turn on the air conditioner when it’s 75 degrees out.
We’re Michiganders, dammit. High five!