Detroit, I love you.

This summer, a dream came true for me.  I was hired by Budget Travel to take photos of my hometown, Detroit, MI.   It's no secret that Detroit landed on hard times after the riots in 1967.  Until a couple of years ago, the reaction to hearing I grew up in Detroit was always a kind of a wince.  Lately though, with Detroit being so darling to the media, that grimace has shifted into eyebrows raised with curious, if skeptical, approval.  It's finally ok to be from Detroit.  

I have always been proud that I grew up in Detroit and so I was thrilled at the opportunity to reconnect with the people and place.  Though I grew up in the inner-city and return to Michigan at least once a year, my family lives outside of the city now and I hadn't really had a chance to dig in and see all the changes that have happened to this place that I feel so grateful to be from. 

Much of the media hype has been about all of the new restaurants and it's true, there are a lot (really a lot!) of new restaurants and the food is really, really good!  But more important to me was to see things like the James Scott Memorial Fountain on Belle Isle (a beautiful park on an island in the Detroit River) have water in it for the first time in my lifetime.  Also, to see places like D'mongos CafĂ© reopened and packed with people after it closed in the late 80's because the neighborhood had become untenably dangerous.  It was, at times,  strange and sad to feel a little lost on certain blocks.  I realized I was looking for landmark buildings to ground me as to where I was but then it registered that the building I was looking for had been torn down.  It was sort of like coming up from the subway after 9/11 and looking for the World Trade Center to figure out which way was South.

Gentrification is always complicated and never perfect.  The story of Detroit is no different.  I spoke to bitter long time residents of the Cass Corridor (now Midtown) who felt like the attention Detroit has been receiving lately ignores that they have stayed through the bad times and would now be priced out of the place they had made habitable.  But I also met young, creative people who felt they had found a new home there and it was great to see their pride in fixing up their places and making themselves a part of the fabric of this place.

I could go on and on (and on) with how my heart melts for this place and how I hope Detroit and Detroiters get all they deserve because it and they are that special, but let's get to the pics. I shot way too much and the magazine could only fit a fraction in so I put in some of my favorites and then the magazine is way at the bottom if you get that far.

Here's Larry Mongo, owner of D'mongo's Speakeasy. 

My lucky glass at  D'Mongo's.
The interior of D'Mongo's.

The interior of D'Mongo's.

A crowd forms outside of D'Mongo's on a Saturday night.

Next stop after D'Mongo's:  Coney Island.  A coney island is a late night Detroit staple…a hot dog smothered in chili and chopped white onions. 

The friendly staff at American Coney Island.  If this place is too shiny and new, directly next door is  Lafayette Coney Island which boasts that they have been open for 100 years.

Artist Greg Fadell who just had a show at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit and who happens to have his studio in my old homeroom classroom which also houses a montessori school and Cinema Detroit, Detroit's only independent, first-run movie theater.

Drummer extraordinaire, Efe Bes, gives Aurelie McCarus a lesson on his eclectic drum set.

A bicycler enjoys the recently finished Dequindre Cut, a greenway trail with amazing art along the way.

The James Scott Memorial Fountain on Belle Isle.

An intense dance-off between 2 10 year olds at the Charivari Electronic Music Festival (see my instagram feed for great video of this).

Belle Isle

Belle Isle
Dancer/actor/massage therapist Fred Simmons rips it up at Charivari.

Kristen Kosa assembles watches at the Shinola Factory.

In 1998, Dabl was given this property for a handshake.  Located a stone’s throw from the freeway, there wasn’t much value to it, but Dabl was looking for a spot to open his African Bead Museum and he felt that this place was as good as any.  There’s an empty field next to the building and one day, while walking through it, Dabl found a piece of old, broken rock that had rusty iron embedded in it.  Dabl noticed that the rust from the metal was leaching out into the concrete and he thought, “Ah, iron teaches rocks how to rust”.  So began Dabl’s epic allegory about the power of rocks to manipulate other materials like wood and glass and how they eventually wriggle out of iron’s spell to find their own strength and freedom.  Dabl is a story teller and his work is a must-see.  At the other end of the field is a house that he has completely covered in a beautiful, powerful mosaic.

Stevie and Diana

More incredible murals

I can't say that this is the best soul food in Detroit but, I can definitely say, it's really, really good!

Don't be alarmed by the bullet-proof glass!

I recommend the 4 wing dinner.

Sweet potato pie from Love's Bakery.  So good!

Yummy Michigan cherry ice cream at Mootown Ice Cream, located in Eastern Market, Detroit's historic farmer's market .

Mr. Hush who, along with his wife, tends this neighborhood garden on the east side of Detroit.

Southwest Detroit is traditionally the latino part of Detroit.  Tagging and graffiti have always been a huge part of the tradition here but in recent years a couple of organizations have taken it to a new level in order to beautify the city and solidify the community.  An organization called Urban Neighborhood Initiatives started Southwest Urban Arts Mural Project (SUAMP) employs high school students and young adults to paint murals around the neighborhood.  They also help their employees with other training and employment programs.  Many of them go to art school after this experience. Also, Erik Howard created TAP (The Alley Project): a new take on the gallery experience.  Artists have painted garage doors in an alley and the the public is welcome to explore it.

Welcome to El Parian, the best taco truck in Detroit, located in a car wash parking lot on the corner of  Vernor and Dix.  

You can get your carwash for $4 and eat this for $6.

Orange Crush is the beverage of choice.

This is Suzy Garza-Villarreal who owns and  runs  Nuevo Leon Tamaleria.  Garza-Villarreal learned how to make tamales from her parents who started the business in 1957.  She now runs it with the help of her son and at Christmas time she says she sells more than 70,000 tamales.  But beware, cash only.

It's self-serf only at the family owned and run La Gloria Bakery which was started by Juanita Gonzalez Franco’s father.  She now runs it with the help of her husband, brother and kids.  Walk in, grab a tray and make your own mix of traditional mexican sweet treats.  Also, their tortillas are incredible!

Here's Harmonica Shaw, born in Austin, TX, he's been playing the blues on the harmonica for as long as he or anyone else can remember.

And last but by no means least, here is a group that calls themselves Bike Life Detroit.  The have an incredible collection of bikes that they ride the city with.  I pointed out that no one was wearing helmets and they said, "That's how we roll."