It’s fine to admit, unless you’re from Detroit, that you may only know the city through Martin reruns and a mayoral sex scandal. OK, cool—but just know that that scandal is nearly a decade old and Martin has been off the air for almost twice as long. Before and after, Detroit has always been incomparable to any other city on planet Earth.
You might also know us for Motown and Motown only, but we also gave you Aretha Franklin (who did not, contrary to popular belief, ever record for Motown), the Dramatics, the Spinners, John Lee Hooker, Alicia Myers, Donald Byrd, Big Sean, the Winans family, an entire genre of Detroit techno and plenty of others. (We also gave you Jack White, who gave us “Don’t Hurt Yourself” on Lemonade, so you’re welcome, Beyhive.) And music only scratches the surface.
Some of the world’s most renowned architects—Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Albert Kahn, Minoru Yamasaki, to name a few—have practiced here. And the cars, obviously. All three American automakers—General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler—have their headquarters in or around the city. And before you say “bankruptcy,” know that the city never turned its lights off to the hundreds of artists, chefs, writers, designers and other creatives who have always called this place home.
That’s just what visitors see, though. Everyday life in Detroit, the real nuance of what it’s like to live here, is truly something else, but there’s no other place we’d rather be. I don’t like to say “real Detroiters” often, since the new crop of arrivals get all sensitive about it, but real Detroiters know exactly what I’m talking about with these 10 factoids.
Aaron Foley is editor of BLAC Detroit Magazine and author of the 2015 book How to Live in Detroit Without Being a Jackass. He’s hustled harder for longer than the T-shirt company has been around. Follow him on Twitter.
1. You or a loved one drive a Monte Carlo, Charger or Tahoe/Yukon.
The official automotive trilogy of Detroit—beloved by your uncle, your daddy, your barber, your hairstylist, your weed man, your pastor, your local up-and-coming rapper, your child’s kindergarten teacher, your child as soon as he or she gets off the graduated permit. Honorary mention to the Chrysler 300 and 2000s-era conversion vans with aftermarket wheels.
2. Anita Baker’s entire discography is embedded in your brain.
From the very beginning with Chapter 8’s “I Just Wanna Be Your Girl” to her solo single “Lately,” you know every lyric and ad-lib thanks to years of her dominance on WJLB’s quiet storm, 107.5 (before it was hot), 92.3 and 105.9. See also: Kem.
3. You can’t wait for winter because you know your wardrobe is going to be on point.
Furs. Olde English D fitted caps and puffy vests. Furs. Heavy designer denim. Timbs. Cole Haan boots. Furs. Shearlings. Bhogalli leathers. Furs. It’s lit.
4. When white people get into a Coney Island debate over Lafayette and American, you laugh and go to L. George’s.
Or Sherwood. Or Grandy’s. Or A. Eagle’s. Or Nicky D’s. Or Detroit One. Or Legends. Or Universal. Or Olympia. Or literally any other Coney Island (what the rest of y’all might call a “diner”) in the city that’s not Lafayette or American. The city is full of Coney Islands, not just the ones downtown. And you know this because you actually know that there’s a world outside of downtown Detroit.
5. You or someone you love currently has pit bull puppies for sale.
Somebody off Cadieux/Fenkell/Tireman/Six Mile (not McNichols) got pits for $150 each, all shots, dewormed.
6. You know this church ain’t ever getting finished.
The New Perfecting Church on Seven Mile and Woodward has been under construction since God was a boy. What’s going to be done first—this, the old train station or the Packard Plant?
7. Food from other cultures is just as good as, if not better than, soul food.
Yeah, Detroit is the blackest city in America and has been for a while, but there’s a reason there’s always a 20-minute wait at Bucharest Grill on Jefferson no matter how early you put the order in. You love the Middle Eastern, Asian and Mexican restaurants just a little bit more; admit it. I’ll see y’all at Benihana.
8. Belle Isle Park isn’t quite the same after the state takeover, but you still go.
You’ve been taking your classic car to Belle Isle for years, and the lack of a state permit isn’t going to stop you now. Your family reunion is still going to be there, and so will your church picnic. The giant slide isn’t yellow anymore, but it’s still there. And maybe the zoo will open back up one day. One day.
9. We can make up a hustle to anything.
Detroiters would hustle to “The Star-Spangled Banner” if we could. Or maybe we already do? Y’all know it’s a billion hustles out there.
10. You’re ready to defend Detroit to the death at any moment.
We can talk about it all we want because we know it. But anyone else with the audacity, the gall, the nerve, to ever say anything sideways about Detroit—a misunderstood city in the eyes of many, but nothing but home for those of us who have the privilege of living here—had better watch it. Be easy when you come around this way. We still love you, though.