When the weather finally broke, it did so with conviction. Two weeks of perfect weather announced spring’s overdue arrival. At the Sullivan House, it meant open windows, and open doors. The safety gates I installed at both sets of porch stairs plus a backyard privacy fence means the dogs get free range from the front porch to the backyard in warmer weather.
As plants and weeds started poking out of the ground, we quickly pivoted priorities to landscaping before it could get out of control. Our mantra is low-maintenance. Anyone who visited us frequently in Warren knows how overwhelming that yard was (double lot, huge hedges, huge beds, and a pond). We can tackle projects, but everything falls apart when it’s time for regular maintenance. We all hate mowing the lawn. Overgrown lawns and hedges were hallmarks of our previous home.
So my plans to sod our backyard disaster here didn’t ring true. We still had ivy around the perimeter and the south side of the yard was still mostly covered by it, but it was largely crushed by the backhoe and subsequent foot traffic in the central part of the yard. Thistles had come last year in force and it took days to beat them back. Sod seemed the obvious solution, but I felt like that much more lawn would put us back into motored lawnmower territory.
The neighborhood has felt different to me since the boiler started its work this fall. A summer of work on the front porch and with open windows made me feel connected to the neighborhood. I was inundated with neighbors saying hello. I felt like neighborhood crime was an aberration – who could commit theft or assault when the neighborhood was overflowing with concerned citizens?
Our contractor Andy was last here in early November. We started easing off the pedal as the cold descended on us and it was time for my bank account to mend itself over winter. It was very odd to not have him around. It was reassuring to have someone else continuing to push things forward even while we were occupied by other work.
An incomprehensible amount changed in the year and a day since everything went to Hell. I fell in love. I became a Detroiter. I own a toolbox now, am a mean hand with a drill, and can coat a wall in drywall mud like a pro. I’ve painted walls 35 different colors, met dozens of new people, and vaulted over fences to answer cries for help. I have a contractor, an electrician, a boiler specialist, an attorney, a mason, and a hundred volunteers. We bought a stake in the city and brought a house back to life. Everything is different, and so, so good.
It’s beautiful, cold, and lovely out there tonight. Stay warm, and hey… don’t forget to shovel your snow (mail carriers and dog walkers appreciate it!)
Make your KID shovel your snow if you have one!
A job posting on Microsoft’s Careers page lists a position open for “Store Manager” in Detroit, Michigan. This is interesting because while many new restaurants and bars have opened, there’s been a dearth of new higher-end retail shops in the city for the last several years—especially downtown. According to the Detroit Free Press, Moosejaw is the only “significant” new retailer to open downtown since CVS in 2006.
Image from content.microsoftstore.com
The job posting claims the location is Detroit, Michigan. Sometimes, this means metro Detroit, but I think in the case of Microsoft Careers, they actually mean Detroit—they list other Michigan cities specifically (such as Southfield, as shown in this job search). It’s reasonably safe to assume that a retail store opening in Troy (say, at Somerset Collection) would say Troy, MI. Furthermore, a listing of other Microsoft retail stores around the country shows that in other large metropolitan areas, such as Los Angeles, the individual cities are indeed shown on the listings. Continue reading
Tonight, at least ten shots were fired from an SUV, and a man was killed on the sidewalk, about a thousand feet from my front door.
Lincoln jumped up from his chair and ran downstairs, asking if we had heard the commotion (we didn’t). He heard the gunshots and saw the SUV speeding south down Avery.
I called Wayne State Police and was told by the dispatcher that they already had several calls about the incident and they were on it, and did I have a description of the vehicle? I did not and they thanked me for the call. By the time I hung up, there were four police cars arriving on the scene; this is less than five minutes after the shooting. Both Detroit and Wayne State Police were on the scene, and EMS was on its way.
I immediately went to a private Facebook group for our neighborhood and asked if anybody knew what happened. Within moments, responses started flooding in. Continue reading
The last unfinished area in the living space of the house was the dining room. I’ve taken to calling it “the pub,” and its full name (courtesy of its five sponsors) is the “Mighty Worriers Mead Hall.” I really like its position at the rear south corner of the house, out of the normal traffic flow between the front and rear doors. It has very heavy wood trim and crown molding (including wood beams across the ceiling) that immediately made me want to style it on a classic British pub.
Mike Duggan, now former CEO of Detroit Medical Center, has announced that as of tomorrow, he will be pursuing a Mayoral campaign full-time. The full text of the letter is as follows:
Detroit is fascinating, wonderful, and terrible. We’ve had our share of ups and downs, and we hear gunshots at night, and there are car thefts and vandalism on our street, but none of us have any regrets about where we’ve moved, and so far at least, the positive far outweighs the negative.
But it’s not like that for everyone. We’re lucky that this neighborhood is among the safest in the city. We’re lucky that we have neighbors that watch out for suspicious activity and that watch out for each other. We’re luck that when we call the police, they show up immediately. Other parts of the city are not so fortunate as us.
A discussion on Reddit today reminds us that while positive growth is happening all over our city, other parts are a terrifying warzone, and the bad guys are winning. We can’t close our eyes to this and pretend everything’s okay—it’s not. Not by a long shot.
Yesterday I was followed by a Twitter account named @Konbini_CC. The words jumped out at me immediately: “Detroit’s Delivery Service”. I dug in a little deeper and discovered that Konbini is a service that promises home delivery of sundry groceries and packaged food items anywhere in our neighborhood as well as Corktown, Lafayette Park, New Center, Downtown, and Midtown.
A few things really stood out and they are things that I believe will make this work:
- The items themselves are reasonably priced and available in individual quantities.
- The entire system is all e-commerce and you can use debit or credit cards
- The delivery fee is reasonable
- They deliver until 3am
This is a novel idea for a small business, and it’s one that I think will work in this area. It’s like other quirky, modern small businesses (such as Detroit Greencycle curbside recycling pickup in Woodbridge) that have popped up to serve the burgeoning group of connected consumers in these growing areas of the city. Continue reading
These days, when I get the frequent “How’s the house going?” question, my answer is that our remaining big-ticket items are the rain gutters, siding, and carriage house. I have a contractor hired for the gutters, the siding is on tap for summer 2013, but the carriage house is a story unto itself that I only tell if they really want details.
If I recite the carriage house’s litany of problems and recommended repairs (a long list of structural reinforcements), the inevitable next question is, “Have you thought about just tearing it down?”
You see a lot of entertaining things when you spend time walking around the city.
Today we took a four mile walk with our dog. We went from the house to the corner of Woodward and Warren, down Woodward to Ye Olde Butcher Shoppe, and then back to Woodbridge via MLK Jr.
Along the way, we saw a lot of entertaining and interesting sights. The first thing I noticed it that there is some kind of new art project/tagging project going on. On random sidewalk blocks and spots on the ground throughout my entire path, I saw black squares spraypainted with yellow crosses. I have no idea what they symbolize or what the message is. Continue reading
Not that long ago, I got into an argument with a professional acquaintance. It started off as a discussion, but the things he was saying were so blatantly false that I began to get angry. I don’t often get angry, but when people spread misinformation about something important to me, and refuse to admit that they might have their ‘facts’ wrong, it really sets me off.
The issue in question was the age-old “There are no grocery stores in Detroit” conversation. This colleague was from Grand Rapids, and he was telling this to people from all over the country. A room full of people from all over the US were hearing this guy talk smack about Detroit and how there was no food here.
Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. “That is just plain false…” and we began getting into it. At one point the words, “Why would the media lie about that?” came out of his mouth. Continue reading
When one buys an historic home in an historic district, one generally acquires certain materials that were used to build said home in the era in which it was produced. Those materials, as has been revealed by modern medical science, are listed now in this more enlightened era as “hazardous” materials. I speak of things like asbestos and lead.
We need to move to Detroit more often
A lot happened over the last year. A lot of great, exciting things. Today marks one year from the day that I moved into my new home, the city of Detroit.
I started out in a 270 sq/ft studio apartment in a very eccentric building downtown called The Leland. I was severely overweight. I had no job and I was struggling to get by on unemployment. I did what I had to do to hustle and get by, while I volunteered my time trying to help a start-up get off the ground. My opportunities started to wear thin, and things were looking really grim. My car died and I had to rely only on my bike and our antiquated public transit system to get around. Then, I realized that my unemployment benefits were coming to an end.
Farewell, old friend.
Our final trip to the Warren house was this past weekend, knowing full well it would be our final opportunity to get inside. It turns out my decision to force the issue of what day to move was especially keen. Three days after we returned the truck, an eviction notice appeared on the door of the Warren house. The court date was set for one week later – today.
I’ve been living in Detroit for a week now. In that time I have:
- Eaten in Mexicantown twice
- Shopped at Eastern Market
- Walked my dog around the neighborhood every day
- Walked to Midtown
- Gone to the “Dlectricity” special event in Midtown
- Rescued a neighbor’s dog
- Met 3 new neighbors
- Been awoken by a midnight street party next door
- Watched as the only favorably-viewed city official, Police Chief Godbee, resigns amid scandal
The view from our back porch towards the two privacy fences separating us.
It was Monday morning and I was working in the office at the Sullivan House. I heard a very bad noise – something like high-pitched yelling mixed with dog screeching. I walked out on the back porch where I found Brian and Nicole looking with concern toward our neighbor’s house two doors down. Joe was in his yard next door looking in the same direction and asked loudly, “Do you need help?” The reply was a mixture of more horrible noises but I caught the word ‘help’ in there.
Brian, Nicole, and Joe all started a fast walk to the front of the houses. I looked at the two privacy fences separating us and thought, “Sure why not,” and off I went. I jumped from the porch onto the first fence, eyeing Joe’s large dog Misty. “Hope she’s as friendly as I think!” I thought as I jumped into Joe’s yard and ran across it. Misty just watched. I jumped and grabbed the top of the next privacy fence and vaulted over the top. As I hit the top, I saw a woman restraining a pit bull to keep it away from a small beagle. She was frantic and yelling barely coherently. “Well, hope I don’t get mauled!” I thought without pausing and into the yard I plunged.
We moved into Detroit on Saturday, the 29th of September, 2012. I forced the issue by scheduling the moving van because the dual-house utility bill situation was untenable. We made two trips with the moving van and got nearly everything. As of today, there’s still a car load or two of things in the Warren garage plus a few electrical fixtures we need to retrieve. It was an exhausting, 12-hour day that was only possible because of the help of our awesome friends.
Our first mission was the kitchen. That’s the one room in the house that, as of last night, was basically finished. Everything is where it goes, and oh man, what a great room. There is tremendous amounts of storage space, plenty of counter room, and the coffee / microwave table from the Warren house has been repurposed as an island. It came with casters and side pot-hanging racks that I’d just stored in the basement the last four years. Well, they’re attached now, and what a transformation. It’s probably the most fantastic repurposing of a piece of furniture I’ve ever seen.
The city inspection was… enlightening. After all my panicking over details, the inspector was completely relaxed and complimented the work we’d done. “A lot of these places are terrifying. This is a lot better than I expected,” he said after we’d completed the first floor.
When I asked about the criteria for passing, he basically indicated we weren’t anywhere near passing, saying, “Man, everyone fails. New buildings fail. They think they have paint on the walls but it’s just primer,” and so on. He probably checked even more boxes than the first inspection. Some of them weren’t even accurate, but it seems a moot point for now based on the rest of our conversation.
It was difficult to pick up the phone. It was time to deal with the thing that’s been weighing on me for nine months and it felt like the edge of the high dive. In the end, I had to drive downtown anyway to fill out the form to get a new city inspection. My destination was the Wayne County Building, the site of my closing day existential crisis. But this time, everything was different.
Tuesday was the first day of autumn in Detroit. Technically the Autumnal Equinox is Saturday, but Tuesday was the day the weather changed from shorts to pants. It was the day that hot tea mid-afternoon became a brilliant idea to ward off the chill. Down at the Sullivan House, the warmth coming from the now-functional back loop (half) of the radiator system felt wonderful on my cold hands.
With the cold came a powerful recollection of the numbness of last winter when we were focusing on bare necessities and worried for our safety. It’s amazing the difference that light, heat, and solid doors make on your perception of a place.
When I got to the house Saturday morning, I was ready to start tearing the roof off the carriage house. Our friend Ryan drove into town from Wisconsin to help, and a dumpster had been delivered for depositing the carnage. But you know the day is going to have a twist when Andy, our contractor, greets you with “You want the good news or the bad news? The good news is it’s a sunny day.”
When Andy had climbed the ladder to the carriage house roof, the entire building shifted. Further review of the structure inside made him believe the entire building was listing to one side and might possibly be ready to tip over. Our plans for the day were immediately scrapped and reorganized, and we made some calls to get a second opinion on the carriage house’s condition. I did my best to remain calm.
I’ve been a massive ball of stress lately. We don’t know when eviction might come at the Warren house, and we don’t know how much notice we’ll get. The uncertainty creates massive anxiety for all of us, because there are a lot of steps to be taken before we can safely move in to the Sullivan House.
I didn’t really see how tightly I was wound though until I left town for the fourth annual Icrontic Rennfaire event in Maryland. Despite having no time to relax, the Rennfaire is, to me, non-optional. It’s the only time I get to visit my awesome friends Anne & Eli in Alexandria, VA each year, and I’ve never missed one. So, off I went. And when I came back, everything was different.
“Hipsters go home” was the comment on Reddit in /r/Detroit in response to an article on Huffington Post entitled “Detroit: From Ruin Porn to Cool Again“.
This is a common theme in discussions on Reddit and in other online forums. A few times a month, someone comes in to the Detroit subreddit asking about the city (I’m moving to Detroit, what’s good?) and living there (Is Detroit really as bad as they say?). Almost inevitably, there will be someone mentioning the “hipsters” and how they’re bad/good/awesome/terrible for the city.
There seems to be an undercurrent of loathing for these hipsters that are somehow ruining everything that was ever cool about Detroit. I can’t tell if it’s bitterness that suburban kids who used to party in the city couldn’t make a go of it, or if it’s somehow racially motivated (there are black hipsters too!), or if it’s just the general attitude that comes with any revival or change movement. There’s a lot of resentment, regardless. Some of it takes the flavor of “We’re doing just fine without you, stay out” while others seem to be of the mindset that hipsters are only here for the short-term, and once they realize how gritty the city actually is, they’ll bail to fairer shores.
We’ve been working our tails off to get moved into the Sullivan House by the end of the month. It’s a breakneck pace, and it’s wearing us down pretty fast. I arrived at the house before 8am today to have the kitchen floor measured. Today was special because several key things came together.
First, we now have wifi. Internet means I can do my job (for Vanilla Forums) from the house. Second, we have a water filter installed and a microwave. That means… hot tea!
I sat out on the porch for the first half of my day, the morning summer sun rising. Joggers, deliverymen, neighbors walking dogs, flier hangers, and the postwoman all passed by. A neighbor moved in. I waved to a lot of people. And worked. It was a perfect peaceful morning and I got a ton done.
As I sipped on my tea to keep warm, it hit me: this is my new morning commute. After all this moving crap is done… I get to sit on the porch of our new castle to do what I love while the neighborhood hums quietly around me.
It’s a downhill boulder now. Boxes are packed up at our old house, we’ve moved several things already, and contractors are at the house almost every day working on getting things ready.
Today we accepted delivery of a new stove, and a masonry contractor came out to give us a quote on chimney repairs. The Soley guys are just about finished installing the ultra high-tech condensing boiler system that makes our basement look even more like a mad scientist laboratory. They’ve also re-plumbed the hot water line in the house, replacing a bunch of useless old galvanized pipe, and removed the old water tank.