Saturday, September 01, 2012

Essence of Ann Arbor

For a while now, I've been wanting to write a post about Ann Arbor, but I struggled with what image to associate with the city.  I suppose, for many people, the words "Ann Arbor" bring to mind the U of M football stadium, a.k.a "The Big House" ...



...but for me, it doesn't mean anything.  First of all, even though I went to U of M for a while, I don't consider it my alma mater in any shape or form.  I don't wear the maize and blue, deep down I'm a Michigan Tech Husky at heart - I wear the black and gold.  When I was an MBA student at the U of M in the early 90s, I used to buy season tickets to the football games for others with my student discount, and I even attended one (actually a half) of a game, and decided I wouldn't need to go back any time soon.  Your "seat" is actually only a marked 18 inches of allowable butt width on a bench, and evidently a lot of U of M fans are super fat, at least they were in my row.   So I never got to sit down, and it was blisteringly hot and very, very crowded.  So, unless I get invited to one of the new sky boxes, I think I'd just rather watch the football game at home on TV.    But I think it would be fun to go to the tailgate parties instead of the actual game, maybe I'll try that this year.  The funny thing about U of M football fans is that they are usually people that would never, ever be accepted into the university...you'd think that for that reason alone, they'd root for Michigan State.  But no, it seems that the Wolverines attract a certain segment of the population that has been dubbed the "Walmart Wolverines" in this spoof of the Pure Michigan ads.  

So, what image best conjures up Ann Arbor?   Maybe it's John Sinclair....

 
 I guess these days most people wouldn't know who John Sinclair is, and I can remember trying to explain who he was and what he did to my niece when she was considering attending U of M, but it's hard to explain why so many people cared that a guy got thrown in jail for smoking pot in the early 1970s to a teenager in this generation.   Besides, Ann Arbor is no where near as funky and earthy as it was back then.   As I am fond of saying "Ypsi is the new Ann Arbor" these days.   Ypsilanti, the town due east of Ann Arbor, is where all the hippies live now.    Speaking of Ypsi, at least they have a landmark that everyone recognizes as true Ypsi....



There are places I am very fond of visiting in Ann Arbor, such as the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market... 


...but I can't say that it brings the city of Ann Arbor to my mind right away.   For many people, especially the tourists, I guess Ann Arbor means Zingerman's....


...and while I like Zingerman's, should a city's iconic image be a business?  I don't think so.   Maybe the Ann Arbor Art Fair?


Nah...it's another tourist destination avoided by most locals and, like Ann Arbor's hippie counter culture, is a shadow of it's former self.  

I guess the bottom line is that the essence of Ann Arbor really can't be captured in an image, because it is so many things to me.  I'll try to use words to describe it instead:

  • Smart people - sometimes too smart for their own good.  In Ann Arbor, you can always find someone that knows (or thinks they know) more than you do about something.  This can be helpful sometimes and irritating a lot of the time.  
  • Multicultural - In Ann Arbor, it truly is a melting pot of people from all over the place.  For that reason, if you are looking for an obscure ingredient to make an ethnic dish you once read about in Saveur, you can find it somewhere in this town.
  • Open minded - say you want to do something a little out of the mainstream, like have a blessing ceremony for your same sex union on the vernal equinox presided over by a warlock, you can do it in Ann Arbor.  It would be easy to pull together in a few hours.   You want to walk down the street wearing a bishop's mitre and a racoon skin coat and orange corduroys?  Go right ahead - no one will bat an eye.  I've seen it done - in fact I used to play guitar with a guy that this was his regular "about town" outfit. 
  • Temporary - Ann Arbor is a town that many people spend some time in, but few people spend their life here.   People are always moving from and to Ann Arbor, as a result, I find I know people all over the world now that I met here first.   I'm one of the minority that has hung around - it will be 20 years this fall. 
So, what's Ann Arbor mean to you?  Do tell...










9 comments:

Trina44 said...

Great post, funny I found your blog after I moved out of Michigan. I lived about 45 minutes West of Ann Arbor for 8 years. Talk about small world, my husband went to Michigan Tech too, when were you there, if he was he probably knew you because what you were like one out of ten girls there?

Cynthia said...

Good to meet you Trina - I like retro fashion, too. I was at MTU during the 80s....1982 - 1989. I technically live west of A2 myself...closer to Dexter than Ann Arbor.

Jeannette said...

I agree I enjoy the tailgates more than the games. If the traffic wasn't so difficult I would just drive home during the game then return for the after game celebration.

My experience on the Huron River Rat side of the city is that people leave for a time but return to Ann Arbor because there is no place like it. We are constantly running into someone Jim knows from high school. They have amazing stories and they all seemed to start by taking Humanities at Huron.

TeacherPatti said...

Unfortunately, it is quickly becoming a boutique town for rich people. When I first came here in the early 90s (just on visits from my alma mater, Adrian College), the downtown was funktacular. Now, we have stores that sell only cherry stuff, fancy paper, $200 wind chimes but I can't get a notebook, a hammer or a pair of pantyhose (unless I walk to the chain store on State). We still have some good restaurants--the Grange comes to mind--but I can't afford to eat there more than maybe once a month. 60% of UM students have parents who earn more than $100,000 per year and who now live in luxury lofts that offer breakfast in bed, 50 inch flat screen TVs and spas.
I love this place--please don't misunderstand. But until this year, I thought I would live here forever but given our governor and the way downtown is basically a backyard for rich people...well, I just don't know if I belong here anymore.
Sorry to be the turd in the punchbowl today, but this has been on my mind for some time.

Tracy Wood said...

Two of my kids are/were students at UM, but my hubby is a total MSU guy....undergrad and graduate school...I think lots of Michigan families can say the same. Makes for interesting football Saturdays!! The best thing about Ann Arbor? My kids live there and they are close to home!!

Cynthia said...

Patti, I can remember when the owner of the store Acme Merchantile downtown said she wanted to provide a place for people to buy everyday items, but then she sold a bunch of kitschy gifts and hemp clothes instead. Why? That stuff sells. I have come to peace with it, because Ann Arbor is now a tourist attraction. If you want funky, Ypsi is where it's at these days.

TeacherPatti said...

Interesting! So who buys it? The rich tourist people?
It just makes me sad because I know what this town once was and I also see what it is becoming.

Trina44 said...

I used to work for Dexter Builders for 3 years. I was behind the old grocery store in town and then we were behind the Dexter Bakery, small world hugh. I used to live in Grass Lake but is was closer to Stockbridge. He was at Tech in the 90's.

Amy said...

Interesting - I went to Madison, and it sounds like your post could have been written about that college town, too.