January 1, 2010

Jim Griffioen's Version

Jim and his wife Sara's blog 'Sweet Juniper' helps to explain the adventures of parenting in Detroit.


Did you see correlation between your experience of Detroit and the media's depiction in 2009?

Yes. In 2009 I received anywhere from 3 to 10 emails a week from some journalists somewhere asking me to help them with their stories about Detroit because they've come across my website, and I'm just some white guy who moved here from California four years ago. Before the 2009 media orgy really built up steam I did show a few journalists around. I was the bookish band geek who'd caught the eye of the high school quarterback ("Time Magazine wants me to show them around!") after a couple weeks of that I became the raspy-voiced slut smoking a cigarette in the back seat of Vice Magazine's 1983 Trans Am. When Vice asked me to show them around I said 'no I'm not showing any more New Yorkers around Detroit' and then they asked me if I would help them write a story about why I didn't want to show any more New Yorkers around Detroit. That turned into a widely-read story on the Detroit national media shitstorm. I hope some of these people parachuting in to write about the city are more aware now that everyone else has been ridiculed for working from the same preconceived template.

What'll be different about 2010- for the city? For you personally?

I try not to pay too much attention to what year it is. If I do I just start feeling old, like when you see that kids born in 1992 can buy cigarettes now.

Why do you live in Detroit? How's it different from other places?

I moved here intentionally from San Francisco. The people who can't understand why we love Detroit often cite silly reasons like a lack of "shopping" or "ethnic dining" when pressed about why they wouldn't want to live here. In San Francisco or New York or Chicago, I always find myself retreating into the mentality of a "consumer." What can I buy? What is the trendiest place to eat? I had to consume in order to justify how hard I was working at a job that paid well but did nothing for my spirit. Unfortunately, neither did buying "stuff." In Detroit, the landscape is different. With so little commercial activity, the feeling of being just another consumer is flipped to where almost by necessity your creative instincts take over. I like to think that the landscape of other cities trains you to be a consumer; in Detroit, you have to be creative just to survive.

But even as a consumer in Detroit, you have the chance to support endeavors started by other creative people you might have a personal relationship with, or businesses that have stuck around for years because the national chains never bothered coming here. It's been said before in a variety of ways, but I really love that the city seems to nourish a creative spirit in just about anyone who comes here (though, without tempering some expectations it is easy to be overzealous and ultimately disappointed).

What kind of things do you get into in Detroit? Do you have a job? What is it? Why not do it in Royal Oak? in Chicago? NYC?

As a parent, I don't get out much in the evening. I enjoy exploring the city with my kids, especially in the warmer months on our modified 1962 Schwinn 3-seater racer. We love looking for pheasants. We like all the nature and overgrown stuff. I grew up in the country and parts of Detroit feel a lot more like the places I explored as a kid than anything out in the suburbs or even the now-developed area where I grew up (outside Kalamazoo). I also like meeting people I'd never encounter in a suburb or some big city full of other boring yuppies just like me.

As far as a job, I was a lawyer in San Francisco but haven't had a real job here other than taking care of my kids and maintaining a blog that reaches a few thousand people every day and actually pays the bills.

What's your favorite thing that happened here in 2009?

The grand opening of the Dequindre Cut. There were marching bands, free food, hundreds of bikes and pedestrians and dogwalkers, and an appearance from Mayor Bing. It was a beautiful day and everyone out there had a really good time.


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