My love affair with Michigan is no big secret. I’ve been professing my admiration and affection the last couple of years like Mr. Darcy finally proposing to Elizabeth: “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
Truth be told, since I’ve been back in Michigan after a long time away, I keep discovering how little I’ve really seen of our great state. I was overwhelmed with the beauty of Drummond Island when I went for the first time last year, and with the deep dive I did in Traverse City cherries this past summer. There’s so much Pure Michigan to love, and so little time.
Last week when I walked past Casper’s house on Main Street, Jim Jr. was sitting on the porch and started talking about the Eastern Market in Detroit, where he goes very early on Saturday mornings to get the best produce and meats around.
It’s true that when Jimmy Casper talks, you can’t help but get excited about whatever it is, from the mushrooms he just sautéed with his eggs to his CrossFit program to how much his son, Jim the third, is just like him. No wonder my brother spent the better part of his childhood with Jim, roaming the lesser traveled environs wherever the families were, Up North or down state, in search of fun (BB guns in tow).
In that moment last week, I knew I had to get to Detroit as soon as possible. The Eastern Market looms large as the great Midwestern mecca of all fruit and vegetables—and for me, the great unknown. It never crossed my mind, ever in all the years I grew up and lived in Michigan, to actually go there. That’s because the market is in Detroit, real Detroit and not Somerset Mall or Birmingham. But now that I’m back in these parts, the city doesn’t concern me like it must have long ago. Eastern Market has been on my ever-growing hit list of Michigan must-see, must-do ever since I came back two years ago.
Mom, Peg and I headed over last Saturday, early. Along the way, Mom reminisced about going to the market with my dad, right down to the bushels of Beefsteak tomatoes they brought back with them some 40 years ago. Detroit is where my parents went to school, where they met and fell in love. So the city’s demise has been a particular sadness for Mom.
What we found there, though, was less about the burn out and more about a thriving heartbeat in a struggling city. There were the endless corridors of produce, of course, but also artisanal makers, a strong local and Made-in-Michigan theme, and the music and rapping and buzz of a place that is alive in every way.
Fewer and fewer cars dotted the highway the closer we got to Detroit, but once off that and on the city streets surrounding the market, the Motor City made good on its name. What a pleasure it was to fight for parking spots.
Perhaps it’s all of the years of city-living in Chicago that makes Detroit feel more like an old friend to me now than an unknown lost soul. But I think it’s even more personal than that. What might have been, the glory that could have and should have been Detroit proper, looms large in my mind there. It’s a familiar sense, one I work hard to keep at bay about myself too. What in my life could have been, should have been. But is not.
The Eastern Market gave me many things, not the least of which was an unbelievable apricot hand pie and a Detroit Coney Island lunch. And not the least of which was a message of resilience, keep-at-it, and let the coulda-woulda-shoulda that exists in every life be not a drag, not a downer, but a catalyst to keep driving us forward.