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An Unfinished Book

Ever thought about writing a book? Well I have but I never finished it.

 

Here’s an excerpt:

 

He had been home for no more than three days before the vexatious groans of home life brushed the halls like Christmas songs. To Michael, his mother and soon to be stepfather rarely seemed to fit, like pieces to different puzzles.  Still they never bickered, but carried a childish infatuation towards each other. At night through the faint sounds of feral cats rummaging through the garbage bins he forgot to seal he could hear her strident giggle.  They built conversation for hours on nothing. Had they really known the others deepest thoughts, fears, quirks? Hardly. Michael assumed the customary engagement or even dating process that would naturally diverge these two people would take place after the first few months.

When he first encountered Steve four and a half months ago—the observant son figured himself clever with the added half to account for their first bump at a local Save-a-lot on the east side of Flint Township before weeks later at a swap meet. They would run into one another on multiple occasions, it was a small place. His mother believed chance had blessed her so much that she overlooked the road signs that they might be moving a little pell-mell. Especially considering her circumstance.  One weekend in late January, when Michael was visiting his mother, this meaty, considerable man with harsh breath and a chipped tooth approached them in the hygiene section no less. A comical notion to Michael now as Steve stumbled through his vows. He was in the middle of a cheap tact at being romantic about finding his true soul mate or something or the other.

It seemed the recent loss of her husband made Judy ring the dinner bell for the local stray dogs. And today being breaths away made him itch to write down the image for later. He snapped back into focus on Steve. That tooth. Anyone would find it difficult not to fixate on it at least for a moment. And Michael didn’t attempt to suppress this will. It was just Steve.

Overall he was a good-looking man, in the way that a shirt and tie could benefit any homeless man with good posture. Even for a man approaching the golden years of life and far from his peak condition of college, he carried himself well. Decades ago he received a football scholarship from Michigan Technical University in the hills of the Upper Peninsula. Halfway into his sophomore year he stopped playing—Michael attributed it to lack of performance, Steve to injury. Still he would major in aerospace engineering. After college, he picked up a job at a local car dealership and never felt the need to do more. It fit him well. He could dress professionally and undergo a power struggle with each costumer. In fact, he felt so passionate about it any mention of a car sent him to relive his inept feelings. Uncanny for a man his age about work, spitting mumbo jumbo about new shipments, models and discounts to apply in any situation. ‘The dance’ as he described it on multiple occasions, the relationship between the costumer and the dealer enthralled him. He had a niche for storytelling. Like a scratched CD repeating itself, his most memorable example was being thrown like a gladiator into the lion’s den. Sometimes Michael pondered on the riddle of who was the lion in these parables, even though he had no interest in any of this man’s business or minute triumphs he amused Steve with waning attention.

Mr. Harden was not a bad man in Michael’s opinion, just common. He neither felt compelled to relate to or care for him since soon enough he would be going back to school. If he could have missed the wedding due to class it wouldn’t have caused much disturbance. This always kept a comfortable distance between them, but both kept to formalities nonetheless in an unspoken agreement. True it had only been a few months, but even Steve recognized the needlessness to infer into his new future son’s life. Steve charged it to age and trying to relate to a kid in college was useless.

Neither drugs nor alcohol contributed to his stepfather’s deep obsession with presentation. Steve Harden was always ‘on,’ and he never failed to bring his cape or enlist others into his façade. He enjoyed seeing others be perfect without feeling it necessary for him to lead by example, as they say. There, snuggly in his world is where Judy fit. His mother Judy was a kind soul born past her time. She cooked, cleaned, found purpose in all the motherly duties and depended heavily on men to support her. Something that made Michael feel a small fire between his eyes whenever he sat on the thought too long. It wasn’t that her lifestyle called for lavish items but she simply could not do for herself past a certain point. She married Michael’s father right out of high school. Judy always contained herself in a manner straight out of an etiquette book. Her older brother, who now resides in Saginaw, once referred to her as the poor man’s Mary Poppins. Only in real life these motherly attributes stirred poorly with her only son. Michael had no close relatives his age growing up and passed his time mostly alone in an aching home built in the late 1920s by Irish immigrants looking to find a sustainable life.

The small sampling crammed into the hall and watched the couple faithfully.  A man that looked to be on the edge of some fatal heart attack croaked. Steve raised an eyebrow, still concentrating on his love for his bride, and grinning affectionately.

Today they married in a quiet ceremony hall just off of Court Street in downtown Flint. They each had a handful of guests to witness the marriage even though they had already signed all the marriage papers and it had been official for a week now. So many people held their tongue about the whole situation many thought it best to just not go. The tension during the wedding was a mixture of confusion and curiosity. Later in the privacy of their homes and inner circles, mostly the women of similar old age would gossip. The speculation about how this mystery man appeared made some chalked it up to true love, but they were just being facetious.  Next was Judy, was she cheating on her husband before his tragic accident? Was this kind woman leading a double life? Was it impossible? Finally, after joy and anger, most empathized for Michael and how tragic any one of their theories might have been for him. He had always been so quiet.

Thoughts?

Fellow Spotlight Blog: Annie Hakim

In this week’s Fellow Spotlight, we are checking in with Annie Hakim. She fills us in on what she enjoys most about Detroit, her host company, RecoveryPark, and what she enjoys most about being a Challenge Detroit Fellow.

Tell us about living in Detroit. What neighborhood do you live in and what things make it unique and exciting?

I live on the 19th floor of a high-rise apartment on historic Washington Blvd. in Downtown Detroit. From my balcony I can see Comerica Park, Ford Field, the Detroit River, and Downtown Detroit’s business district. The skyline, simultaneously vibrant and blighted, tells a story about Downtown’s rich cultural and architectural history. Many skyscrapers unique to an era (ranging from the 1920s-80s) are beautifully reminiscent of a city repeatedly on the vanguard of architecture and design.

AnnieHakim1

 

What do you enjoy most about living, working, playing, giving and leading in Detroit?

Although I grew up in Metro-Detroit, I didn’t spend much time in the city. I went to college in Grand Rapids, Michigan, spent time in Ghana and then moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. In July of 2014 I moved to Detroit. The greatest joy of moving to a new city is having the opportunity to make it ‘home’. By living, working, playing, giving, and leading in Detroit I’ve visited over a hundred places in the city in the past ten months, and met hundreds of Detroiters- both native, and transplants. Through Challenge Detroit I’ve had the opportunity to be part of collaborative projects with multiple non-profit organizations (Vehicles for Change, The Future Project, Detroit Collaborative Design Center, The Detroit Health Disparities Coalition, and 8 Mile Boulevard Association). I’ve worked alongside community leaders to improve access public transportation, develop community engagement strategies, further youth empowerment efforts, and stimulate local economic development. I feel very fortunate to have so many ongoing opportunities to learn about and engage in the social, political, and economic landscape of the city I now call home.

Tell us about your host company and your role in the organization.

Last September, I began my Challenge Detroit Fellowship and joined the team at my host organization, RecoveryPark. In 2010, RecoveryPark was started not only to convert blighted land in the City of Detroit into urban agriculture and aquaculture businesses, but also to spur economic development in Detroit’s neighborhoods by creating jobs for the individuals with barriers to employment (recovering addicts, returning persons, individuals with low literacy).

Over the past year, RecoveryPark built a pilot farm in Detroit to validate key aspects of our business model for the social enterprise we’re launching this fall, RecoveryPark Farms. We are proud to say that produce from our pilot farm has already been, and continues to be, featured on the menus of several high-end Metro-Detroit restaurants including: Selden Standard, The Republic Tavern, Bacco Ristorante, The Stand Gastro Bistro, The Root Restaurant and Bar, Stockyard Detroit, Streetside Seafood, Torino, Cuisine, Gold Cash Gold, Chartreuse, Forest Grill and Townhouse.

My job at RecoveryPark is dynamic, and so exciting. I primarily work on social impact program design and management, but also help with the business development and farming. As one of the founding team members of our social enterprise launching this fall, I look forward to building out a company that has the potential to create living wage jobs for over a thousand Detroiters over the next ten years.

What have you learned from Challenge Detroit so far?

The Challenge Detroit leadership team and the thirty-four Year Three Fellows that I have the opportunity to work every Friday are incredibly talented and passionate individuals. With backgrounds ranging from marketing to architecture, business, economic development, education- and more, my peers have helped me to look at some of the greatest challenges facing our city through a variety of lenses. Working alongside individuals with such diverse personal, educational, and professional experiences has taught me the importance of collaborating across disciplines when engaging in redevelopment efforts in the city.

What kind of impact do you hope to have with your host company and within the city?

With the Fall 2015 launch of our social enterprise, RecoveryPark Farms, RecoveryPark hopes to benefit Detroit through:

  • Creative land repurposing
  • Tax-base regeneration
  • Jobs for citizens (less unemployment fosters family & neighborhood stability, and -lower crime rates)
  • Addressing transportation as a barrier to employment: there are 57 of bus stops within a 10 minute radius of the farm, and freeways I-94 and I-75 frame the RecoveryPark footprint
  • A model (economically, and aesthetically) for ongoing Detroit revitalization efforts
  • Blue/green infrastructure integration-aligned with the goals of Detroit Future City, and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative
  • Contribution to Detroit’s ‘local-live-fresh’ food movement

What are you most looking forward to in the final months of Challenge Detroit?

I am most looking forward to enjoying the rest of the time I have to work with fellows that constantly inspire and encourage me to positively contribute to a great city that I’ve chosen to make my new home.

Changes

Change is something I’ve been kind of obsessed with lately. I mean, it’s even all I could think about in my Challenge Detroit spotlight video! Proof:

Public Service Announcement – it was super weird making a video of myself. When I went to write the script about my time as a Challenge Detroit fellow, change was literally all my mind would allow me to create material about. But I’m good with it, because it feels authentic. Like I’ve truly captured a moment in my life. That’s also what I really appreciate about these blogs. It’s a window into my psyche each month; a very public diary if you will.

Anyway, I’ve been going through a lot these past few weeks. I started a new job, but really it’s been more about all of the relationships I’ve grown this past year and how so many of those people are moving on. Maybe their careers are going to be kick-started elsewhere. Maybe they’re going back to school. Maybe their work visa was denied. (I’m still so sorry for my friend – it’s hard to imagine going through something like that).

Regardless, they’re leaving here. These people are leaving Detroit, leaving me. And I’m actually happy for each of them and the plans they’ve made for themselves. But it doesn’t hurt less when people you’ve come to really appreciate and come to care deeply for are no longer going to be in your life in the same capacity. I’ve been struggling. CASE IN POINT, I was strongly considering adopting a cat. If you knew me well, you would know that’s practically a revolutionary thought.

So the conclusion I’ve come to is to savor every moment I have left in the life I’ve created here for myself in Detroit, with these people, new and old. My Detroit life will go on of course, but it will be different. As I said to myself back in May in my spotlight script, change is inevitable.

I’m writing this in the final moments of my 24th year. It’s been stellar to say the least. Job, friends, apartment, family – all great. Turning 25 seems like the end of an era; it feels like a big deal.

However, tonight I had an amazing dinner with my parents, I was serenaded in the lobby while rocking my favorite jumpsuit, am listening to Lady Gaga and watched fireworks on the water from my apartment window. Hell, my birthday isn’t even until tomorrow. Life is good.

25 has some big shoes to fill, but I just so happen to have a thing for shoes.

Sinatra’s The Best is Yet to Come is the last song I heard tonight. It’s a good sign.

June 26th

In less than four months I’ll be married. I don’t think it’s fully hit me yet, and it probably won’t until sometime in September.

As a child of divorce I often thought I would never get married. What was the point? Why spend all that money? Do you really need a piece of paper to validate a relationship? Is all of this just societal pressure? What if we have a kid and his life is spent bouncing around two different houses if we get divorced?

I am not necessarily sure about the answers to these questions, but I do know that my outlook on marriage has changed. I am excited about it now. I am excited to have a teammate for the rest of my life. I am excited to be able to lean on someone when things are tough, to share in the joys of life, and everything in between. I am excited to compromise, to get frustrated and work through it, and to become a better person because of a relationship.

To be fair, this all can be done without a legal marriage. We could just live together for the rest of our days and many of these things would happen. However, the act of being married is a special validation of a relationship in our society. It is a milestone achievement in people’s life.

I met my fiancé over 11 years ago, in a chemistry class at our high school. Marriage is not only the next step in our relationship, but it also provides a venue to for us to make the ultimate life long commitment to each other. I am excited for it.

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As a white, heterosexual male, I haven’t had to worry about society’s view of my relationship, or what rights my partner and I would have when we wanted to get married. All I had to worry about was finding the right person for me, falling in love, and some how convincing her that spending the rest her life with me would be a good idea. It’s been pretty easy in a sense, and I am excited that the same road for my gay friends just got easier too.

 

On June 26th, the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalized gay marriage in the United States. I’ll forever remember where I was when I heard the news. I’ll remember who I texted and I’ll remember the joy I felt for my friends who could now be married and have that marriage recognized in every state.

I remember telling my friend a few years ago that gay marriage would be legal by the time I was 50. He laughed it off and argued that it wouldn’t be. Little did I know that it would only take a fraction of that time.

I am proud of a growing public opinion that supports gay rights, of the countless amount of same-sex couples that fought for this day, and of the fact that our beautiful system of checks and balances worked out so well. As July 4th approaches, I’ll be especially proud to be an American.

Summer in the City

The summertime has always been a season of change for me in my life. As a typical millennial, I have changed jobs and career pathways a few times already, and the summer is always the time that this seems to happen. Despite this slight added stress, I have been immensely enjoying my time in Detroit with the BBQs, the beautiful views and the occasional brew or two.

I have also been contemplating, yet again, the process of figuring out “what I want to do with my life.”

This question has been repeated again and again since I was in elementary school and it never ceases to strike a strange chord in me. I’ve never been a person who grew up knowing that, for example, animals were my passion and I was going to be a veterinarian no matter what. I envy those people. The ones who may not see the way, but they see the destination.

Those people are few and far between, I believe, and more of us are in a sort of mild haze. I know the direction I want to go, and the directions I definitely don’t want to go, but I am very open and willing to see what the future brings and to be along for the ride.

I’m not a Businessman; I’m a Business, Man: June Monthly Check In

For this month’s blog post I wanted to highlight some of the great entrepreneurial resources in the city. So without further adieu:

 

Techtown_Coworking_Space

Techtown is Detroit’s business innovation hub. As the city’s most established business accelerator and incubator, they provide a powerful connection to a broad network of resources, catalyzing entire communities of entrepreneurs best poised to energize the local economy.

Techtown offers classes and support for both tech and place-based business and has helped create over 1,000 jobs in the area.

Ponyride_Building

Ponyride provides inexpensive space for socially-conscious artists and entrepreneurs to work and share knowledge, resources and networks. They offer a collaborative space for an amazing $0.20-$0.25 per square-foot, which includes the cost of utilities. They have over 25 organizations in the space in addition to individuals and businesses utilizing the co-working space.

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Motor City Match helps businesses locate and thrive in Detroit by matching the best businesses from the city and around the world with Detroit’s best available real estate. The program provides competitive grants, loans and technical assistance to help building and business owners realize their dreams in Detroit.

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Hatch Detroit is a vehicle to champion and support independent retail businesses in Detroit through funding, exposure, education, and mentoring. Founded in 2011, Hatch Detroit was created to give others the opportunity to have a role in the redevelopment of Detroit. Hatch hosts an annual contest where one savvy entrepreneur wins a $50,000 grant to open their brick and mortar retail business in Detroit, Highland Park, or Hamtramck.

The Contest was built on an idea called “Crowd Entrepreneurship” where average citizens have a role in voting for the type of retail they want in their community, and determining the winner of the Hatch Contest.

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The team at ProsperUS Detroit believes that residents, small businesses and neighborhood groups in all neighborhoods have the talent, energy and ability to engage and revitalize their own communities. It is their mission to empower entrepreneurs and community partners to transform low-income neighborhood economies from within. ProsperUS Detroit works with entrepreneurs and community organizations to revitalize neighborhoods by concentrating micro-enterprise development in low-income immigrant and minority neighborhoods.

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Build Institute helps people turn their business ideas into reality by providing them with the necessary tools, resources, and support network in Detroit. To date, they have graduated over 500 aspiring and experienced entrepreneurs from our classes, many of whom have gone on to start successful businesses in the city. In addition to classes, they offer networking events, mentorship, connections to resources and a nurturing community that allows ideas to develop and flourish over time


This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the great entrepreneurial resources in the city. Comment below with some of your favorites.

This month’s post is brought to you in part by Jay-z.

 

 

Back in February, I shared a poem that had gotten me thinking and reflecting throughout the halfway point of my fellowship with Challenge Detroit. Now that we’re on the brink of July and the final weeks of this experience, I thought I’d share another favorite reflective poem of mine.

What is there beyond knowing? Mary Oliver

What is there beyond knowing that keeps

calling to me? I can’t

 

turn in any direction

but it’s there. I don’t mean

 

the leaves’ grip and shine or even the thrush’s

silk song, but the far-off

 

fires, for example,

of the stars, heaven’s slowly turning

 

theater of light, or the wind

playful with its breath;

 

or time that’s always rushing forward,

or standing still

 

in the same — what shall I say –

moment.

 

What I know

I could put into a pack

 

as if it were bread and cheese, and carry it

on one shoulder,

important and honorable, but so small!

While everything else continues, unexplained

 

and unexplainable. How wonderful it is

 

to follow a thought quietly

 

to its logical end.

I have done this a few times.

But mostly I just stand in the dark field,

in the middle of the world, breathing

in and out. Life so far doesn’t have any other name

but breath and light, wind and rain.

If there’s a temple, I haven’t found it yet.

I simply go on drifting, in the heaven of the grass

and the weeds.

 

As I think about this past year, I think about my need for resolution.  I remember my idea that the solutions and deliverables we created in both our host companies and in our Challenges would be implemented and solve problems. In reflection, here are some things that I know:

  1. Diversity is important. Disclaimer: there is a lot to unpack in what this word actually means and implies. For now, I know that my life feels fuller with a diversity of experiences, relationships, and perspectives. Professionally, I’m learning the value of diversity of community stakeholders and cross-functional teams. As we consider the future of Detroit, perhaps we can continue to commit to conversations and development that are inclusive, varied and therefore, diverse.
  2. Self- care is important. While this year has been filled with the obligations of my role at Fiat Chrysler and my fellowship at Challenge Detroit, I’ve been determined to carve out more meaningful, personal time for myself. And as I continue to spend more time exercising, cooking, reading, I learn how challenging the reality of self-care actually is. How can we create environments that are more conducive to wellness and self-care? In my opinion, this is a factor to consider in Detroit’s landscapes.
  3. Friendship is most important. Connecting with my fellow Fellows outside of our Friday workdays has been so foundational to my personal growth this past year. My peers in this cohort are energizing, challenging and inspiring, and I have felt constant gratitude for each of them throughout this experience. It is truly to the credit of the leadership at Challenge Detroit for bringing together such unique, genuine leaders. And again, to their credit that we have inevitably spent an enormous amount of time together in various social, cultural and volunteering events throughout the year. As a result, my community in Detroit has never felt stronger.

While we begin our final individual Impact Challenges in July,  I want to carry these reflections with me. I want to remember what I know, and let go of my need for resolution. Some things may go on drifting in the wind and the weeds, after all.

Shining a Light

As fellows we’re asked to write about our experiences in the city. Most of the posts I’ve written thus far have been positive in nature. This month I’m taking a different spin because I think it’s only fair to highlight some of the not so great things about Detroit that many don’t like to talk about.

Prior to moving to Detroit I lived in Indianapolis, another urban environment.  I knew early on that Indianapolis wasn’t for me; I was there for one reason which was to get my Master’s degree. I had a hard time transitioning to Indy despite it being in my home state. I was never able to kick the negative emotions I felt while living in central Indiana, I never truly felt at home. 2 years was far too long for me to feel unsettled if you ask me. Detroit and Indianapolis are different and similar in many ways. One major difference though is that I was immediately welcomed by Detroit and that continues even today.

During grad school I couldn’t help but see similarities in the two urban environments and surrounding areas. Detroit and Indianapolis have their fair share of blighted streets and affluent blocks surrounded by struggling communities.  Detroit and Indianapolis are located in the state’s poorest counties, Wayne and Marion respectively. Two cities surrounded by cities and counties that have the highest property taxes in the state. The dynamic is unreal but yet no one really wants to talk about it. Gentrification is occurring in Indianapolis much like it’s happening here in Detroit. Public transportation is laughable in both communities; anyone without a car is disadvantaged to the nth degree. Mobility is a huge limiting factor in one’s quality of life and economic mobility.

While in grad school I learned about public finance and different policy and economic tools governments use to stimulate economies. I asked questions that my professors didn’t really know how to answer because they hadn’t experienced a grossly underserved community aside from viewing it from a data driven lens. It was the short answers that drove me to learn more.

The reality in Detroit is that 39.3% of the population lives in poverty (2009-2013 levels), only 77.6% of residents 25+ have graduated from high school, and approximately 142,000 people (1/5 of the population) were at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure this past year. City police officers are overworked and underpaid, and few public servants in the city of Detroit have had a pay raise in years. The Olympia Development and M-1 rail projects have Woodward on lockdown until 2017 and are expected to bring the city millions of dollars. The progress is ongoing and I continue to experience it daily with the rotating orange safety cones changing regularly, the public lights being added one by one, and large formerly vacant lots are being renovated for rent or sale.

In Indianapolis, 20.4% people live in poverty, approximately 84.5% of residents 25+ graduate from high school, one in every 646 homes faced foreclosure in 2014, and the urban core lacks market rate housing. There are plenty of restaurants and walkable streets including the Cultural trail and Georgia Street, two tourist destinations that encourage walkability and connect the cultural districts to one another. Living there it was all disconnected and in many ways segregated.

The main difference between Indianapolis and Detroit is that Indianapolis is 61.8% white and Detroit is 82.8% black, those numbers are likely low given the data is from the 2010 Census.

We have a long way to go, yes. The city’s landscape is in much need of repair. People still need jobs, the homeless need jobs and a safe place to sleep at night, and children need an education that offers them a chance for a successful career. All of these realities are true.

These challenges are present throughout the country and world, they just happen to stare us all in the face and all we do is talk about them. My goal is to take a stab at tackling some of these pressing systemic challenges even after Challenge Detroit ends. I want to participate in the development of a stronger Detroit, not watch the change happen around me.

 

Reflection

I’ve always lived my life from the perspective of how I might look back on it. It’s been a blessing and a curse. It helps me to appreciate a moment, but sometimes, I get lost in the actual moment as I struggle to digest it in hindsight. This week and the next few will highlight that supreme struggle. As my friends and I prepare to leave and ultimately say goodbye to the life we’ve built for ourselves in Detroit, I will reflect both on the past several years and reflect on the moments I find myself in.

While Detroit has often felt like a revolving door, it has unexpectedly positioned itself as a home. As I work through the transition, change, and growth that will come in the next month, I hope to balance my chronic struggle with reflection and perspective. I hope to look back on the years with happiness and gratitude and without sacrificing the end of this era. I hope to look back and look forward but remain present as I come to terms with what this time has meant to me.

More to come at the end of July.

In the passenger seat

For a carless person in a city with extremely limited public transit, Uber has been a lifesaver on more than one occasion. For those unfamiliar with the app, Uber connects riders with drivers using your phone’s GPS. Not only is the service incredibly convenient, it’s actually really affordable in Detroit – a 7-minute, 2-mile trip costs about $4. However, rather than its cost and convenience, my favorite aspect of riding with Uber in Detroit is something else altogether. My favorite aspect has to be the strangers whose cars I hop into (hey, mom and dad).

If you’re reading this, chances are you know how much I love engaging with new people (strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet, after all), and that you’re rolling your eyes at how ridiculous I am. But in all honestly, I have learned so much from my Uber drivers. More than once, my driver has been so enraptured in his trip down memory lane that he has taken a wrong turn on our actual physical journey. More than once, I’ve gotten out of the car thinking to myself that the cost of the ride would have been well worth it for the conversation alone.

As a transplant, it can be difficult to engage on a regular basis with new native Detroiters – you actively have to seek out such opportunities. However, with Uber, meaningful conversations with long-time locals are effectively delivered to your doorstep.

There was the retired Comcast field technician who made a boatload in his career and retired early, and was now using Uber to fund his backyard observatory and ever-expanding interest in space (pun intended). There was the Iraqi polyglIMG_1706ot who spent his career translating for the U.S. military, who was speaking to his “Lovely Wife Luma” when I entered the car (Luma’s name was, adorably, saved as such on his iPhone).  There was the recent divorcee who was moonlighting as a driver to simply get himself out of the house while his kids were over at their mom’s place five nights a week. There was the elderly gentleman who married a woman he had unknowingly met at the roller rink when he was twelve (they’ve been married for over forty years now and have a host of grandkids), who described to me his idyllic childhood running free in Royal Oak Township, eating fruit right off the trees, and feeling rich despite having little. And there have been no shortage of Detroiters, born and raised, whose undying passion for the city impacted me far beyond the five-to-ten minute intervals I spent in their respective vehicles.

While I don’t claim to have had an enlightening conversation with every single Detroit driver I’ve met in the past nine months, these snippets only skim the surface of the stories I’ve heard along the way.  In the passenger seat, I have heard what people think of the city’s (re)development, why some fled the city for the suburbs, and why others still would never dare to do so. And I have listened to tales of family and friendship, love and loss, heartache and hardship.

These conversations have pushed me to make better use of my time, call my parents more often, and tell the people in my life that I care about them. They have inspired me to cherish my youth, spend less time in front of screens, and appreciate Detroit more than I thought possible. And most of all, they have encouraged me to keep asking questions and sparking conversations. Whether in the passenger seat or elsewhere, it’s amazing what you can learn from the people sitting right next to you.


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