Last weekend, I enjoyed a little time away
from Ann Arbor when I ventured to my hometown of Grand Rapids for
some much-needed rest. As much as I like to visit family and
friends back home, I still loathe the city of Grand Rapids itself.
It’s too conservative, too white and too boring. Two days
there and I can’t wait to get the hell out.
But there was something different about Grand Rapids on this
particular trip. I saw the city in a new light. While it’s
still too conservative, too white and too boring, and I still
can’t stand to spend more than a few days at a time there, I
have a newfound appreciation for the people of Grand Rapids.
There’s a prevailing sense of niceness and politeness that
other cities of its size lack. Despite a population of around a
million people in the metropolitan area, Grand Rapids still has a
small-town feel to it. Everyone seems to know and trust everyone
else. The people of Grand Rapids are a real and unpretentious
bunch. They’re affable and approachable and make you feel
Case in point: My parents just moved into a new home on the
outskirts of town. On Saturday afternoon, a group of neighbors
toting a variety of baked goods stopped by to welcome them to the
neighborhood. Having now spent a full year away from Grand Rapids,
I had forgotten that random acts of kindness were still practiced.
It was refreshing to say the least.
Throughout the course of the weekend I had several other run-ins
with such supremely nice people. Gas station attendants,
waitresses, even the bouncers at downtown bars were polite to an
unnatural yet refreshing degree.
On Sunday night, after returning from the Mecca of nice that is
Grand Rapids, I felt differently about my adopted home of Ann
Arbor. Sure, I was happy to be back in a place where there’s
more to do than watch sports on TV and hang out in bad to mediocre
bars, but Ann Arbor’s overt smugness was bothering me even
more than usual. Strolling through Grand Rapids, I was greeted by
smiles and hellos. In Ann Arbor, it’s scowls and cell
My perspective on Ann Arbor has changed a lot from the time I
came here as a fresh-faced freshman. I had been stifled for too
long by Grand Rapids. Moving to Ann Arbor that first September, I
expected to shake the dust of my small-town upbringing and have my
eyes opened to the world around me.
But all I had my eyes opened to was the fact that Ann Arbor
isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. It’s too
liberal, too expensive and too phony. It’s a small town that
masquerades as the ultra-hip center of the universe — or at
least the Midwest. Ann Arbor struts with the arrogance of New York
but lacks the history, culture and importance to back it up.
Recent times have only lowered my opinion of Ann Arbor. The city
is plagued by a seemingly perpetual string of burglaries —
one of which I had the honor of experiencing firsthand last year
when a couple of brilliant high schoolers broke into our house when
my housemates and I were all home — and assaults, some of
them taking place in conspicuous locations in the hours of the
afternoon and early evening. An ever-growing homeless population is
treated like dirt and responds with rudeness and vulgarity (except
for the nice man who hangs out at Nickels Arcade and under the Arch
— God bless you, too, sir). Housing gets more and more
expensive every year as the already decrepit apartments and houses
get older and older.
The worst part of the situation is that the majority of Ann
Arborites are happily oblivious to the city’s inferiority.
They pretentiously carry on thinking their city is the second
coming of New York.
But this isn’t New York, and it never will be. Still it
could be much better than it is. The easiest way to improve the
city is for the smug of Ann Arbor to lose their smugness. They need
to realize that the city isn’t so perfectly hip and beyond
reproach. They need a dose of Grand Rapids-style friendliness. I
long for the day when the people of Ann Arbor are as polite as
Grand Rapidians, when neighbors stop by just to say hello, bouncers
aren’t such dicks and strangers randomly trade smiles. A
single one would brighten my day.