Have you ever been unaware of what a conversation was really about, until it was over?

Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit” advertising campaign overtly challenges the assumption that Detroit wouldn’t have anything special enough to export, but it seems to be one of those conversations. After Clint Eastwood had his Super Bowl say, Chrysler lent its award-winning tagline to another town with a bad rap — Gotham City — in time for the release of “The Dark Knight Rises” at the end of last month. Since I can’t afford a Chrysler 300 (I’m team GM, anyway), I’m keen to reflect on what else Detroit has to offer now that the confident slogan popularized by rappers, cowboys and superheroes has been – almost – exhausted from public discourse.

Though the auto companies remain important for Michigan, the influx of business has indicated the beginning of a hopeful sea change in the “Paris of the Midwest.” Quicken Loans — currently housed in the Compuware headquarters — is hiring young people by the hundreds, while Team Detroit, an advertising company, also has begun snapping up new talent. One of the most exciting additions is the new Twitter advertising office in the renovated Rock Ventures M@dison Building. Twitter will share space with tens of other technologic startups and companies, including the CAPTCHA formula start-up, Are You a Human, and the infamous Texts From Last Night. The Russell Industrial Center is home to many smaller ventures and local dreams. I know some musicians that have their own record label who plan to move to RIC to live and record their music and that of their friends.

“Everyone (in Detroit) is sick of recording themselves and using cluttered and crappy studios,” my friend Alex told me recently. “I think I’ve got the ear for it as well as the vintage gear everyone wants to use and the training and experience needed to properly run it.”

In Detroit, I’ve seen more dreams this summer than I could have anticipated. On Father’s Day I visited The Church of the Messiah on Lafayette and East Grand Boulevard on the east side. My friend Jugo Kapetanovic — who was accepted earlier this year into the University’s School of Public Health — was kick-starting the trial run of a healthy food program. It was a hot day, and many people were keeping themselves cool with paper fans. Downstairs, a red-faced Jugo was cooking up kale, beans, rice and a host of other fresh local foods, bought at Eastern Market, in the kitchen. In the main room, a nutritionist gave a lecture for the churchgoers, who were also given information about acquiring health insurance. Jugo’s big idea for the summer was to pool money from bridge cards in order to buy — and cook — healthy food for everyone who came to church.

I learned that anyone with a persuasive enough idea could potentially put their dreams into action. Such is the case with Monique Sasser, of Nikki’s Ginger Tea. For 20 years, Sasser’s product has been made in the church on East Grand Boulevard, and today is distributed in over 30 markets and grocery stores around Michigan, from the metro to Petoskey to Ann Arbor. Jugo and his girlfriend put together a project proposal last August, which formulated a “new model of primary care in which you would have urban farming, nutrition programming (and) health insurance on top of that.” After the meal, he drove me around and showed me several plots of land belonging to the church. Each was an overgrown, asymmetrical piece of land, with grass to your knees and surrounded by rusty chain link. The congregation owns 103 such plots and hopes to one day use them for urban farming.

Revitalization, new businesses and artistic visions are just a few intrinsically Detroit things that have all the spirit of the aforementioned slogan. These things could potentially school a nation. But what about giving back?

About a month ago, I went to a party on the south side of Detroit. Most of the people there study at Wayne State University, and several were old friends I hadn’t seen since high school. I caught up with a friend who is a film major who asked me “what I was doing.” I told him about my studies and summer work, including my internship in Detroit and screenwriting class in Ann Arbor. Put off a little by his assessing gaze and lack of response, as always, I talked faster. I delved into describing the plot of my drawn-out dystopian screenplay.

“There’s this island but it’s in the future and there’s no technology.”

My friend had the same slightly bemused, mostly unreadable expression he had had on his face the entire time. Finally, his face cleared. Nodding, he said decisively, “You should come to Detroit,” before walking away. Suddenly I realized that “what I was doing” wasn’t even what the conversation had been about.

Vanessa Rychlinski can be reached at vanrych@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *