I caught up with West Villager, Robert Nelson, while he was holding court at the Urban Bean Co. in Capitol Park following the Motor City Pride parade. He has lived on the city’s far Eastside for a few years and I wanted to ask him about his experience in Detroit. Robert was happy to oblige and spiritedly answered my questions.
How was the parade? What were the highlights?
The parade was marvelous. Highlight – waving to the people, handing out buttons. It’s a short parade. It’s home to so many people and we’re comfortable here. That’s the best part.
Why did you chose Detroit?
I grew up near Detroit. I love Detroit. It sings to my heart. I just can’t help it. I moved to Chicago for awhile and its all meat and no heart out there. You can meet lots of people but it doesn’t matter because there is no heart. In Detroit everyone has a little bit of heart.
What were your expectations when you moved to the city? How did they mesh with reality?
I’d been there enough to know what the expectations were and they met them exactly. I first moved to the lovely Indian Village and it met and exceeded every expectation I ever had. Friendly neighbors, low crime rate, beautiful houses, lovely gardens, wonderful T-girl land ladies. It was magnificent.
Do you feel safe in Detroit?
I do feel safe in the city. Every city has it’s rough areas, you just stay away from them. I live in West Village now, there are always people jogging, running, pushing strollers full of real live babies. I feel as safe as can be.
There is an ongoing conversation about tension between old and new residents. What has your experience been?
Detroit is such a large city and it’s a legacy city, so there is some tension. There is always tension when new people move in but there is enough space for everyone to move in and get along. I’ve never really witnessed tension. Old, young, black, white, gay, straight, everyone seems to get along really well here. And if you noticed it’s a very polite city.* When you walk down the street people say “Hello, how are you?”.
Detroit has a lot of community based organizations. Are you involved in any of them?
A gay parade every year. I also work with the Nain Rouge Marche, the Ruth Ellis Center is a great organization I’ve done stuff with, and the Historic Indian Village Association.
Do you feel that you are more engaged in Detroit than you would be if you had stayed in Chicago?
I do feel more engaged in Detroit. I was only in Chicago briefly but what’s the point of being engaged if you can’t make a difference? In Detroit every single person can make a difference… or not make a difference and just enjoy life.
What tips do you have for people thinking about moving to Detroit?
Say hello to people on the street. Don’t be a dick. Move in, go out, meet your neighbors. Everyone is so unbelievably nice. It’s the best. You just walk out and – hello, I’ve made a new friend today.
What does Detroit look like 5 years from now?
I would like Detroit to have some more rail in 5 years. I would also like Detroit to have a lot of young, good-looking men for me. Other than that just seeing it continue on the trajectory that it is on. Dan Gilbert is buying all these properties – which is great – but maybe there could be a little more focus on historic preservation. Other than that, keep on keeping on Detroit.
People say Detroit is rough. Everywhere has rough patches – heck, I have eczema on my elbows – but if you go to Hugh, the DIA, the historical museum and the Riverwalk it’s a beautiful city. Everything is great in Detroit but we’re realistic – not everything is great. Everything has its ups and downs. If you love something you bear with it. That’s why we’re all here.
Robert Nelson’s Detroit To-Do List:
- Bike around Belle Isle and have a make-out session by white marble light house.
- Get coffee at the Guardian Building – the cathedral of finance.
- Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy to see a lot of celebrities and suburbanites.
- Go shopping at the Russell Industrial Center.
- Visit the shops in Midtown.
- And – of course – a Craigslist missed connection about Robert Nelson.
*On my way to interview Robert, a man on the street took off his baseball cap as we passed and told me “Good day”, I felt like I stepped into Pleasantville.
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