Thankfully, I was prepped by Michiganders before I arrived: “There will be times when you want to take a left, but you’ll have to turn right first.” What?!
I am not a native Detroiter. I’ve lived most of my life in Arizona where construction is new, streets are rectilinear, and I have years of experience in finding my way around. Six weeks ago, I packed my car and drove from Scottsdale to Detroit. I thought I could minimize disorientation by studying the city beforehand, but I quickly realized nothing can prepare you for Detroit except to live it.
So on my first day in the city, as I drove to an apartment I had never seen before, I was faced with a Michigan Left. I was ready: I’d watched videos, studied diagrams!
And with a Detroit PD car behind me, I turned right, paused at the median, and merged with oncoming traffic. My first challenge, however minor, complete.
Since then, I’ve found myself in more uncharted territory: discussing race issues in the city, driving down Mack Avenue with a chair strapped to the back of my car, zip lining on a ropes course, fixing a flat tire, and meeting incredible people doing cool things in the city.
There seems to be an art to living in a new place and getting comfortable with disorientation. Very few things are the way I expect them to be, and so I watch and learn. I think that’s the best way to find out what exists and how I fit into the larger picture. It’s wayfinding without a compass or a guide.
There are thousands of stories in Detroit, each person navigating her own challenges, and now I am just another person turning right to turn left.