When I was young, maybe 3rd or 4th grade, I announced to my parents that I had decided that I was going to be a fan of the Colorado Avalanche. This was not a decision that I had arrived at without thought. I was born in Denver, and my family there was (still are) fans of the Aves. My family watched hockey with some regularity, and I was learning the names of some of the players. Oh, and I liked that their colors were purple and silver. Seemed like a compelling enough reason to me. The next time a game was on, I casually mentioned this new affiliation to my parents.
“That’s a great thought, sweetheart, but that’s not going to work,” I was told by…one of my parents, I don’t remember who. “How would you like it if someone came into your dance studio and went on and on about how great [competing dance studio] was? You wouldn’t like it, would you? So you’re going to need to start cheering for the Wings, okay?”
And that was that. From then on, I’ve been a die-hard Detroit Red Wings fan. My family and I watched every game on tv. In jr high, my friends and I wrote Wings fan fiction. And when Kyle and I started dating, I informed him that any loyalty he felt for the Blues was adorable, but he was a Red Wings fan now. No matter where I lived in the country, I have carried my love of my team with me.
And yet, I’d never been to a game at the Joe. I worshiped at the alter of the wheel, but I’d never been to mecca. So when Kyle got me tickets to a game at the Joe for my 30th birthday, I went bonkers. (He really is the best husband ever, isn’t he? Don’t tell him I said that.)
And that’s how Kyle and I found ourselves driving across New York, through Canada, and into Michigan.
But before we could go to Detroit, there was one stop we had to make first.
I had to go home.
I hadn’t been back to my hometown, Jackson, Michigan, in eight years. This was not a purposeful choice, exactly; my dad was laid off during my senior year of college, and he and my mom were forced to move away in order to follow his new job. The last time I was home, I’d just graduated from college, was newly engaged, and was desperately trying to get my shit together before I moved to Oklahoma City and started a new job. I had so many more things to think about than whether I’d ever see that house or that town again. So for that reason, I felt like I needed to go home.
We weren’t in Jackson long, just an afternoon, but it was long enough to see everything I needed to see. We stopped by my childhood home. I was happy to see that they’d painted the exterior from the “Pumpkin Spice” color my dad always loved. (Sorry, Dad.) I was a little bummed to see that they’d cut down the crab apple tree whose bowed branches my brother and I played under for hours as kids. But I was happy to see that despite the aggressive landscaping, the wild columbines that grew by the woods still thrived, covering the ground in a blue-purple splendor.
After that, we stopped by my old high school, where I was shocked and thrilled to see that not only were they building a new wing, but adding a theatre. (Whaaaaat?!) When I attended Northwest High School, it was a dilapidated mess, with pipes bursting in the winter and leaky ceiling tiles every time it rained, so I was happy to see the place getting fixed up. (A little irked that it didn’t happen earlier when I could take advantage of it, but happy for them nonetheless.)
And finally, we made our most eagerly anticipated stop on the pilgrimage: a trip to my favorite ice cream parlor, aptly named the Parlor. With its hard ice cream that’s almost chewy and sundaes overflowing with hot fudge made in-house, the Parlor is something really special. I was completely un-surprised and pleased to see that its old-timey decor and nostalgic charm were entirely unchanged. And their ice cream has ensured that I will never have to cajole Kyle into visiting my hometown.
Driving through Jackson, I was happy to see that the town hadn’t been totally devastated by the recession. There were certainly signs that it had been hit hard, but I was also seeing new construction and longtime business still open, so I knew Jackson had survived. I enjoyed the trip through the streets and my memories, pointing out funny or interesting things to Kyle as we went. And yet, I didn’t feel like I was home. I felt like I was revisiting a dream I had once. It was familiar, and yet, I felt like an outsider looking in. Jackson will always be my hometown, but it was very clear to me that it’s no longer my home.
That night, we stayed in Ann Arbor, where the only thing interesting thing that happened is that we went to a hipster restaurant where I drank juice out of a bag. And by that, I mean Kyle got a kick out of watching me try to figure out how to drink juice out of a bag without looking like a complete and total douche. (As you can see by the picture, I failed miserably.)
The next morning, we were off to Detroit. Which, before you fucking make any jokes about us getting mugged or stabbed, was actually quite lovely. (Sorry if I sound defensive, but they stopped being funny about the 43rd time I heard them. I get it, we’ve had some economic hardship, glad you find that hilarious.) I mean, the part of downtown right by the arena where we stayed was lovely; it’s pretty obvious even from the interstate that the neighborhoods surrounding the city still haven’t fully recovered. But downtown itself was really nice.
And our room was bonkers nice, featuring Netflix built into the tv and a crazy amazing view of both the Detroit River and Canada (eh?). Even with the shitty weather, I could have stayed there all day and taken in the fabulous view. (And Kyle and I both agreed that the giant window above the city kinda made us want to stand in front of it butt-ass naked. [We totally didn’t.]) But nice as it was, we weren’t there to hang out in our room and watch Archer all day.
We were in Detroit for the hockey.
Before I knew it, we were walking up to the Joe. It was exhilarating to walk into the fray of excitement and energy. Everywhere I looked, red and white. Old jerseys, new jerseys, jerseys covered in signatures. A woman who wore what looked like a homemade appliqued sweater featuring the logo in sequins on the front, and the number of all the current players rhinestoned on the back. These were a people who love their team with unwavering ferocity, and they wore their pride and excitement like a cape. Outside those walls, Detroit is a national punchline, a joke that represents poverty and crime and desperation. But inside the Joe, Detroit means the Red Wings, with a history that is rich and deep and represents strength and victory. Inside, we are proud to be Detroit.
The game itself was thrilling and visceral and wild and I loved every minute. I liked getting to see the entirety of the ice, not just the small bit surrounding the puck like you see on tv. (And the fact that Kyle got us killer seats right behind the camera stand? Motherfucking sprinkles on the motherfucking cupcake.) My favorite part though was being an atom, a cell, a speck in the heaving, writhing crowd. There couldn’t have been more than 100 Philly fans in the place, so while the crowd wasn’t disrespectful to the away team, it was purely Detroit. When the Wings scored, the place roared with unadulterated ecstasy, and when Athanasiou sank a short-hand goal, I thought the walls were going to crumble around us for the mayhem. As the final horn announced the end of the game and the Wings the victors, I was practically delirious with pride, elation, and the pellucid intensity of the moment.
In that moment, we were all Detroit.
As I walked around the arena, I felt like I was home in a way that I hadn’t in Jackson. These were my people, and I was one of them. We share a lineage and a history that is long and deep, and we are vehemently proud of it. Every person in that arena knows who the Captain is, and still hurts for Konstantinov. We remember Fight Night at the Joe and share a savage hatred for the Avalanche that’s nearly as strong as our ardor for our own team. (Sorry, Denver cousins. Love you, hate your team.) And we all know when to sing along when they play “Don’t Stop Believing” and why there will inevitably be an octopus (or three) thrown onto the ice. Walking around The Joe, I could feel the history in my blood. These were my people. These are my roots. This is where I come from and who I am. The city of Detroit may never be a geographical place I long for, but the Red Wings, they are my home.
Kyle and I had an absolute blast at the game, and we’re already making plans to go to another game next year.
I can’t wait to go home again.