I’ve gone soft.
The change happened over a span of 8 years while adjusting to and then permanently residing in West Michigan. The adaptations have been gradual, of course, but the reality hit me today like a rush hour traffic jam on 696. Fast.
When I left the Detroit area, I left in my black ’99 Ford Taurus, seat tilted back, rap turned up, one hand on the bottom of the steering wheel, pushing 90mph and weaving in and out of traffic. Fast forward a few years and I’m returning in my white 2011 Mazda3, driving 74mph, white knuckled at 10 and 2 with straight seat back and Carrie Underwood streaming through my Bluetooth radio.
You could say things have changed a bit.
When I first sped into West Michigan 8 years ago, I cursed the slow drivers and the laid back attitudes. I stained my walk and talk with Detroit blood like a badge of honor and I’d bad mouth anyone who dissed the D.
But over the years, I grew softer. My speech calmed, my speedometer slowed, and my pace slagged. I started to look at Detroit as a concrete jungle full of aggressive type As. I hated it and I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to move back. There’s no opportunity there. The housing market hasn’t recovered. It’s dangerous!
And in many ways I have loved that I’ve softened. I don’t need to feed off aggression or memorize speed traps. I can relax. And it is nice to be relaxed…
But I realized today that becoming soft also robs you of some things. Pride, for starters. I have pride in West Michigan but as an Eastsider I had pride in myself. I knew that if you wanted something, you had to get aggressive. No one is letting you in their lane because you used your turn signal. They’re letting you in because you shot the gap into the one car length ahead of them that they didn’t mean to give you. And if you managed to switch lanes without immediately slamming on your brakes, you earned the right to be there.
Becoming soft also robs you of growth. When have you ever faced a new challenge resting on your heels and come out on top? I didn’t think so.
And, in an unexpected twist, being soft limits your happiness. The happiest people are those who constantly try new things, push their limits, conquer new goals.
As I drove 696 tonight, I realized the beauty of the Eastside. I tilted my seat back just a little. I opened my sun roof and switched my radio to Nappy Roots, for old time’s sake. In a stroke of luck, I caught the echo of classic V8 engines roaring through the cement jungle after a night ride in the Woodward Dream Cruise. I breathed in the hot pavement, rubber and exhaust of the city and thought to myself, “My children will never know the lure of this place like I did.”
My Detroit blood has thinned over the years but it still courses throughout my veins with every beat of my heart and every rev of a V8 engine. It’s still inside of me. And it always will be.