Tales From the Michigan Diaspora

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Ever notice when you watch a Tigers game or a Red Wings game that is played on the road, there seems to be an especially loud “Let’s Go Red Wings” or “Let’s Go Tigers” roar at some point of the game? You don’t really hear that when other teams come and play here. And it doesn’t happen in just one place. You hear it in Cleveland, in Chicago, in Florida and Arizona, Los Angeles and Pennsylvania venues, too! As Detroit sports fans, we like to take this phenomena as an example to testify that we are, quite simply, the best sports fans in the world. That we care so much about our team, that you can hear a band of us rooting for it in every ballpark, in every stadium.

Is that it, though? Or have we, as Michigan natives, just dissipated in such strong numbers, to all four corners of the country? I am sure the numbers can back me up on this, but I believe it is the latter. Throughout the decades, there’s been this sort of Michigan Diaspora, as I like to call it, where citizens of the great mitten state are forced to emigrate to distant lands to find the job they want or need, which they can’t find at home. And I’ve been there, done that.

I’m fortunate enough to be working in my home state at the moment, but just a year ago I was sitting at College Diner in Wilmington, NC watching the MLB All-Star game by myself. I was a stranger in a strange land, having left my moisture farm that May to embark on a new journey. I, too, was forced to leave Michigan because of work. For a multitude of reasons, in the Spring and Summer of 2012, the film industry here was not as vibrant as it had been when I was starting out, and I had to look elsewhere. Luck struck me, though. I was brought on to work on “Iron Man 3”, deep in the heart of the South.

I had traveled a lot before. I had been to New York, Utah, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, California, Nevada, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio and probably more in my lifetime. But it’s different to go somewhere and LIVE there. It’s that moment after you spend five months somewhere, 800 miles away from where you grew up, that you begin to realize how much different certain places of the country, and world are; everything from cuisine to culture, driving.

Repping Detroit gear on the Atlantic Ocean in Wilmington

The biggest clue that I was now amongst the diaspora was when I couldn’t find a Greek salad in all of Wilmington. That is, unless you call a Greek salad a salad you get at an Italian restaurant with ice berg lettuce, black olives, carrots and ranch dressing. It’s just—it’s a different world down there, below the Mason-Dixon line. Even in Wilmington, North Carolina; which is basically where people from New York, Philly and New England go to vacation or “find themselves”. But it’s still the deep South, and it’s a world of difference from the socio-economic, cultural and ethnic cornucopia of Southeast Michigan that I grew up in.

I didn’t have the luxury of going to see my favorite sports teams, either. Reminders of home in the form of seeing the Tigers on the road is impossible in Wilmington. It’s a pretty small town, in compared to Metropolitan Detroit, and there aren’t any major sports teams there. In fact, at the time of my residency, there was a huge debate going on whether or not to build a minor league baseball stadium with tax payer money. Which to me seemed like a no-brainer, but to many native Wilmingtonians, spending tax payer money on anything is on the same level of strange as going 55 on “The Lodge”.

But this isn’t about Detroit vs Wilmington. Because, truth is, I loved working and living in Wilmington. You can’t really complain about being 5 minutes from the Atlantic Ocean, on what’s probably the cleanest ocean front beach in the entire world, even if the coast of Lake Michigan (and lakes in general > salt bodies of water) is more pleasant and beautiful. I would go back to Wilmington for work in a second.

What’s really different about me being from Michigan, however, is the distinct connection I—and many other Michiganers—have to the land that I’m from. It’s just something you notice when you’re on the road. Like, when two people from Utah run into each other vacationing in North Carolina, it doesn’t seem to be a big deal to either of them. But when two Michiganders spot each other’s Old English D’s at the Blue Post in Wilmington, it’s as if two long lost cousins meet for the first time, and are instantly best friends. There’s just a difference, and everyone notices it.

The other thing is, a lot of people who didn’t grow up in Michigan seem to have family (a parent, cousin, uncle) that grew up here. And when they find out that you’re from Michigan, they are so interested in learning about the fabled land of their ancestors.

“Iron Man 3” was the Perchik to my Hodel

A friend of mine says that there’s “something in the water” over there in Michigan, because every time she sees two Michiganders meet each other, they lose their crap. Maybe it’s not the fantastic fresh Great Lake water we’ve got over here that makes use believe that the Mitten is the greatest state in the union; perhaps it’s the beer.

Because if there’s anything that the rest of the country can agree on, it’s that Michigan has the best beer on the planet. Seriously! The coolest part about living abroad is seeing Bell’s, Founder’s, Atwater, New Holland beer at really any bar in Wilmington. When I told bartenders I was from Michigan, I’d suddenly become a semi-celebrity. “Do you live near Kalamazoo?” they would ask. I’ve actually never been to Bell’s Beer, but, sure I would humor them from time to time; tell them that Kalamazoo just has rivers of Oberon and waterfalls of Two-Hearted for all to enjoy.

At a beach bar with my new-found Wilmingtonian friends last summer, wearing Old English D, of course

If it’s not the beer, the water, the food, cultural diversity, natural wonders, music, history, or special connection to the song “Don’t Stop Believing”, then what is it that has Michiganders drunk on themselves? Does the economic diaspora make us stronger as a people? Because Michiganders tend to seperate themselves as a people, in almost nationalistic-type fashion. Is that unhealthy? Maybe. But it’s awesome. And if you can’t be living here, it’s awesome to be from here.

I’ll end on this:

There’s a really groovy clothing company called Down with Detroit. They can be found at downwithdetroit.com. I don’t know who these guys are, but they keep making the most fantastic t-shirts that embody everything that I ever thought it meant to be from Detroit and Michigan. I mean, I got a shirt from them that says “Gratiot Happens”. Come on! That’s amazing. This incredible company has a line of t-shirts that simply saying “I live in _______, but I love Detroit”.

Which, at first glance, seems simply like a great novelty gift for someone who is from Detroit, but no longer lives there. But think of that for a second. That’s kind of incredible. That there is a market for this type of shirt. And it’s not like other cities don’t make shirts that say “I <3 NY” or “Boston Strong” or “City of Brotherly Love”, but this is different. These shirts have an implication to them; that the person wearing said shirt is reluctantly living somewhere else because they have to, and that they hope to one day return to their homeland, Detroit. They are powerful shirts, and, for someone who has been part of the diaspora, and will be again, I love those damn shirts.

Maggie, my favorite Wilmingtonian dog, wears a shirt I bought her

Here are some other tales from the Michigan Diaspora…

Adrienne Sundquist – Los Angeles

Los Angeles: The city where traffic never sleeps. Moving here was never my dream, but where my dreams offered employment as an aspiring screenwriter. In fact, my first choice was several miles across a giant body of water, better known as the Atlantic Ocean. I was photographed, fingerprinted and ultimately was not allowed into the United Kingdom so I flew to LA with my tail between my legs and a red stamp in my passport.If you are looking for a place where people truly care about you, if when you say, “hi,” to a stranger as you hike past them and they do not look confused or irritated, Los Angeles is not the place for you. This place is called the Midwest and you should stay there. I’ve seen several Midwesterner friends give the west coast a shot but Los Angeles is certainly not for the faint of heart or those without a good therapist.

Granted, living in a major city does have its advantages, especially being a major hub for the entertainment industry. It is a cultural melting pot where there is always something to do and people to collaborate and network with. In fact, everywhere you go is a networking opportunity: A cocktail party, bar, basically anywhere that combines people and alcohol. Being a vegetarian is also MUCH easier in California. I see more people walking with yoga mats on a daily basis than I ever did in my twenty-two years in Michigan. Also, a “juicer” here does not apply to a beefed up, steroid-popping muscle head. And yes, I’ve had kale juice for dinner. As a meal. Sometimes conforming is healthy!


With any move comes transition. Some people adapt better than others or do it out of necessity for work. My relationship with Los Angeles is somewhat forced at times, but where I feel I need to be for now. Hopefully this blurb does not discourage anyone from following their dreams, but offers a perspective on “Cali” that is not one giant Hollywood beach party.

John Kalmar – Louisville

When my new coworkers asked where I was from, I instinctively raised my left hand and pointed toward the bottom left corner of my palm. That drew a few laughs from the southerners who had never seen anyone pin point their hometown with the use of an extremity before – an action that’s simply second nature to any Michigander. Just six months out of college, I found myself no longer surrounded by the comfy confines of four great lakes, my friends and family as well as the state where I had spent the first 22 years of my life. Instead, I was practically alone in the bluegrass state – surrounded by horses, bourbon and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Welcome to Kentucky, y’all.


In November, 2011, I took a job working as a page designer at the Gannett Design Studio in Louisville. The design studio is essentially the equivalent of when companies farm out call centers and other services to foreign lands such India – except I was in Kentucky designing news pages, not trying to convince unsuspecting homeowners to switch phone providers. The one thing that drew me to Louisville was the promise that I would be working on pages for the Lansing State Journal, which covered all things Michigan State (my alma mater). Living in Kentucky while working on Michigan papers. Only a little bit backwards.

So even though I was a six hour drive away from home (four hours from the border. Yes, the Michigan border.), I still felt some semblance of a connection with the happenings back in the Mitten. But boy oh boy Kentucky, ain’t no Michigan. First and foremost, let’s start with the Louisville vernacular. “Louisville” is pronounced “Loo-a-vull,” not “Louie-vile,” as the famous bats are called. Pro tip: If you really want to sound like a native, drop all the vowels and just mumbled the name as quickly as you can. “Y’all” and “ain’t” are speech staples for southerners, though I knowingly used “y’all” condescendingly and never in the appropriate context, y’all. Never before had I been called “darling” or “honey” so many times by the grocery store checkout clerks as I did down in Louisville. I’m not complaining; it was more flattering than anything.

When it comes to weather, Kentuckians are terrified of snow. And I use the term “snow” quite loosely. One of the handful of times (I’m talking four or five days) Louisville experienced snow in the “winter,” it was no more than an inch or two. One night, this caused the entire metro area to cancel all high school sporting events and after school activities, push forward newspaper deadlines to account for the “weather,” and left many of my coworkers urging others to “be careful out there.” I was almost too stunned to laugh (but then I did. Quite a bit.). If only these Kentuckians knew the kind of weather conditions I grew up with in West Michigan (I’m talking lake effect snow, y’all), they would’ve been laughing right alongside me at the “snow storm” that was hitting Louisville.


Despite not understanding some tendencies of southerners, the city and the commonwealth did have a lot to offer. I experienced my first Kentucky Derby (complete with a mint julep, of course), visited five bourbon distilleries (and drank more bourbon than I’d like to admit) and was able to claim that Colonel Sanders’ grave was literally in my backyard (my apartment bordered Cavehill Cemetery, and I visited him upwards of ten times due to visitors, something I’m not necessarily proud of).

But between my less than ideal work schedule (Working 4 p.m. – 1 a.m., Wednesday through Sunday. The life of a newsie), and missing everything I had back home, I knew I had to get back to the Great Lakes State. One of the most positive effects that resulted from my brief stint as a fake southerner was the realization of how much love I have for the state of Michigan. I never imagined that I’d move anywhere else growing up, but I also never had an overwhelming urge to stay put.

Over the course of the year that I was down south, my coworkers noted time and again how much pride Michiganders have for their homeland. It isn’t just that we use our hands to show where we are in relation to other places around the state, but we constantly bombard people with how great our mitten-shaped landmass is. Whether it be the proclamation that we have not one, but TWO peninsulas, an overwhelming abundance of cherries, fudge and tulips, the ability to go “up north” and mingle with yoopers, Detroit’s role as the birthplace of both the automobile and Motown as well as a constantly growing laundry list of other claims to fame, Michiganders love their state. All it took was a little time in Kentucky to come to conclusion that the Pleasant Peninsula is where my heart and home will always be.

Do you have a tale from your experience being forced to move out of Michigan for work? I am looking for different perspectives. E-mail them to kaledavidoff@gmail.com and I will add them here!

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About Kale

Kale is a proud MSU Detroiter with filmmaking and social media aspirations. Currently in Production Assisting Purgatory, Kale has two goals in life: (1) Have a million followers on twitter and (2) Never pay a mortgage. So help Kale reach one of those goals, follow him @kaledavidoff

3 Responses to Tales From the Michigan Diaspora

  1. I moved from southeast Michigan in 1982 (during a previous recession where state grads could find no jobs there and HAD to leave) and people here in New York still ask where I’m from–never lost the accent. Although I say they are the ones with the accent. I have gone along with saying “soda,” though, since people would laugh in my face when I said “pop.”

  2. Steve Mitzel says:

    Dead on! I moved to CT 6 years ago and I am in Hartford the seispool of what is NO sports. A place where they have settled in that the main college sport is womens basketball (no offense), field hockey or lacrosse; a place where they believe that Big East (is there one anymore?) is college football; a place where they wake up every morning thinking that the Whalers moving was a dream; a place where their mason-dixon line is Yankees vs Red Sox; and they argue over Jets-Giants-Patriots. So I fly my Michigan flag most of the year, sport my Tigers gear and the old English D on my head and NO ONE knows what to make of it. I can’t wait for Michigan to come into Rentschler Field on Sep 21 and teach these boys some real football and tailgating.

    Also, my favorite vacation spot in the world is that little surfer town of Wrightsville Beach where I go to find myself.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Kale says:

      I’ve had my fair share of Wrightsville Beach days and nights. Lotta sun burns, and a lotta Tower 7 Burritos. No surfing, though. I’m not cool enough. I did, many a times, run on the beach and pretend I was in Rocky III