My partner and I recently did something we never dreamed we would do. No, we didn’t get married, despite living in New York City for the past 18 years where it’s perfectly legal to do so. This past July, Craig and I up and made the move back to our home state of Michigan.
Now what would possess two fairly sophisticated, early middle-aged gay men to do such a silly thing? Especially when the city of Detroit has gone bankrupt. Believe me, it’s something I never in a million years thought I would do. But here’s the thing… It’s a gay man’s prerogative to change his mind.
When Craig and I packed up our Budget rental truck at the ripe old age of 25 and we set out for the Big Apple, we both had stars in our eyes. Armed with our brand new BFAs, we were determined to take the Great White Way by storm and become the Next Big Things — be it on Broadway, film, or the small screen drama that was All My Children.
Where else but in New York City could a gay man find a gay bar on every corner in Chelsea? Where else but in New York City could an aspiring actor buy a ticket to a Broadway show at TKTS for just $35? Where else but in New York City (okay, Brooklyn) could a not-quite-out gay couple rent a nine hundred square foot apartment for just $775 per month?
Fast forward 18 years later… No more Splash, no more Rawhide, no more Twirl. The last Broadway show we saw for “half-price” cost us 80 bucks each. A one-bedroom in Park Slope goes for at least two grand, if not three. And don’t even get me started on all the people who’ve invaded Manhattan in the past decade, making it virtually impossible to get a seat at Starbucks on a Tuesday at 11 AM! (Does nobody ever work in this town?)
When I first moved to New York, I found myself filled with nothing but optimism. Now, after years of riding the subway, day after day, and having second-hand smoke blown in my face as I scurried down the sidewalks, I’d become a jaded, bitter pill and a hater of other people.
At this point in our lives, Craig and I had both given up our aspirations of being famous actors. My career turned toward writing, and I was fortunate to publish a string of novels starting in 2008. Craig’s last onstage appearance came in 2007, and he’s since found steady employment as a product specialist for an automotive company. I asked myself, “Why are we still here…paying $1400/month to live in a 500 square foot apartment…in Sunnyside, Queens?”
For the past six years I’d been writing about Detroit. All of the stories in all of my books take place in the Motor City and its suburbs. In writing about the places where I grew up—and eventually fled—I’d come to finally appreciate them. Places like the long-abandoned train station with its broken out windows; the former theatre, gutted and turned into a parking structure; even the town where I grew up, referred to by everyone and their brother as Hazeltucky. Why was I living in New York and writing about Detroit when I could simply live in Detroit — and for so much less?
Thanks to the economic downturn, Craig and I were able to purchase a 1924 Craftsman colonial in an historic Detroit suburb that is three times the size of our last New York apartment. While our monthly mortgage payment is only slightly less than our NYC rent, we now own an entire house. No one lives above or below us, so we can make as much noise as we want—whenever we want, doing whatever we want. We have an actual garage where we can park our car and a basement to store all our crap. And the best part about this whole move back to Michigan? Both of our families live within mere miles.
No more seeing our nieces and nephews only twice a year. No more missing out on Thanksgiving and Easter dinners. No more only getting to see the Tigers play baseball when they take on the Yankees and/or Mets. If I need to research a specific Detroit locale for a story that I’m writing, I can just jump in my car and go and visit the actual place instead of having to look up the street view on Google Maps.
Yes, Detroit is not New York City. But New York City wasn’t home.
Frank Anthony Polito is the award-winning author of Band Fags! and Drama Queers! The third book in this trilogy, The Spirit of Detroit, is now available on Amazon.com. He lives in Pleasant Ridge, MI, with his partner, Craig Bentley.