On my way to meet friends downtown for drinks tonight I got off onto Martin Luther King Boulevard and turned right on 14th street. It was pitch black in Detroit, not a single light to shine itself onto the desolate, vacant streets and guide me to my destination.
The prickly sensation of neck hairs stood up at full attention as I flipped on my high beams passing empty property after empty property. The darkness in the city casts numerous illusions on your psyche and tonight was no exception. Shadows of men aimlessly walking past my steel grey compact, ignorant of the danger that presented itself in the form of my four wheeled weapon. I was not stopping for anybody or anything.
Suddenly a building, a duplex with a square roof parallel to the flattened earth that surrounded it, burst into brightness just as I downshifted from 5th to 3rd. Cranking my neck to assure myself I didn’t witness a post Devil’s Night arson, I watched from my rear view mirror as a family of five poured out of the home to walk towards the lights of the Ambassador Bridge.
I quickly found myself back on the outposts of Detroit civilization, facing the now defunct but soon to be revived Mercury Bar. In the background stood Detroit’s version of Roman relics, Michigan Grand Central.
Parking in an empty lot, surrounded by the crumbling architecture that many including myself find so endearing - a symbol of a city that saw its greatest days pass stands wounded but proud, I notice friends catching my attention, beckoning me to join them for an artisan cocktail, a Penicillin from the Sugar House. The swirling of ginger and scotch reach the back of my throat as I hoisted my glass in the air, a fine tribute to Detroit: May you stand alone, surrounded by those who love you.
Today I turned 37. This sounds ridiculous but instead of heading straight home to celebrate with my family, I stopped by a local restaurant for a quick dinner. Stepping out of my car I was immediately greeted by the brisk cold air of a January evening in Michigan. The shivering however was soon to dissipate as I opened up the door to the chatter of hungry patrons. Needless to say, the place was packed, so the host asked if I would mind sitting in the bar area. “Not at all,” I said and off I went to maneuver my way through the crowd to find a dining spot.
The bar had these long tables where strangers were shoulder to shoulder next to strangers. There was a corner seat so I grabbed it after asking those dining if the seat was taken. “Not at all!” Said a friendly older gentleman sitting next to his wife.
“Northville” I thought to myself.
Since moving home, the sensors in my head seem to auto classify my neighbors. This after years on the Jersey shore where it took me almost half a decade to figure out where Belmar was. The familiarity of metropolitan Detroit was a welcome relief. Like the stress of anonymity was instantly lifted off my shoulders so I could be me again.
Three minutes into receiving a menu the six of us, plus our waiter were all on a first name basis. In a strange twist of six degrees of employment separation, it was soon discovered that the friendly couple, from Northville - yes I called it, were Ford retirees. The two gentlemen who were seated with us were suppliers working with Ford, and our waiter’s grandfather was a Ford retiree who bought his grandson a Focus upon his graduation from college.
Conversation, while fluid and friendly, revolved around the one industry that brought us together tonight - cars. It’s hard to quantify how many times I’d been in a room full of strangers looking for the emergency exit. We never really fit in out in NJ, but that was probably because we never tried. Here though? I was home. I was amongst people who had the same passions as I do who carried the same accent and the same friendly mannerisms. I could talk about the Auto Show, show off pictures from our Ford Flickr account through my iPhone and have everyone at the table leaning in purring over the Fusion.
This was my heaven. The core of everything that made me happy and not regret a single hardship my family faced coming back to Detroit. Believe me there have been hardships. But the faces I saw tonight, the random strangers I’ll probably never see again, made a birthday dinner that could have been as lonesome and melancholy as one could imagine turn to something warm and inviting.
We left tonight shaking hands and smiles. Reminding each other to drive safely and stay warm. A year ago, I thought to myself, I would have been on a 2.5 hour commute back to Middletown, NJ in complete silence. This though, this was every reason why I came back.
Happy birthday to me and it’s good to be home.
Our CEO grew up in Lawrence, Kansas.
Our President of the Americas grew up in Paramus, New Jersey.
Our CTO, Great Britain.
You get the picture.
Take a look around and you’ll realize the views that make up the leadership that steers the success of my employer are far from myopic. Nothing exemplifies this more than what’s taking place 20 miles south of my house at the North American International Auto Show where the influence of design and technology stretches far beyond the halls of World Headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan.
This past week I was fortunate enough to spend time with our global social media team. We all recognize that the opportunity to reach our customers, fans, and friends continues to grow, even as our world shrinks. It’s an exciting time to be a marketer. It’s even more exciting to be at Ford.
I think I’ve created a myriad of really interesting programs, campaigns and marketing innovations over the last few years but I don’t think I’ve done anything truly originative since 2001.
Let’s change that in 2012.