I began my trip in Dearborn, Michigan, which is the same distance from Detroit as Pasadena is from Los Angeles. But the comparisons stop there.
Dearborn (and Dearborn Heights) was once the mecca of Ford workers and their post-WWII brick houses. Row after row of average-ness, it’s hard not to feel the glare of suburbia that once was. I can imagine this was the kind of place the movie, The Sandlot, was based on.
Now, it’s more of a mecca for immigrants from Iraq and Lebanon, boasting the largest population of Arabs in the US, which may be due to the fact that it’s cheap. So much so, one can buy a decent multi-bedroom house for around $50,000.
Now, it’s the kind of place where one can find every fast-food chain in the nation and in between each of these fortified versions of Americana, a family-owned bar, restaurant, grocery store that has been here at least since at least the 1950s belies a whole different side of American life.
As for those beaten-up looking joints strewn across Dearborn, highlighted by signs painted in haute 1970s design or advertised by diluted neon lights, are what in Los Angeles one would refer to as a dive. But each one of these places, as I’m finding, has a character unto itself and surprises along the way.
Take Miller’s, a bar and hamburger joint with the stripped down building outside, painted in a drab white and dark green; it would suggest a rougher culture in other parts of the US. But here, one can get a renowned hamburger or a ham and cheese sandwich, that looked like one could die for, complete with fries. “I guess it’s kind of weird for a bar to advertise itself as a family place,” Nick said to me as we walked in. The booths were mostly filled with families or teenagers looking for a late snack on a Friday night. But then again, this wasn’t too odd for me–my parents used to take us to any place with good, cheap food and at the young age of ten, I’d been to more Irish pubs than most people I knew. Yet, I wasn’t allowed to watch PG-13 movies until I was 13…
With everyone relying on the food or getting beers, I was a bit skeptical of the quality of the drinks at Miller’s. But I should have known that any place that has the original polished wood bar in tack, one gets quality drinks. To test this theory, I ordered an old-fashioned, a drink that places have more trouble with than it’s worth. It was perfect and a total of $4.
We’ve been told if you go there more than twice you become family. I’m looking forward to see if this is true. If nothing else, I want to see how Miller’s decorates for St. Patrick’s Day, given that in honor of Valentine’s day there were giant pictures of the “Love is…” characters, red paper hearts, and more garlands in pink and silver than I’ve seen at a gay pride parade.