Lost Little Toledoan
Finding a place on Main Street
by Rebecca Godwin
I've never been one to go searching for change. I give into it only when absolutely forced, and then only after a good deal of denial, whining, and arguing. But even my own pigheadedness, honed as it is, could not convince my parents that I didn't need a college education, didn't need to leave the familiar comfort of home. And so I enrolled at the U-M last fall.
In Toledo, I knew my place; it was my community, and despite its flaws, I was rather fond of it. But in Ann Arbor, with its anxiety-inducing unknown, I could see myself only as the new girl whose name no one knew, the girl who had lost her place.
My first couple weeks were a mixture of highs and lows. I made friends quickly and figured out my way around campus without much of a problem. Once off campus, though, I transformed into a lost little Toledoan, confused by the unfamiliar streets and businesses.
I searched for a street that would allow me to slip into the flow of people and not feel like a stranger. It didn't take long.
An astounding amount of sound hit me as I stepped onto Main Street. A snippet of Arabic floated by as a Middle Eastern family browsed the storefronts, drawn in by the tinkling music coming from one shop's open doors. Hushed voices came from the perfectly tailored businessmen as they hurried past. A few melancholy notes drifted down from a lone cardinal perched on a tree above. The traffic produced a never-ending symphony of murmuring hybrids, rumbling trucks, loud motorcycles, and rattling buses. It was busy and chaotic, and it reminded me of home.
For the first time since leaving Toledo, I was surrounded by people who weren't college students. A group of teenage girls, wearing outfits that looked like they had come off an Abercrombie display, stopped to buy brightly colored belly-dancing skirts from a store specializing in items from the Himalayas. Across
the street, a couple dressed head to toe in black entered Selo/Shevel Gallery, quickly browsing through the collection of handcrafted glass and pottery before they continued down the street, the woman's high heels echoing in their wake.
As I watched them pass, my eyes fell upon Lena; its retro facade complete with pastel green walls reminded me of a diner where I had spent many mornings growing up. I wanted to absorb the street's buzzing energy. For a moment I was surrounded by the pure white clothes of a yoga class letting out, then the black leather of two passing bikers. Elmo's window was filled with bright neon T-shirts aimed at the passing tourists.
"Wait, sweetheart, mommy's over here," shouted a concerned father as his rambunctious toddler sprinted off, running as fast as her chubby legs would carry her. Further down the block, a man and his two sons sat eating their lunches. Dressed in black leather with a shaved head and goatee, he looked like he belonged in a motorcycle gang, and I avoided eye contact as I passed. But his mannerisms couldn't have been gentler as he wiped the younger boy's face.
Halfway down the block, an elderly couple paused in their walk so the woman could fix the man's shirt, giving a playful shake of the head as if to say "even after all these years ..." My attention was drawn next to a park bench across the street, where a boyfriend playfully tickled his blonde girlfriend before tucking his arm around her and letting out an unmistakable sigh of contentment. That sigh was almost immediately followed by a sigh of impatience, as if to say, "Come on, guys, you're not getting married for awhile," from a young girl standing behind the couple as she pulled her two older sisters away from a wedding dress display.
Missing my own pets back in Toledo, I felt a jolt of excitement to see people walking their dogs. I watched in amusement as a young woman fought with her tiny white dog; the harder the woman tugged on the leash, the more determined the dog seemed not to move. "You're so spoiled," the woman said with a half-laugh as she bent down and scooped up the tiny animal.
I stayed for hours, simply watching the people pass, listening to pieces of their conversations. I had finally found a place where I could both embrace my new city and be reminded of home. Here I was no longer just a Toledoan or just an Ann Arborite. On Main Street, I could be both.
[Originally published in April, 2013.]