*This section of the audio story contains some words that may be found offensive if taken out of context. You can find a beeped version here.*
The path that brought us to Toledo was a winding one. In a way, you could say that we were brought here via a city of contradictions.
To give our daughter the best chance at living a full life, we had to leave. In moving, we were still seeking economic opportunity, but this time with the added requirement of finding a place amenable to the complexities of raising a young family with unique needs.
When asked what makes Ann Arbor unique, residents find it hard to express succinctly.
Bound to arise in such a conversation is some listing of the city’s desirable traits: safety, a first-rate public school system, a strong job market, a high quality of life, and—of course—Wolverine football.
Yet, it is tempting to believe that there is a reason that Ann Arbor consistently ranks as one of the top cities in America.
It is only recently that I have been able to distill my encounters with the city carefully enough to proffer a theory: Ann Arbor is a city that manages to be nothing and everything simultaneously.
Ann Arbor is not a big city, but you would be hard pressed to deny that it feels massive on game days when the city turns into a superorganism, a human sea of maize and blue.
Roughly half of the residents were born in-state, yet the diverse nationalities that the University of Michigan attracts makes it hard not to view Ann Arbor as a global city.
And, while Ann Arbor is not as old as Detroit, it feels hasty to conclude that its history is not as rich.
In short, Ann Arbor is a city that effortlessly melds opposites in such a way that makes it easy for the onlooker to see the Ann Arbor of their choosing.
In our case, we saw a city that boasts a world class medical campus, providing the expertise that our daughter needed.
The drive from Bismarck to Ann Arbor is about 18 hours with stops.
If done mindfully, you will notice the many different dialects, regional cuisines, geographies and communities that make up this country.
It has always intrigued me that the bulk of our country looks nothing like the media images that we project at home and abroad of an unbroken network of sprawling metropolises.
In reality, America is overwhelmingly rural.
The first thing that we noticed as we approached the Michigan border were the trees.
In a way, our arrival felt like a homecoming.
After living in tree-sparse North Dakota, Michigan felt more like the Southern backdrop of my childhood.
It didn’t take us long to settle into the city and establish a new rhythm.
Between unpacking, watching our daughter take her first wobbly steps, starting a new job, and staving off a growing addiction to all things Zingerman’s, our hands were full.
We spent as much time as possible enjoying Ann Arbor’s many spring and summer festivals.
There was a lot to like about Ann Arbor.
On the other hand, we were called niggers twice in our first month in the city.
Once by a motorist who was apparently pissed by the fact that we were obeying the speed limit.
As he veered into oncoming traffic and sped in front of us, he rolled down his window and let us know exactly how he felt.
The second time, my daughter and I were engaged in our daily ritual of checking the mail when someone ran down the street of our condominium screaming, ‘“Not gonna get me, niggers!”
I grew up in the South, so I am no stranger to white men calling me nigger.
But these times were different.
These were the first times that I had been called a nigger as a father.
The first time being called a nigger while clutching an infant.
This, too, was Ann Arbor.
Not to mention, at the end of the month we were either breaking even or skimming savings to pay for a two-bed, two-bath condo.
It was time to leave, again.