Besides all of this pesky teaching that I have to do this spring, I’ve been busy getting ready for this year’s Computers and Writing Conference. C&W is by far my favorite academic conference, but I don’t always go to it; in fact, I haven’t gone for the last couple of years. Two years ago, C&W was at Stanford, which would have been really nice (and I heard it was), but since the CCCCs was in San Francisco that year, it was out of my budget to go out there twice. Last year, C&W was in Lubbock, and while I again hear it was a great conference, my gut reaction was “Why in the heck would I want to go to Lubbock?”
This year, C&W is at Wayne State University in Detroit. That’s about 42 minutes from where I live and work, more or less (I live about a mile from EMU’s campus). So in that sense, it’s basically a local conference: I’m going to be commuting, arriving when I can and returning home to my own comfy bed and house each night. I have some working knowledge of the Detroit area (see below), and it will be nice to go to a conference and not spend a ton of money. Well, outside of the gas I’ll put in my car.
On the other hand, this might end up being kind of a pain in the butt. Those 42 minutes there and back assume no traffic problems, not an easy assumption between here and Detroit. I may very well regret not arranging for some sort of hotel or dorm stay for at least part of the conference. Also, even though I do live in the greater “metro Detroit” area, I can count on two hands (well, maybe 3) the number of times I’ve been east of about Dearborn in the nine years I’ve lived here. We’ve seen some plays and other performances in Detroit, there’s a great used book store downtown called John King Books I’ve been to a couple times, I’ve been to the Detroit Institute of Art, the Detroit Science Center, once to the Eastern Market, and we’ve been to Greektown two or three times. That’s pretty much it.
Typically, my wife and son and I get our various “services” in Ann Arbor or outer Detroit suburbs. I have certainly not “hung out” in Detroit much; in fact, our journeys into Detroit have always been very mission-specific.
I am quite sure that there are many in the C&W community who have the same reaction to Detroit that I had to Lubbock. In my above mentioned and fairly limited experience with Detroit, I think its reputation is both unfair and accurate. It’s “unfair” in that Detroit is not without some of the previously mentioned charms, and the area around Wayne State University is relatively safe. It certainly isn’t one of the more dangerous neighborhoods in Detroit. On the other hand, there really are a lot of burned-out and depressing looking buildings in Detroit, a lot of scary places, a lot of poverty, a lot of dirt and grime, etc., and it doesn’t have the sort of vibrant downtown culture of Chicago or New York.
Though I say all of this with limited knowledge of downtown Detroit, knowledge I’ll expand this week.
BTW, if anyone in the C&W world reading this is interested in an Ann Arbor side-trip and wants some ideas and advice, let me know and I’ll point you in the right direction if I don’t actually accompany you.