Dr. Cornel West shook my hand that damp February night in Portland, looked me in the eye and asked, “Why did you leave Detroit?” He didn’t really want to know why. I don’t think he really gave a shit about why I was there in Portland’s NPR-cultured, white bastion of liberalism. That wasn’t his immediate interest. Rather, Dr. West shot daggers at me with a sadness from knowing that I’d given up on Detroit, that I’d left a city that needed not only me, but all the others that decided to leave because it, for a lack of a better term, sucked. Portland certainly didn’t need me. They’ve always had enough white progressives to ensure a better city for everyone, including even the nutty conservatives. Detroit, however, no longer did and, indeed, still does not.

Dr. West’s blades pierced my soul that night, I think, and it’s bled ever since – a slow trickle filling a bucket of unfortunate hope. He made my mind think about home, which was something I hadn’t wanted to do in the many months since I’d left Detroit. I focused on the numbers, of course – the murder rate, the unemployed, the homeless – and I sought a place where WDIV couldn’t drum my brain with the torrential rain of depressing news of my own home. But, I knew that I sold out not only myself and my friends, but my city.

Several times since then, we’ve had small but palpable chances of returning to Detroit, but none panned as well as I’d hoped. This yearning for Detroit isn’t just about my selfish sorrow nor is it about acting like a savior, because little insignificant me is certainly not going to be Detroit’s saving entity. Detroit will do that on its own now. It’s not about this, though. Clearly, at least in my mind, this is all about hitting a reset button. I don’t think that I’d want to travel back in time, though, because my experiences away from Detroit have moved me to where I am today. To eliminate this all would be stupid. However, Kim and I have always said that if we should ever return to Detroit, it would be on our own terms. I want a way back to where things felt most real.

I’m just about a week and a half away from saying goodbye to my wife and my kids. Portland and the Western Culinary Institute are waiting for me to dig in, settle, and transform my life over the next fourteen months. You cannot imagine the feelings I’ve had to volley from my own doubt to the unceasing earthquake in my stomach at the thought of not waking to my beautiful daughters. Every time I even think about it my eyes begin to tear. But then, I shouldn’t be such a baby. There are men and women who are torn away from their families to go to some hellish hole with their life in their own hands protected by a shitty semi-automatic gun and a flimsy flak jacket. I’m going to Portland, a food mecca all its own, to hone my butter knife skills as a home cook into the forged blade skills of a professional chef. What a shitty life, eh?

You may think that somewhere in the back of my brain that I think that I can save Detroit with food. Well, sure, I do – in that Ralphie kind of way (refer to “A Christmas Story”). It’s nuts, I know, but food is a power that builds and destroys. It heals and hurts. Food is the be all, end all – period. As you probably well know, I love to eat and I love to cook. I love to entertain. I love Martha Stewart and Ina Garten and I obsess over all things foodie. But in the same manner, I obsess over the politics of food. I examine what it means to eat what we eat, how we eat it, and where we get it. It takes passion to move mountains, and I think this is where my mountain needs to be moved. But, Detroit? My guess is that most people would think I was insane for even thinking this. I might be. But, Christ, I need to do this.

Indeed, Detroit is a big reason I am going to school. I have other reasons such as my selfish desire to fashion some sort of career out of myself – to create some living out of my hands. My wife and kids, of course, play a huge part. I not only want to pass on what I know to my girls, but I want to pass on what I have and, right now, I have close to nothing except for an excellent leather-bound edition of The Lord of the Rings. To my wife, I want to gift a life to be happy with, a home to live in, and a future to look forward to.

Undeniably filled with excitement as well as fear, I am approaching these last few days with my family under a black cloud. Life is so uncertain and I hate it for that. But then I embrace it, as well. I don’t have a place to live yet in Portland, nor do I have a job. I’m hoping these will come dropping out of the cosmos sometime soon. Of course, I’ve worked at obtaining these things, but nothing has come through. Is it me, or is it nearly impossible to get an apartment and a job before you actually arrive somewhere new? I was always under the assumption that people managed to do this all the time and that I had this nasty bad luck of not having things work out this way. Either way, I’m looking at a shaky financial situation getting even shakier with the changes we face. Hell, I still need to get a laptop so I can communicate effectively! If anyone would like to donate to this very honorable cause, send me a message! PLEASE! I’m certainly not below begging for money – I like to look at it as a philanthropic pursuit on your part!

I feel like it’s June of 1991 again. I was leaving Detroit to rest my fate in the lap of America’s Air Force and didn’t know where I’d end up in four years. Although I hoped I would have a better job than as a sales guy at the Sears Outlet over on Mack and Moross. In 1995, I ended up back home with a budding family and a decent job.

Here’s to hoping that history does repeat itself.