I took the receipt from the credit union teller and our conversation came to an end. As if she’d forgotten something, she shook her head, gave me that “Oh, wait…” gape, and asked when I’d be leaving for Portland. Lately, I’d gone over some of my recent life-highlights in passing when depositing funds. I chuckled at her question because she was the first person beside my wife and immediate family to hear the answer. Stuttering a bit, I quietly answered with the ten ton boom, “Oh, uh, I’m not going.” She was shocked because I’d seemed to be so excited about it over the last several weeks. I was.

From the minute I signed my loan application I’ve incubated a smallish stomach ache – a pain at the thought of the amount of debt I’d go into once my schooling at the Western Culinary Institute was complete. What I would face after just a year and some months of the culinary education into which I was delving would be somewhere close to 50 thousand dollars. That’s nothing to sneeze at, especially considering that the most I’ve gone in debt for was a car a third of that cost which ended up getting repossessed on a cold March day in 2001. As each day drew to the inevitable dive into the unknown, this pain became less of a stomach ache and more like the proverbial ulcer. But, I was sure to face it down for the sake of changing my future.

Every weekday morning I wake up at 6:15am. I truly enjoy this because I’m naturally a morning kind of person. Feeling the energy of waking with the sun, sniffing the morning dew, and being able to plant a big wet one on my kids’ cheeks are all big, bright experiences that begin my days in a way that cannot be duplicated in any other place nor time. Even their morning breath draws at least a crooked smile from my face. Children are a parent’s living treasures but sometimes, in order to improve or enhance life, you have to leave them to pursue professional paths. More so than even the monster of debt did I dread this collateral outcome of my going off to a professional school. I can fictionalize debt collectors in the future and act as if I can avoid them, but missing even just a year in a 12 and 4 year-old’s life is all too real a proposition for this weak soul. I truly feel for anyone who is dragged away from their families, bound to a situation not of their making. I, obviously, cannot fathom such a condition nor its outcome.

As I approached the zero hour, I wanted to run my mind through another series of tests – a battery of questions styled after “Truth or Dare.” I needed to rake my brain over some very hot coals because I absolutely needed to make sure that what I was doing was appropriate and was to the benefit not only me and my family, but my friends back home as well. What was it that I aimed for? What was it that Dr. Cornel West meant when he asked me why I left Detroit in the first place? Why was I looking at Detroit as being some point in the future instead of working towards it directly as soon as possible?

Why was I going to Portland, again?

In the Detroit area, there is a great record shop called Record Time. I’d been a customer for years and some of my best friends have put in time there as a resident cocky music purveyor. Although I loved going there, I’d instantly get lost once inside and forget what the hell it was that I came in for in the first place. The place does that to me. It triggers some sort of ADD reaction in which I can’t handle all the CDs, posters, poseurs, and mock DJs. I can’t keep a single thought as straight as it should be. This would often work in Record Time’s favor, however, as I would walk out with at least a CD more than I’d wanted to come in for. But, Record Time aside, this vertigo is what I felt about a week ago. I saw so many things in my mind’s eye but didn’t know what the hell I’d come for. I needed some focus.

Several months ago I picked up a goldmine of a book from the library about charcuterie, which is the art of food preservation a la sausages, confits, terrines, etc. It’s a book authored by Michael Ruhlman (also of The French Laundry Cookbook amongst others) and Brian Polcyn. I noticed that Brian Polcyn was from Michigan and taught at the culinary program based at Schoolcraft College in Livonia. I thought nothing of it because, to be frank, who would think that an excellent culinary program existed within the Detroit area?

Last week, it hit me. After some very intense and deep research the air was sucked out of the Portland project. Hell, it was sucked out of me as well. Something that I’d thought about almost every minute of every day since June no longer seemed like the best idea in the world. The wind had steered my course in a different direction and I’d no hope of redirecting my sails – and I was all the happier for it.

My intention was to return to Detroit and to return as someone who loves the city for what it is. Its past and potential are nothing without its present and if there’s no love for the present, then you can forget it all. That’s what hit me hardest. If I claim to be a firm supporter of local farms, businesses, and artists then why the hell would I go anywhere else to hone my craft? Why would I leave Detroit out of my loop? I’m finally under the clarity of seeing that my intent isn’t to bring something back to Detroit. It’s to give birth, to nurture, and to grow my craft there in Southeast Michigan because, fuck all, it’s worth it and I’ll be proud to say that I did it.

Next summer, Detroit, we’ll be home. I hope you’ll take us back.