Ypsilanti immigration interview: Michael Geminder

As you know, over the past few weeks, I’ve been interviewing people who have, for one reason or another, chosen to leave the Ypsi/Arbor area in hopes of making a better life somewhere else. While I think I had a pretty good sense as to why people generally leave our community, I thought that it would be interesting to hear it from them directly. I also thought that maybe people, as they were on their way out, might be a little more honest about the challenges that face our community. While the information I’ve collected through these interviews has certainly been interesting, I think we’d all agreed that it only tells part of the story. Well, to get at the other part, I’ve decided to also start interviewing people who have recently moved here, or are in the process of doing so. Following is the first of such interviews.

MARK: What’s your name, and what do you do?

MICHAEL: My name is Michael Geminder. I am a user interface and user experience designer – I design software tools and web sites.

MARK: Did I hear correctly that you just purchased a vacation home in Ypsilanti? Or, I guess, as you’ll be working here for a good portion of the year, vacation home probably isn’t the right term. What do you plan to refer to this residence as?

MICHAEL: I did purchase a home in Ypsilanti, though I have not been calling it a “vacation home.” Both the bank I have my mortgage through and my home insurance company refer to it as a “second home.” I plan to share time between my home in Ypsilanti, and my home in San Jose, CA. I have been calling one the Ypsi house, and the other the San Jose house. I guess “second home” feels most appropriate.

MARK: When was your first visit to Ypsilanti?

MICHAEL: I think my first visit was for a week in 2007. I came back again in July of 2008. A longer visit (3 weeks) in Fall of 2010. And two visits so far this year. I will be driving out for an extended stay in late September.

MARK: What was it about Ypsi that made you think, “This is the kind of place that I’d like to spend more time?” I mean, given what you do, you could work from almost anywhere, right?

MICHAEL: Yes, I work remotely, so I can work from anywhere that has decent cell phone reception and an Internet connection. Lots of things make Ypsilanti attractive to me, but I think there are a couple that stand out.

I have never lived anywhere besides the west coast, and as a result, have never really experienced anything more than mildly cool and hot/dry weather. The idea of experiencing an actual Autumn, or snow during the Winter … experiencing those changes is appealing to me. I suppose there are plenty of places I could experience that, but it is one thing I really look forward to.

Each time I have visited Ypsilanti, I have met a couple more new people. Friends of friends. And then friends of friends of friends. The one thing that has stood out to me is that everyone I have met seems to be very passionate about something (or multiple things), and rather than just talking about it or reading about it or thinking about it, they are actually doing it. People making music. Creating art. Brewing beer. Roasting coffee. Preserving vegetables. Planting native gardens. I find it inspiring and exciting to be around people that have a passion that they are acting on.

MARK: How does Ypsi compare to what you live at the moment?

MICHAEL: The population of San Jose is almost a million people. I live in a tract home that was built in 1960. I have a very small backyard, and very little room between my house and my neighbors’ houses. It took me 3 years to move from #94 to #77 on the waiting list for my local community garden. To go grocery shopping or run errands I typically need to get in my car.

I am looking forward to spending time in a smaller town. Less time in a car, more time on a bike or on foot. Having a yard that I can create some raised beds in, and grow my own vegetables.

MARK: Is there anything you miss from back home when you’re here, in Ypsi?

MICHAEL: I miss my friends and my family. I miss my dogs.

MARK: It’s not really a question, but it makes me happy to know that someone who doesn’t have to be here is actually choosing to be here. With so many friends leaving Michigan, due to the economy and other factors, it’s nice to be reminded that there are still compelling reasons for sane folks to be here. I have no doubt that a great many people here will want to talk with you about your decision. Ten years ago, when Linette and I decided to move to Ypsi from LA, we were constantly asked why we’d decided to settle here of all places. It was kind of as if people couldn’t believe it… Or, maybe they just thought that we were up to something.

MICHAEL: The reaction from from different folks that I have met/know in Ypsi has been overwhelmingly positive. I don’t think I have had one person say “why are you doing that?” which makes me think that people know what a special place Ypsi is. Friends and family that are not in Michigan have certainly questioned the choice, but I think it is more tied to the “second home”, and not the location. When I explain to friends what is attractive about living in Ypsi, they tend to get it pretty quickly.

MARK: I don’t want to delve too much into your personal life, but, if you don’t mind, I think it’s worth mentioning that you first came to visit Ypsi because a good friend of yours moved here when his partner took a faculty position at EMU. I think it’s important to note because, so often we just think about the EMU employees that live in the community, and their direct contributions, in terms of taxes, good works, and the like, and don’t consider all of the other stuff that happens as a result of their being here.

MICHAEL: Yes, sorry, I should have mentioned that earlier. My introduction to Ypsi and a huge part of wanting to live here is to be near one of my closest and oldest friends and his family.

MARK: You mention a desire to garden, and live in a walkable community as reasons for choosing to invest in Ypsilanti. I’m wondering if, when you’re not working with your vegetables, or writing software, you foresee yourself having time to participate in the community in other ways. I’m not trying to pressure you into biting off more than you can chew, but I’m curious as to whether or not you’ve thought about areas in which you might want to engage with the wider community. For instance, have you talked with the Bike Ypsi folks, or looked into the homebrew club that meets at the Corner Brewery, or considered looking into one of the “transition” groups that deals with issues like sustainability and local food access?

MICHAEL: My focus at the moment is on a lot of the personal crap associated with moving someplace new. Getting the house set up, getting to know the neighborhood. Once I settle in a bit, I am looking forward to getting involved. Food, beer and music are big interests of mine… I expect I’ll put in my 6+ hours a month of volunteer work at the food co-op. My trip last year was conveniently timed to coincide with Totally Awesome Fest, which would be great to help out with. I’d love to get involved with the beer festival and the homebrew club (though they may mock my use of extract kits). I expect one challenge I will have is how to get involved – and stay involved – without being in Ypsi 100% of the time.

MARK: I don’t know if you were kidding, but, when I asked you about doing this interview, you mentioned that you read my site on occasion, to keep up with what’s going on here. I’m just curious if there’s anything that I’ve written about recently that has given you cause to question your decision. For instance, when you were reading my Ypsi exit interview with Hob the Troll, did it occur to you that Ypsi might be changing for the worse?

MICHAEL: Yeah, I do read your site, and saw the recent exit interviews with Hob the Troll and Forest Juziuk. I have also heard of a couple other long-term Ypsi residents recently relocating. From my read of the folks that are leaving, it has less to do with Ypsi and more to do with personal/external circumstances. So no, I don’t feel like Ypsi might be changing for the worse. The places that I have lived that have a strong, creative and passionate community are always in transition. Old people leaving, and new people coming in. I feel like some of that change, and the new faces, personalities and interests help keep the community moving forward.

MARK: Is there anything else that you’d like to say?

MICHAEL: If anyone wants to teach me how to drive in the snow, let me know.

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  1. josh
    Posted September 9, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    Driving in the snow is easy. Just drive like the brake pedal has been removed. If you need to use it, you were going to fast and now have a 50/50 shot of winding up in a snowbank.

  2. Edward
    Posted September 10, 2011 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Trading a full time troll for a part time software engineer seems like a pretty good trade to me.

    Welcome to Ypsi, Michael.

  3. Kim
    Posted September 10, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    I wish I had friends with the financial wherewithal to do things like this. It would be cool to have a seasonal influx of creative types coming to Ypsi.

  4. Ale Roka
    Posted September 10, 2011 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    Welcome Michael.

    I just met someone who moved to Michigan from California for a university job. When she heard I’m pretty much a state lifer, she asked, “What is there to do?” I didn’t have a quick answer (it seemed to expect a “visit the such and such” response); your move and motivations, I think, have helped me find an answer.

    There’s not a lot of big things to “do” here. Except get to know your neighbors. Plant things. Start things. Make things.

    (Sidebar: A Yooper I knew who learned to play the mandolin, quite well, one winter because she had nothing else to do.)

    I think the “nothing to do” is a core part of both our creative strength and intimate community (not to mention the success of Mark’s blog which is, most nights, the only thing to do). Every week, we have more friends we want to dine with than time or physical capacity to dine.

    So, next time I see her, I’ll have a response: What to do? Learn to knit. Better yet, join a knitting club.

    I do like it here. I like surviving with friends.

    (On driving in snow, first big dump, find an empty parking lot and get the feel of it. It’s kind of like paddling on a river; you accept that there’s a current you can’t totally resist, but the worst thing you can do is panic and overreact.)

  5. Jandek on Oakwood
    Posted September 11, 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Michael is a most wonderful addition to Ypsifornia.

  6. Eel
    Posted September 11, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know if you’re the kind of guy who would be interested in such things, but, from what I can tell, with the exception of about 4 days a year, prostitution is legal in Ypsilanti.

    The best Happy Hour is at Haab’s, but locals like to keep it a secret, for fear that it will become too popular.

    Don’t eat fish from the Huron. They’re giant, meaty carp, so I can see how you might be tempted, but I’m told they’re toxic.

    There is a gang war taking place between hipsters and hippies. The god of the hippies was recently kidnapped and burned to death. So, if you’re the kind of guy who likes to be on the winning side, I’d choose the hipsters. (Ypsi is unusual in that even fat people without facial hair can join the hipsters.)

    If I think of any more advice, I’ll leave another comment.

  7. CG
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    For driving in the snow, get an all-wheel drive (or at a minimum front wheel drive) vehicle and good, all-season tires. Accelerate and drive slowly. Pump your brakes rather than slam them. Turn slowly. I always avoid the expressway if I can. Practice in the Ypsi high school parking lot.

  8. Busyish
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Be careful of your overall water usage here….the Ypsilanti Water Department tacks a surcharge of 80% of your total bill onto whatever you use.

    I just learned the hard way after a teensy attempt at lawn beautification.

  9. Meta
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Sometimes the city bills you for not shoveling your sidewalk even when you did.


  10. Lacey Rufcorn
    Posted October 27, 2011 at 4:30 am | Permalink

    Other people may buy this, but I don’t. I don’t believe there is such a man. I think this is a marketing campaign, paid for by Mark’s friends at City Hall, in hopes of starting a trend in which people start buying 2nd homes in Ypsilanti. I can see through it.

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