Apparently, people keep moving to Ypsilanti… Today’s interview is with a young woman named Gilliam Ream.
MARK: When did you move to Ypsilanti, and what brought you here?
GILLIAN: We (my partner Adam and I) moved here in July 2011. Honestly, coming to Ypsi was just a happy accident. We were planning to stay in Ann Arbor… but suddenly and unexpectedly had to leave our house – so we had less than 30 days to find a new place to live for two people, two cats and a dog. We looked all over Ann Arbor, found one place that was pretty nice, but that was stretching the price range, and would have left us homeless for almost a month. (July is a terrible time to look for immediate occupancy in A2.)
Just as we were starting to get desperate a coworker sent out our plea via email and Facebook to the Ypsi neighborhood associations and his various Ypsi connections. (I believe the title was, “Here’s a chance to steal a household from Ann Arbor.”) We got an email within a couple of days about a great little house, bigger and $400 cheaper than the Ann Arbor place we looked at, walking distance to Depot Town and with a fenced-in backyard for the dog. I couldn’t be happier about the decision. We’re pretty much hooked on Ypsi now.
MARK: According to my files (yes, I keep files on everyone), you work for a non-profit in downtown Ypsi. I don’t seem to have any information on Adam, though. Does he work, go to school, etc? And, if so, where?
GILLIAN: Adam writes software for a small company that specializes in restaurant management software – scheduling, inventory, that kind of thing. The company was started in Ann Arbor but their employees are international, so he works from home. (I also work from home about half the time – another reason we wanted a bigger house.)
MARK: Where have you lived prior to Ypsilanti?
GILLIAN: Adam and I both grew up in Ann Arbor (and met at Community High oh so long ago). He’s lived in Ypsi before and was also in Plymouth for a while. I’ve been all over – Baltimore, Toronto, and almost a year in Thailand. I moved back to Michigan for grad school in 2007.
MARK: I won’t hold you to it, but I’m wondering if you’re planning on staying in Michigan for the foreseeable future, now that you’re back.
GILLIAN: Yep, I’m pretty committed to staying in Michigan. Coming back home for grad school was very intentional – I had been doing international development work in Toronto and came to the realization that I had a lot more power to make a difference here than in Kenya. I guess I was ready for a longer term commitment to a community. It also helps that both my parents and Adam’s parents are all within 30 minutes. It makes holidays a little hectic, but in general it’s nice to be close.
MARK: Have you made friends here? It’s OK to say, no, by the way. I’ve heard that it can take up to three years for people to make friends when moving to a new place.
GILLIAN: Yes! I think that’s why I like Ypsi so much.To be fair, we had a few good friends here before moving, and Adam was getting pretty involved with Bike Ypsi, but I’ve met a lot of great people. It’s actually a nice balance of familiarity for me – I like seeing familiar faces around town, but Ann Arbor had been getting to the point where I couldn’t go anywhere without seeing people I knew from a million years ago – it’s a very small town when you grow up there.
I will admit, though, that my fears of not seeing as much of my Ann Arbor friends have kind of come true. The Great Washtenaw Rift is real.It takes some extra effort to overcome it.
MARK: Do you have any childhood friends from Ann Arbor who now live in Ypsi, or are you the only one?
GILLIAN: Not many at the moment, but there’s kind of an Ypsi revolving door with Ann Arbor kids. My best friend lived in Ypsi when she moved home after 10 years in Chicago, but she went back to Ann Arbor just a couple months before we moved here. Another friend from high school is currently trying to buy a house here. I also run into a fair number of people I know from A2 around town. (For example I see Erin Dion, who I went to elementary and high school with, almost daily at Beezy’s – it turns out she used to live in the house I live in now!)
MARK: Do you own a home, or do you rent?
GILLIAN: Rent (see above). But we’re looking at buying within the next couple years and Ypsi has moved to the top of the list of places where we’d look.
MARK: Do you have any questions about Ypsilnati that I could, maybe, help you with? Have you seen anything, or smelled anything, for instance, that just doesn’t make sense?
GILLIAN: Glad you asked! Do you know anyone who has tried the Bul Taco at the Chick Inn? I am intrigued and terrified.
MARK: Hmmm. I usually get the fried chicken basket, and Linette usually opts for a Hammy Sammy wedged between two Paul Bunyon burgers. (She calls it a Triple Down.) So, we’ve never tried the Bul Taco. (Does it really just have one “l”?) But I suspect that someone in the audience can help you out.
GILLIAN: Yep. Just one “l.” Rumor has it it’s a Bul Go Gi taco.
MARK: Where else do you eat when you eat out in Ypsi?
GILLIAN: Two words: Hidden. Dragon. I can not get enough Ma Po Tofu. It’s a little embarassing to say how often I eat there, but I will tell you it was the #1 thing I was excited about when I moved to Ypsi. I was introduced to the place probably 6 years ago by friends who used to live in Ypsi, and we’d go at least once a month – they’d drive from Northville and I’d come from Ann Arbor. The secret is that you have to ask for the Chinese menu.
MARK: Do you read Chinese? Or do you ask for the Chinese menu, and then ask for them to read it to you?
GILLIAN: Oh yeah, I should have clarified – The Chinese menu is in both Chinese and English. It’s just got more traditional Chinese dishes than the American-Chinese menu that they usually give to white people. Their American-Chinese food is okay too, it’s just nothing special.
MARK: What’s a typical weekend like for you?
GILLIAN: To be truthful, weekends involve a lot of cleaning, grocery shopping and working, but right now it’s Friday afternoon and I’m working from Corner Brewery, so I guess I can’t complain. Other than that, I try to get a board game in – scrabble or something geekier, and I usually try to do something outside, too – either riding bikes or going for a hike with the dog. You also might catch me at Hidden Dragon on Sunday night.
MARK: I’ve heard taht, prior to moving back to Michigan, you lived in Baltimore and Toronto. As I have some friends in Baltimore, and almost lived there myself, I was wondering what you made of it? I’ve always had the sense that there’s a certain similarity to Ypsilanti.
GILLIAN: I’d never thought of it that way before, but I do think Baltimore and Ypsi have a certain similarity. When I lived in Baltimore I used to joke that all the stores were locally owned, but only because most big companies didn’t want to invest there. You could say the same of downtown Ypsi, where Deja Vu and Jimmy John’s are really the only “big chain businesses” I can think of. It’s something that appeals to me about both places – I’d much rather hear “there’s a new BBQ restaurant going in on Michigan ave” instead of “we’re getting a Denny’s.”
Baltimore’s also awesome because it’s like the undiscovered gem of the east coast. Rent is cheap so there are lots of warehouse studios and live music venues. It takes a little while to find the good ones but until you do you can take the train to DC for $6 (which is what I used to do almost every weekend). I have a lot of friends that moved to Baltimore right after I left and have stayed there. In fact, my friend’s husband just opened a pizza place (hershspizza.com).. if you’re ever visiting.
MARK: As for Toronto, I just visited there for the first time, and liked it. I’m curious to know if you ever considered a permanent move to Canada? And, if so, why?
GILLIAN: So, after gushing about Ypsi and Baltimore’s awesome grassroots grittiness, I’ll admit the truth: I LOVE TORONTO. It might be the best city on earth. It’s a great place for biking (or was until Rob Ford became mayor), there are free festivals every weekend, and for $6 you can take a ferry to an island in the middle of the harbor with an amusement park, a disc gold course and your choice of nude and non-nude beaches.
The live music might have been my favorite part (hit up NXNE sometimes – it’s a chiller, cheaper version of SXSW – think $30 for a festival pass instead of $400). In 2006 I saw 75 live bands play over the course of the year. Canada also invests heavily in the arts, so you can go to the symphony or see 10 plays on any given night for less than $15.
Rob Ford aside, Canadians on the whole are refreshingly down-to-earth politically. It was awfully appealing to stay in a place where elections only last 5 weeks, where people don’t mind paying taxes to have a great place to live, where you can marry whoever you want to and where the police don’t waste time chasing down pot heads…
So yeah, I strongly considered becoming Canadian. But in the end I decided I wanted to invest in a community long-term, and I wanted to be back in Michigan. So, I’ll be fighting the good fight here until further notice.
[For those interested, the rest of my Ypsilanti Immigration Interviews can be found here.]