Ypsi immigration interview: Sunny Smith and Michael McAtee

A few days ago, after posting an exit interview with my friend Josh, I mentioned that I needed to take a break from interviewing people who were leaving Ypsi for a while, and focus instead on interesting, new people moving into our community. Well, shortly after posting that, I received an email from a reader by the name of Sunny Smith, offering herself up as an interview subject. What follows is my conversation with Sunny, and her husband, Michael.

MARK: Let’s start with your names.

SUNNY: My name is Sunny Smith.

MICHAEL: And I’m Michael McAtee.

MARK: Where did you come from?

SUNNY: Originally, I come from Indianapolis, Indiana, though I’ve traveled around the world quite a bit to end up here.

MICHAEL: And I’m from Irvington, which is a neighborhood in Indianapolis.

MARK: Why did you choose to settle in Ypsilanti, of all places?

SUNNY: My husband and I have great jobs at University of Michigan, and we quickly fell in love with Ypsilanti. There’s such a great sense of community and love here. I feel like the people that live here enjoy the town and each other.

MICHAEL: I think of Ypsilanti as kind of being on an alternate timeline from the neighborhood I grew up in. Both have amazing historic homes and buildings. Both have quirky histories. Both have lively arts scenes. Both have a socially and economically diverse community. The difference is the University. Butler University moved from Irvington to a larger campus after WWI, and left quite a wake. Ypsi is what I’d imagine Irvington would be like if Butler had stayed. All the things I liked about home, but better.

MARK: How did you first hear of Ypsilanti?

MICHAEL: Hah. Probably from a student on the U-M Diag complaining about how she had to interact with people who weren’t also white 21-year-olds with endowments when she went to a bar in Ypsi. I might be paraphrasing and amalgamating. Alternately, Ypsi was also explained to me as the last line of defense from Detroit’s suburban sprawl.

SUNNY: I hadn’t heard about Ypsilanti until I moved to Ann Arbor with an ex-boyfriend 8 years ago.

MARK: Not only did you decide to live here, but, as I understand it, you bought a house here. That’s a pretty big commitment, is it not?

SUNNY: Yeah, we bought a house this past April! We weren’t planning on buying a house at all, but started looking, kind of on a whim, and found this incredible house! It’s definitely a big commitment, and we’re learning that now, as we just had to pay a plumber, and then a furnace repairman. But this house is just what Mike and I need, with the incredible studio in front, beautiful shade trees, and a wonderfully quiet neighborhood surrounding us.

MICHAEL: At first it was just convenience and cost of living. We more or less started in student housing and took the bus to work at U-M. But the more I walked around and learned the area, the more I liked it. The availability of, and support for, local products and businesses is a big plus. Food and breweries showed up on my radar first. I could walk a few blocks to Dos Hermanos, to the library, or, in the other direction, to Depot Town and the park. Ypsi became a quality-of-life decision that weighed equally with our decision to stay with U-M for the longer term.

MARK: How do you both spend your days?

SUNNY: We both work full-time at University of Michigan, in the Graduate Library. When I’m not at work, I can usually be found at my house, in my art studio. I love to create, and tend to always be working on a new piece.

MICHAEL: By day, as mild-mannered Library staffers. By non-banker’s hours, and night, as artists and tinkerers. Sunny’s art is starting to go places (sunny-smith.com, plug! plug!), and I just got my hands on a 4-color screenprinting table and have big plans for some experimentation (and collaborative t-shirts). I need to get my act together and apply for gradschool.

MARK: What made you pack your bags and flee the last place you called home?

SUNNY: I moved to Ann Arbor from Bradenton, Florida, to be with my boyfriend at the time. He brought me to this fine town, and after we broke up, I didn’t want to leave this place, because it’s such a great place to be.

MICHAEL: Unemployment and love. Just before my employer in Indianapolis was taken over in a corporate buyout, Sunny and I realized we were going to be a thing. I briefly worked for the new corporate overlords, but there were too many downsides to keep that up for long- the greatest of which was distance from Sunny. So I took a leap at the bottom of the economy and moved to SE Michigan.

MARK: Our community recently lost a talented young ballet dancer and a brilliant young graphic designer. The universe apparently gave us you in return. I know you’re probably biased, but do you think it was a good trade?

SUNNY: As I don’t know these artists, I can’t say whether you got a good bargain with me, but I can say that you gained a very positive, energetic, creative person, and that’s pretty good, right?

MICHAEL: Well, not knowing how big the shoes are to fill, I can only say that I want to give back in measure to how well we’ve been received into the community. It’s taken some time to get settled and make connections, but I think we’re getting up to speed and starting to contribute.

MARK: I see from Facebook that you’re friends with Patrick Elkins. How did that happen? Did he bring you a cake and lemonade when he saw the moving van pull up?

SUNNY: Oh, man, cake and lemonade… that would have been awesome! Actually, Patrick and l kept seeing each other at various Ypsi events, and finally, at Halcyon Daze at the Corner Brewery in July, I finally introduced myself to him. He seems like and incredibly nice person, and I’m stoked to get to know him more in the future. Maybe I’ll bring the cake.

MARK: Did you find anything interesting when moving into your new home?

SUNNY: In the basement we found 27 curtain rods, some in good shape, some rusted out. I’ve got no clue why we have so many curtain rods. Do you need some?

MICHAEL: Yeah, evidently the house was originally constructed on the adjacent lot, and, at some later date, a basement was dug ‘next door’ to where the house sits now, and the house was moved on top of it. Also, in the garage, there appear to be the pieces of a hefty old dining room table in need of some serious lovin’. That may be a project for a future year.

MARK: If there were a Welcome Wagon in Ypsi what would you have liked for them to have provided?

SUNNY: If Ypsi had its own Welcome Wagon for new residents, I think it should provide links to all the incredible artistic people I’ve met here. Seriously, this town has the most incredible minds, and it’d be awesome to have a list of all the great people here, and what cool things they do for the town, or maybe everyone’s number so that I could call them up and invite them all over to my studio. That’d be a great time for sure.

MICHAEL: Maybe… hmmm. Most of the things I’ve looked for -services and such- were fairly forthcoming. Maybe a short list of ‘must see’ local flavor places around town. Nothing against them, but anybody can find the Ugly Mug. But the Firehouse Museum. Elvisfest. All the city parks. Wiard’s. The mom-and-pop restaurants along Michigan east of town. The B2B trail. The Yankee Air Museum. I’d have loved to know about some of those.

MARK: Do you have any questions for the MarkMaynard.com audience? Is there anything about Ypsilanti that you still don’t understand?

MICHAEL: Seriously, what’s up with the Water Street thing? All I’ve heard and read is very obviously partisan and nowhere close to enlightening.

SUNNY: No questions for the audience, but thanks for having me in town, Ypsilanti!

[note: All of our previous Ypsilanti Immigration Interviews can be found here.]

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  1. josh
    Posted October 10, 2012 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    More of this please.

  2. josh two
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    i love her work, a lot! microns and colors, the two best things

  3. Edward
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    Curtain rods, you say. Have you ever seen Taxi Driver?

  4. Foreign Guy
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    I did not know this Taxi Driver reference. Now I am educated. Please give me a curtain rod. I will clean up the streets of Ypsilanti.


  5. Mr. Y
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Kurt Vonnegut is from Indiana, as is David Letterman. That’s all one needs to know to say these two will be good additions.


    (Indiana also produced Jim Jones and David Lee Roth, but I’ve chosen to overlook that.)

  6. Mr. X
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    I think you might want to experiment with the curtain rods and see if maybe you can make them completely silent.

    Here’s some video inspiration:

    And, by the way, I just gave you the best Halloween costume idea ever. You owe me one.

  7. KKT
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Towns should be able to trade people, like football teams. I like the idea of being able to trade away young prospects for more established players.

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