Ypsi/Arbor Exit Interview: Terri and Meghan Eagen-Torkko

Continuing our Ypsi-Arbor expat interview series, today we’re talking with Terri and Meghan Eagen-Torkko, who recently made the decision to leave Ypsilanti for Seattle.

seattleA

MARK: Before we get started, could each of you please state your full name, country of origin, and favorite childhood television program?

TERRI: Terri Eagen-Torkko, Wisconsin, Saturday Night Live from the time I was about five. Knowing that explains a lot about me.

MEGHAN: Meghan Eagen-Torkko, born in Seattle, favorite TV show was Scooby-Doo, tied closely with Masters of the Universe.

MARK: And what brought each of you to Ypsi?

MEGHAN: I took a midwifery job.

MARK: And where had you been living prior to that?

MEGHAN: I was living in Seattle.

MARK: Were you specifically looking for something in Michigan, or was it just happenstance that you found a position as a midwife here?

MEGHAN: I interviewed at several practices and was offered two jobs. The Michigan job was very appealing, and the cost of living was very low.

MARK: And how about you, Terri? What brought you to Ypsi?

TERRI: I’d been living in Ann Arbor when I happened to wander over to Ypsi for a massage. I loved the neighborhood, and the house across the street from where I got my massage was for sale, so I bought it.

MARK: How long had you been living in Ann Arbor at that point, and what were you doing for a living at that time?

TERRI: I was working at the University of Michigan as the event manager at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender. I’d been in town about 12 years when I hopped over to Ypsi, something I wish I’d done years earlier… But I bought into the b.s. of how superior Ann Arbor was… for a bit.

MARK: Care to elaborate on the b.s.?

TERRI: Oh, it’s all the stuff you hear: Ypsi is violent, Ypsi is poor, Ann Arbor has The Best Schools In The Everywhere, Ann Arbor has better food, Ypsi is dangerous, blah blah blah. I just didn’t bother to check things out for myself sooner.

MARK: And how’d you come to be with one another?

MEGHAN: Ter and I had known each other online for awhile. We were on the same hippie parenting boards, and I started following her blog.

MARK: So you fell in love online, before meeting?

MEGHAN: No, not really. I was interviewing for jobs and one of the interviews was in Michigan, so we met.

TERRI: But, when we did meet, I knew she was the one. I resisted for a while, told her I couldn’t jump into anything, suggested that we not move in together… but it didn’t stick.

MARK: And you both already had kids?

MEGHAN: The kids were born during my first marriage, so we sort of came as a package deal.

TERRI: When I was about 8, I have a very clear memory of standing in our kitchen and telling my mom that I was NEVER going to have a husband, and I was NEVER going to be pregnant and have babies, but that I WOULD be a mom. She wondered how I thought that would happen, and I told her they’d sort of show up on my porch someday. And that’s pretty much what happened.

MARK: So, where is it that you abandoned us for?

TERRI: We left Ypsi for Seattle.

MEGHAN: We went back to my hometown, which, conveniently, had just passed marriage equality legislation the year before. I remember watching the live vote online. I was crying like a big baby when the votes were called. So, at some point, I was able to convince Ter that she should give up the awesome Midwestern weather and come back with me.

MARK: Why would anyone in their right mind leave Michigan?

MEGHAN: It was a hard decision. We have a lot of people we love in Michigan. I actually love the weather, except for the summers, which I hate. Our house in Ypsi was gorgeous, and our neighbors were great. I’m still a doctoral student at Michigan, and it was certainly easier to work on my dissertation there than here, in Seattle. But there were so many bills that kept being introduced that really targeted our family. The one about benefits for same-sex families was particularly mean-spirited, and it was significant for us because we were covered through U-M. I also worked in family planning, and the funding for that kept being threatened. And, my family is all in Washington, and I’d lived there until I was 33. I missed home. But there was never a strong feeling that I had to move back until Washington finally passed marriage equality. At that point, it was hard to come up with enough reasons to stay in Michigan. I don’t feel that we left so much as we were pushed out. We never vacationed in Michigan outside Washtenaw County, never traveled much in West Michigan, because it never felt safe for our family. I’d never lived anywhere that I had to feel so much on-guard. We had to have paperwork with us all the time, in case we were in a car accident, and had to make medical decisions for one another, or even see each other in the hospital. It was like we were in this little happy Ypsi-Arbor bubble, and everywhere outside of that felt potentially hostile or risky.

seattleBTERRI: It was a complicated decision to leave. I’m a born and raised Midwesterner… I’d never lived anywhere other than the Midwest… The cold, the snow, BigTen (11, 12) sports, the accent, the sensibilities, the whole thing. I have an enormous extended family, nearly all of whom are in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Growing up, the idea of marrying a woman wasn’t on the table at all. Hell, until a handful of years ago, it wasn’t a possibility… Mountains, orcas and marriage benefits. I just couldn’t say no to Washington.

MARK: It’s something that comes up a lot when I do these exit interviews… how politics factors into our decisions as to where we live. And it isn’t just a marriage equality thing. I know a straight family leaving Ann Arbor right now, and the wife recently mentioned to me that the so-called rape insurance legislation passed by Michigan Republicans played a role in their decision. I believe, in their case, they were going to go anyway, but this woman noted that she didn’t want to raise her daughter in a state where such a thing was possible. My hope is that, if the conservatives in our state can’t be made to respect women and members of the GLBTQ community, maybe they’ll at least come to appreciate that there are real financial consequences for their actions… I just find it amazing that, on one hand, our Governor is trying to pass legislation making it easier for foreign nationals to move to Michigan, to increase our tax base, while, on the other, he’s forcing out hard-working Michiganders like yourselves. It’s counterintuitive. And it’s short-sighted in the extreme. Anyone paying attention knows that gay marriage is here to stay, and choosing to fight it at this point is a colossal waste of time and energy. But, that’s apparently how our elected officials want to spend their time instead of fixing our roads, schools, etc. And, as a result, we’re losing people like yourselves.

MEGHAN: I worked for a family planning clinic, so we were always having our funding threatened, and there was always legislation that was being passed that hurt my patients. That’s why the LGBT issues were the last straw – there were so many other things that happened first.

MARK: Do I understand that, together, you still have two homes in Ypsi? Do you intend to vacation here, or is the plan to either rent or sell them?

MEGHAN: Right now, we rent both houses. We’ll eventually sell them. The plan is never to vacation in Michigan. I come back every once in awhile to meet with my dissertation committee, but that’s it.

MARK: And how’d you come to own two homes? Did you buy one upon moving to town, Meghan, before moving in with Terri?

MEGHAN: I bought my house in Ypsi when I first moved to town. We looked at 15 houses over a weekend, and it was the last one we saw. Ter bought her house several years earlier, and we have great renters in it. I want to sell my house, but not enough to take a crazy-low offer.

MARK: If I told you that it was your job to find two people in Seattle and send them to live in Ypsi to replace you, or else suffer terrible consequences, how would you go about identifying people who might fit in here, and how would you convince/trick them to leave Washington for Michigan?

TERRI: Honestly, our part of Seattle and Ypsi have a lot in common. I imagine I could sell most anyone nearby on living in Ypsi. Great food. Fantastic music scene. Excellent people. There’s a whole lot to love there.

MEGHAN: I love Ypsi. It’s a really, really great town, and the water tower alone is worth the move. It’s hard to sell a move from a place with incredibly low unemployment, but housing is so cheap in Ypsi that people might see that as a selling point. I’m not sure we’re ever going to be able to buy a home in Seattle, and, if we do, it’s not going to be remotely close to our Ypsi house. So that’s a huge thing. Ypsi is a warm community. It’s friendly, and interesting, and low-key, and I think that would be attractive to a lot of people. But the bottom line is that I would never encourage any of my gay friends to move to Michigan. Maybe things will be different in ten years. But not now.

MARK: Fill in the blank… “The worst part about living in Ypsilanti was ________”

MEGHAN: The things people from Ann Arbor said about Ypsi. A lot of them have this image of the world ending at Carpenter, and beyond that is just — I don’t know, empty? dangerous? It got tiresome to always explain the fantastic things about Ypsi.

TERRI: Listening to people from other places attempt to pronounce or spell Ypsilanti.

MARK: Any parting words for the people of Ypsi?

MEGHAN: We love Ypsi! Eat at Dom’s every chance you get!

TERRI: And pay very close attention to your water bills.

seattleC

[Curious as to why your friends and neighbors are leaving? Check out our archive of Ypsi/Arbor Exit Interviews.]

This entry was posted in Ann Arbor, Civil Liberties, Michigan, Special Projects, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

15 Comments

  1. anonymous
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    A hearty “Fuck You” to the state of Michigan.

  2. Elf
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    I understand the homophobia, but can someone explain the reference to water bills?

  3. 734
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Snyder is a spineless coward. I genuinely believe he’s not in favor of what people in his party are doing, but yet he goes along with it, in hopes he can get his economic reforms enacted. What he doesn’t realize is that the two things are connected, and he’s trying to fix a state that no one will want to live in.

  4. Eel
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Not everyone is leaving. The white supremacists are staying.

    http://blog.adl.org/anti-semitism/white-supremacist-activists-form-new-group-in-michigan

  5. Scott T.
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    On the “myths of Ypsilanti vs Ann Arbor” and “what would you say to convince people from [big coastal city] to move to Ypsilanti” topics …

    Now that my wife and I have a one year old, we’ve been entertaining the idea of moving back to the mitten from NYC for a variety of predictable reasons (lower cost of living, less insane child-care/schools landscape, closer to family, etc). We both have the good fortune of jobs where we can work remotely. We could probably comfortably afford to buy a house in the $300-400k range if we wanted/needed to; though any house > 1000 sq ft would feel BIG to us after living in tiny NYC apartments. We both lived in Ann Arbor for 7-8 years before moving east.

    Our priorities if we moved back would be to settle where we could live mostly car-free (we’d probably keep a car but would prefer to setup our daily lives to avoid needing to use it except for occasional shopping excursions, airport trips or visiting family/friends, etc); where we would be happy sending our daughter to the local public schools (strongly prefer to avoid charter and private options, necessity of driving the kid to school); have access to a co-working community.

    Since we could probably comfortably afford to live on the near west side, Ann Arbor really does seem to hit these points more strongly than Ypsi does … a wider variety of walkable shopping/dining options; nearby coworking spaces like Workantile & Brickyard; reliably high quality public schools.

    Anyone want to make the case that Ypsi would be as good (or better) a place for a family like ours to settle? I like Ypsi’s lack of pretense, affordability & diversity; and its closeness to DTW makes up for its distance from the Amtrak station … but I do worry about the schools and realistic ability to live as easily car-free.

  6. Posted April 11, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Scott — your concerns are familiar to me, from the half dozen couples I’ve tried to recruit to Ypsi and “lost” to Ann Arbor in the past couple years. “Come to Ypsi!” “But, schools.” End of conversation.

    Your set of concerns are valid, but some notes, particularly as somebody who will also have kiddos hitting kindergarten in 4 years:

    * Your kid has well-engaged and highly educated parents, and does not suffer from poverty. She’ll do fine in any school district. Really.

    * Ypsi schools seem to offer a lot of options–a lot of the schools are specialized in soemthign (the STEM elementary, the IB middle / high school, the Small Learning Communities schools.) I haven’t looked into most of ’em; maybe current paretns can weigh in.

    * “Good” school district is no guarantee it’s a fit for your kid; part of our homebuying consideration was that “buying up” to A2 would guarantee we could never afford an alternative.

    * Never underestimate the power of highly motivated parents to do good for their kids (or wreak havoc on the classroom, depending on the persepctive) — I know of a bunch of under-1-year-olds whose parents we’ll be banding with as the time comes.

    * We were a 1-car household in Ypsi for 6 years, and for most of that time only really needed the car because C’s job required on-site work. (2nd car acquisition was because both of us ended up with high-Michigan-travel jobs.) With your job setup, you could definitely get away with 1 car, or even the no-car option, using rental (or carshare–we have Hertz 24/7).

    * Car obviously more of an issue with kids, especially if you want to take your kid not to the local school.

    * Coworking — the half hour bus ride to Workantile is a little bit of a bummer. I do know a number of people in town interested in coworking, though, so I anticipate Ypsi will end with a site at some point.

    So, yeah, none of these are “no problem!” answers. It’s just that, for any A2 house in your price range, a similar house in Ypsi will be about half the price. So there’s that. (And hopefully your math-fu is good enough to understand “tax rate” vs. “tax bill” and dismiss any arguments about taxes making up the difference.)

  7. Kim
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    The bottom image could use the Pure Michigan logo.

  8. Jennifer
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    Scott,
    Car-free could be tough, but I don’t actually think it’s much more possible in Ann Arbor, unless you live in very specific places and decide you’ll never go to Target, Lowe’s, or Trader Joe’s (maybe you’ve already decided that).
    Like Murph, I’ve had a one-car, two person family for eleven years. At this point I take the bus to UM (which continues on to downtown) about 95% of the time.
    But if you located yourself in walking distance from the Ypsi Food Co-op, you’d really be pretty set for lots of daily things. Bus service here has gotten better and better, by leaps and bounds.
    At first I missed the part of your post that says you actually have a car, but don’t want to have a driving life. So, all the better.
    My line about Ann Arbor: it would be a lot better if it didn’t think it was so FUCKING great. And, not sure where you live in NYC, but there’s something to the idea that Ypsi is to Ann Arbor what Brooklyn is to Manhattan, except that Ypsi is not annoying nor gentrifying beyond all imagining, and Ann Arbor…well, I know Manhattan, Manhattan is a friend of mine, and Ann Arbor is no Manhattan (I first heard this comparison four years ago, so maybe Brooklyn wasn’t quite so precious then. Ypsi, not precious.)

    We might get connected to Amtrak someday. For now, it’s 20 easy min to the airport.

  9. Jennifer
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    Also, I seriously want to know what was meant about water bills???

  10. Posted April 11, 2014 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    If you’d like to respond to Scott’s note, do it over here, OK? (I started a new thread on the front page.)

  11. not happy but not leaving
    Posted April 12, 2014 at 12:02 am | Permalink

    What is it about the water bills???

    I love Michigan and hope to fix it by staying. Though I understand why they left.

  12. Dan
    Posted April 12, 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Murph’s puff piece is complete nonsense.

    of course everyone here loves ypsi. of course you can find a great house, for cheap. Of course (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkjmzEEQUlE)

    but maybe. but maybe everyone else considers the rest of the community.

    anyone claiming that Ypsi is any where near as nice as Ann Arbor is selling something. probably a house. Ann Arbor is a million times as nice as Ypsi, in every regard that you can possibly imagine. Youre comparing dubai to Fallujah

  13. Dan
    Posted April 12, 2014 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    and for the record and those that dont know, I do not live in ann arbor. And if I could afford it, i probably wouldnt anyway. (I would enjoy a riding lawn mower taking down acres of grass while drinking mass produced beer)

  14. Posted April 13, 2014 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    The thing about the water bills is this:

    A few months after we moved, we received a water bill that was 3X higher than the water bills when we lived in the house. We challenged it, but we couldn’t prove that someone hadn’t used the water, so too bad for us.

    What’s weird, though, is that it turns out that several other people in Normal Park have ALSO received much higher bills than usual, with no explanation.

    I just think it’s weird.

  15. Curious
    Posted September 19, 2014 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    I don’t know these women, but, having just read the interview, I don’t know what they could possibly be lying about. Are they not lesbians? Did they not move to Seattle? Did they not have a big water bill?

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] a reader of this site – a Michigan expatriate living in New York – left the following comment in response to my exit interview with Terri and Meghan Eagen-Torkko. As he’s only received […]

  2. […] with a lesbian couple leaving the state for Seattle, and, in response to one of my questions, they essentially said that they didn’t want to live in a state in which they weren’t valued and …, as evidenced by the passage of recent legislation targeting not only the LGBT community, but women […]

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