Local Life and Lore in Detroit

Learn the local lingo and brush up on the history of Motor City.
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Are you an East Sider or a West Sider? Stake your claim. Woodward Avenue divides the city of Detroit. East Siders live east of Woodward and West Siders live west of it. It started as a city thing but has survived to include suburbanites. It’s all a matter of attitude. East Siders see themselves as the bulwark of the nation — hardworking, solid citizens on whom the world and the car industry depend. And West Siders? They’re too busy making lots of money to worry about silly things like what side of the city they live on — unless someone calls them on it. Then they’re proud to say they can afford to live on the West Side.

The Mile Roads. Finding your way around Detroit is easy once you figure out Detroiters named the roads that run east and west after their distance from the city center, beginning with Five Mile Road. Eight Mile Road is the dividing line between the city of Detroit and the suburbs. By the time you’ve gotten to Twenty-Three Mile, you’re a long way from downtown.

Hello Down There, Eh. Detroit is the only major U.S. city that looks south to Canada. It’s north of Windsor, Ontario, just across the Detroit River.


Detroiters know how to have a good time. 
Detroit native Kid Rock said it best: "There ain’t no party like a DEE-troit party, 'cause a DEE-troit party don’t stop." Locals chant this loudly at every football and basketball game, especially when the home team is winning.

What locals call the General Motors Renaissance Center, a complex of seven interconnected skyscrapers on the waterfront in downtown Detroit. The RenCen was built in the late 1970s to bring life back to the city’s battered core. It’s the world headquarters of General Motors, which owns the complex. The central, 73-story tower is the tallest building in Michigan and home to the Detroit Marriot at the Renaissance Center.

Motown and More 
The Motown Sound and record label was invented here by Berry Gordy in the late 1950s and early '60s. Motown’s stars included Martha Reeves, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder. Know how to sing a few bars of their hits or you’ll never pass for a local. Detroit is also home to Aretha Franklin, the perpetual "Queen of Soul." She got her start singing gospel in her father’s Detroit Baptist church. Singer and actress Della Reese also hails from the Motor City.

Remember, We’re French 
The French settled Detroit and left their mark everywhere. Many of the street names are French in origin, although you might not know that from the ways the locals pronounce them. Take, for instance, Gratiot Avenue. Don’t say it the French way. Say GRASH-shut.

Going Up North 
That’s what Detroiters do when they go on vacation or off on a getaway weekend. Up North is anywhere north of Detroit that has a lake, a cottage and solitude. On summer weekends, the city empties out as locals head for their cottages.

College Rivalries Are a Big Deal 
Michigan State Spartans wave green flags from their houses, their cars and their mailboxes. University of Michigan Wolverines fly maize and blue ones. Nobody with a sense of self-preservation flies a scarlet and gray flag because everybody hates those Ohio State Buckeyes.

Detroiters Drink Pop 
Not soda, not cola. The exception: When Detroiters are drinking Vernors, a soda that has brewed and bottled in Detroit since 1862. The locals call it Vernors, even though it tastes a lot like what most people call ginger ale.

Give Thanks for Football and Parades 
The Lions have hosted a Thanksgiving Day game since 1934, and the city’s Thanksgiving Day parade has marched up Woodward Avenue since 1924.

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