I was surprised by what I found.
I mean, I go back every year – usually several times, but this trip seemed to expose several new developments.
First, I saw that Calvin College, my alma matre, has practically doubled in size and is making inroads into the downtown of GR with a few new buildings. So what? Well, I’ll tell you (yes, I will). When I left, Grand Rapids was, well, a bit dumpy. The downtown area was only beginning to change with the building of a new hockey arena. After that, a few breweries came in (a surprisingly good one called Founders), bars popped up right across the street and things started to look brighter, but it was a long way off. Well, that was over 10 years ago, and now it’s come a long way.
Dwell Magazine reiterated the changes in this article series recently. Here’s a notable exerpt: “It may be wishful thinking, but as you walk through town, following the new signs, seeing the new buses, noticing the people on the street who are out of their cars—and even those still in them—you feel an actual change in the air, a place becoming a place again.”
I felt that this is also reflected in the cultural development I witnessed. One of my longest standing friends noted that the symphony, theatre, and ballet have recently completely re-vamped their programs and facilities to bring in nationally renowned shows.
A large part of my impressions also had to do with a few new people I met. One of them argued convincingly (I was glad to be convinced) that you can live in GR as a vegetarian quite easily. He and his wife proved it by taking me to two restaurants that threw down some fine, fine vittles. And, for the record, vegan chocolate cake can rock it with the meatys any day. The shining star of a restaurant we went to was Marie Catrib’s. Casual, but fan-freaking-tastic food. I want her to team up with Ali at Kabab Cafe for some reason. Maybe the world would eh splode. If you’re in Grand Rapids for some specific reason (’cause you’ll have a reason) you need to eat there.
It was also refreshing to meet the singer from a local alt-country band The New Midwest. This being because it’s the first alt-country band from GR I’ve ever heard of. They like the screamin’ rock in GR (not that it’s bad, but give us a little variety). Maybe TNM’ll take the Verve Pipe down from the local rock highlights of the town. Admittedly, my rental car didn’t do it justice, but when I put it in my iPod, it held up nicely. I’m guessing these guys put on a great live show. I won’t review the album, but they’re certainly an encouraging sign for the local music scene.
He’s also involved in the Festival of Faith and Music hosted by Calvin College. Emmylou Harris, Sufjan Stevens and Neko Case. Need I say more? Go.
Props also go out to Joey Ruiter for the only concept boat in the Grand Rapids Boat Show. The only area of the bajillion square foot building with a bigger crowd around it was the guy wrestling allegators. The boat itself, I had to admit, was pretty sweet. When you see someone push an idea through that successfully, it’s totally exciting.
All this is basically just to say that I’m going to have a harder time taking pot shots at the midwest from now on.
It is nice to be back in the city, though.