Rubin: I went to Detroit and – fill in the blank

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

It’s a simple request from a couple of college students. Finish this sentence:

“I went to Detroit and ...”

Laura Walters and Alyssa Hayes are seniors at the College for Creative Studies. They had an assignment in their visual communication class for what was called a “chance project” — a project in which happenstance played a part in the results.

They bought some cardboard ballot boxes online and set them up in various places with little cards to fill out. They launched a website,, for a campaign officially known as Experience Detroit. They established hashtags on Twitter and Instagram.

I went to Detroit and ...

“... it was wonderful.”

“... I hit a pot hole.”

“... I renamed the plastic bags I often see stuck in trees ‘Detroit Birds.’ ”

Some of the responses are touching and some are endearing. Some are flippant and at least one is unprintable. Few are groundbreaking and none are statistically significant, but as a body in a city that’s working to reinvent itself, all of them are intriguing.

Somewhere between 150 and 200 people have responded so far, for which the two women are grateful.

They wanted a good grade, of course, and the abundant responses are helpful. But they also wanted to get people thinking about Detroit through new eyes, like their own.

“... went to a top-notch art & design school!”

“... found my new home.”

“... realized that God was from there.”

Walters, 26, had a nomadic childhood and completed most of a degree in Bellingham, Washington. Then she went to a wedding in Suttons Bay, met the man to whom she is engaged, and moved to St. Clair Shores.

Hayes, 23, has lived in the same house in Novi her entire life. Somehow, she had never seen Windsor until she started school in Midtown and began exploring the city.

That was how she filled out her card: “... saw Canada for the first time.”

Walters’ contribution was less literal. She went to Detroit and “got to follow my dreams.”

Gems, with a few duds

Walters and Hayes both have birthdays this month. Both are graphic design majors who have resolutely churned through CCS part time.

On a chilly morning at Avalon International Breads a mile from campus, both are wearing black-and-white scarves, Hayes as a headband and Walters artfully looped around her neck.

“I should start dating you,” Walters once said to her frequent collaborator, “because I see you more than my fiancee.”

They turned in their project on Tuesday — the website was a key component — but plan to keep collecting I-went-to-Detroit contributions because each one is an education.

“... got my hair done at Curl Up & Dye in Midtown.”

“... I loved showing my grandsons where I grew up.”

“... I found peace love and art.”

There were “some dud cards,” Hayes says, that being their term for phrases that seemed purposefully crude or negative:

“... learned about misery.”

“... got my car broken into.”

“... smoked crack.”

“Come on,” Walters says. “Really?”


“... got lost.”

That seems possible. And:

“... “didn’t get robbed.”

That seems possible, too.

‘Design for Good’

Worst case, they figured they would get only five or 10 submissions and have to fake a few to have enough for their presentation.

The best case is what they’re still sorting through, with experiences ranging from practical to whimsical to metaphysical.

“... got chicken & waffles.”

“... developed a burning hatred for Tim Horton’s.”

“... lived the most magical life.”

“The premise is basically ‘design for good,’ ” Walters says.

No, Detroit isn’t Candyland. But no, it wasn’t mandatory for one of her fiancee’s relatives to pack heat when they all went to a popular restaurant.

She hopes a few hundred optimistic responses will help remind him that the buoyant parts of the city are more theme park than war zone.

“... drank a ton of beer.”

“... stayed.”

And, finally:

“... smiled.”