Dexter, MI. Population: 4,139. For the first quarter of my life, this has been the place I call home.
In the summer, families line up outside the Dairy Queen to celebrate the latest t-ball victory. Fall colors and crisp morning air usher in the season of cider and donuts. A mini ice rink and holiday lights kick the town’s quaintness up a whole ‘nother notch in the winter months. Then in the spring, a banner over Main Street reminds parents to sign their children up for the upcoming t-ball season so the cycle can repeat itself.
For all the above reasons and more, I love Dexter. It’s the cutest little nugget of a town. We’re one waterfront away from a frickin’ Norman Rockwell painting. And the height of criminal activity around here is your neighbor borrowing your lawn mower without asking (You can drop the act, Ted. I know it was you). Dexter’s also got a kick-ass school system and the people are friendly, so it’s a great place to raise some youngins.
Dexter is also a real community. The barber who used to cut my hair when I was five still remembers my name, even though I haven’t been back there in ten or fifteen years. The girls behind the DQ counter are the same ones cheering the high school football team on towards their next inevitable loss (sorry guys, but you know football wasn’t our school’s thing). And there’s a handful of core restaurants and shops “downtown” that continue to survive despite the economy, while one or two new venues come and go every year.
Families move here, or they’re started here, and then they never leave. And it’s all because of what I call the “Dexter Daze.” Now, to everyone else in the town, this term refers to an annual festival comprised of boutique art and clothing vendors, ice cream, a moon bounce for the kiddies and live entertainment under…wait for it: the gazebo. If it weren’t for our lack of a town troubadour, we totally could’ve lobbied for Gilmore Girls to be filmed here (and Rory could’ve been a Wolverine!) But, I digress. Dexter Daze. I believe there’s actually a deeper meaning behind this seemingly innocent village gathering. This festival, along with the Dairy Queen, the cider mill, the farmer’s market vendors, the ice-rink-making-people and my barber are all part of a delicate spell that puts us Dexterites in a daze.
The Dexter Daze. It’s that midwestern, hum-drum je ne sais quoi. And it what keeps us here, giving us a sense of stability, security, familiarity, and predictability. It’s perfect for any new or young family…but it’s a little less ideal for a single guy in his mid-twenties.
As I progressed through college at The University of Michigan, the Daze slowly lost its power over me. Clearly I wasn’t able to make a clean break, since I was only 10 miles away from my backyard. But as the years went by, I became increasingly aware of just how much more there was to the world. And I wanted to see it all.
Now, the time has come. I’ve drunk the Dexter Kool-Aid for long enough. I’m ready to cleanse my pallet with flavors found on the other side of the world, in the company of people I’ve never met, (and who may or may not understand a word I say), surrounded by a culture that is unpredictable and unfamiliar to me, and leaves me feeling completely vulnerable.
In a few short weeks, I’ll be on a plane to Ulsan, South Korea to teach English as a Second Language for the next year. But fear not, fellow Dexterites (and, of course, family), I will not forget thee. I have every intention to return one day with a mouthful of stories about what life is like away from the Little D, out from under the haze of the Dexter Daze.