We headed up to Michigan Thursday night, bound for the party we’ve been planning for six months, the one with all the friends coming in from out of town. In a rare moment of T-Mobile service en route, I got a message from my friend Bryan who lives a couple blocks away.
We are having a blackout until 11:30 p.m. Friday.
Yep. Here I’d been fretting about the electricians and plumber getting their work done and in the end it was the city of Detroit that shut off the power. A(nother) huge storm had struck the city, and DTE had to turn power off in order to make repairs. I went to my Facebook event page. “Guys, bring flashlights and candles. The power is out but the party’s still on.” Then I had a swig from my emergency whiskey flask.
We spent the night with Brian’s parents and headed down to Detroit in the morning, where another surprise was in store for us. After turning on the water in the kitchen sink, the electrician popped up from the basement to inform me that Lonnie the Plumber had disconnected the drain pipes. I was pouring water straight into the basement. Bathroom sink and tub — same deal. Our third floor was entirely disconnected from plumbing. I’ll spare you the exchange I had with Brian (who was on a beer run for the party) regarding my opinion of the contractor and the plumber, and the increasingly dismayed state I worked up as the day went on, wondering how to tell the five overnight guests they couldn’t shower. But the work went on as I cleaned and prepared the house for the party.
A bright spot throughout the day was Brian’s sister and partner at work on a mystery project in the back yard. Angela and I took her truck to Architectural Salvage Warehouse nearby to pick up a used fridge, and on total impulse because we had no seating in the back yard, I bought a weathered outdoor furniture set and a firepit. Total cost: $200. I love this place. Once home, they unloaded the goodies and set about their work. I had no idea what they were doing — all I could see from inside was a white tent they’d set up, and I was forbidden from stepping back there. At my grimmest moments throughout the day, wondering what they had in store for me brought a smile.
I went about my business, tried with no luck to assemble the bed frame, painted the 3rd floor hallway with my homemade chalkboard paint (1 part unsanded grout, 8 parts flat paint I had left over from a project at our Louisville house) and wrote on it with chalk pen: Say Nice Things About Detroit. The lights came on mid-day, the electrician’s helpers carried the fridge in from the truck, bless them, and lo about 2 p.m. Lonnie showed up to make a racket in the basement and allow me to wash my hands at the sink instead of in the buckets we’d filled at the outside faucet. At about 4, Brian deemed it time I see the back yard. He led me through the back gate with a bandana over my eyes, then told me to look.
And my janky little back yard was gone. Instead, I had a fairytale party setting. A big white tent enclosed much of the yard, with a billow coming to a point just at the garage awning. White lights were intertwined throughout the tent ceiling, through plants, draped across the tree — everywhere. The desolate area we’d scraped clean of bales of pine needles a couple weeks ago was now mulched, with glass vases of wildflowers and jars with candles scattered about. Big rocks were artfully arranged around trimmed-down shrubbery, cool hollowed out tree stumps adding more interest, and some rough furniture — now adorned with flowers and candles — that I’d overlooked in the basement now made for a rustic setting on the patio under the awning. Best of all: the bourbon bar. A steamer trunk from the basement flipped on its end and opened up bore my bottles of bourbon plus cool glasses also scavenged from the basement; a rough chair stood next to it. It was perfect.
It felt like I’d walked onto a set of some kind of home and garden television show. Add the fresh coat of paint that we hired our renter, K, to put on the power-washed garage, and here was a dream of a place to have a party. The metal washtub that two weeks ago overflowed with pine needles and stagnant water now (after a power washing) became a beer cooler. The back corner was at last free of the kitchen sink and debris we’d been badgering the contractor to haul away for weeks, so we had a place for the DJ (our across the street neighbor). I couldn’t wait for it to get dark to see it all lit up. In the meantime, a bourbon was in order all around. I ran in to get the bottle I’d stashed away on our last trip; my all-time favorite whiskey, an Old Forester 2012 Birthday Bourbon (a bottle I spent a year hunting for). We sat down and toasted Detroit.
The reveal turned my day around. I’ve had so many frustrations in this process (mostly due to my inability to get people to do what I want them to do), but here was a shining moment. People who could have done a million other things with their Friday on a holiday weekend, with nothing to gain whatsoever devoted their entire day to making our back yard magical for the party. It was enough to melt my grinchy renovation-weary heart.
And from there, the day just kept getting better.
(You know there’s more to come!)