Ann Arbor sure is arboreal, but it didn't quite live up to its reputation as "the perfect college town." Granted, the U of M area, at least the main campus, is a lot like Berkeley - cute, busy and full of restaurants, but most of the town falls somewhere between New Brunswick and Princeton.
I wasn't there for the scenery, though. I was there to meet Ben's parents, sister and friends - a tight-knit, drama-heavy group of people I'd heard stories about for more than a year. I knew all about their issues and histories. I knew how much they all adore Ben, so the party we had the first night we were there was semi-intense. Adding a dash of TJ into this group required one important ingredient: alcohol.
I was really buzzed by the time Andrea drove up from Toledo with her friend. And by the time they left, I was wasted. I spent most of the night in the kitchen, pretty anti-social of me, but I met all of the important people, including the legendary Brenna. Graham, Kate, Ben Levy and Marion were all there, as well. It was bizarre to look across the room and see someone whose site I've read for months and another person who I know has loved and hurt my Ben.
The trip, overall, was a blast. We double dated with Brenna and Brooke at a kick-ass breakfast place, saw Moulin Rouge (loved it), went to Ben's sister Emily's graduation and did a lot of hanging around - which the kids in Ann Arbor seem to do a lot of.
We also visited Ben's high school, Community High. This is Ann Arbor's "alternative" high school and it shows. Students call their teachers by their first names, they have forums, which are like homerooms but much more intense (they go on camping trips with their forums and stuff like that). There are rainbow stickers everywhere. It seems to be a very open, intense (albeit changing) place.
At Emily's graduation, the consensus became clear, these kids adore their school. At the ceremony, every student got a chance to speak on stage and about 75 percent of them talked about how Community allowed them to be free or find themselves, how they couldn't have survived in the city's other two high schools. The students are diverse, but most seem incredibly creative and intelligent. People used their stage time to recite beat poetry, play instruments, slam the administration and even spin turntables.
Let me say a few things about Ben's family. His parents are very nice. They seem like hippies who've become sort of WASPy. They're very open and cool, but traditional: dinner together (gasp!). Emily, his sister, is amazing. She's funny, a smarty (top five percent of her class), sarcastic and as open as they come. Seeing how strong the family's roots are, it's no wonder Ben is such am amazing kid.
It's definitely odd to see someone in their home environment for the first time, but it made me feel closer to Ben. And I really felt comfortable and at home for the most part. A lot of people must have thought of me as an intruder (and, honestly, I felt like I had to prove something to friends and family), but everyone treated my kindly - and I really appreciate it.
And, hey, did you hear about the pink house, where Madonna gave birth to a kid while she was attending U of M? :)