Downtown Plymouth, Michigan is a little too clean. A little too kitsch.
Lush flower boxes hang suspended from wrought iron lamp-posts, buildings are cute and, if they’re not, they have a painted facade to give them the impression of being cute (e.g. a dull white warehouse wall with a purple gingerbread house painted on it). Beautiful people stroll hand-in-hand up and down the perfectly manicured streets (plural is appropriate, because there are two of them) or linger by the fountain. The ice-cream parlor filled with teenagers looks like it was ripped out of the Pleasantville movie set and a string of charming cafe’s peopled with emo men in tight jeans and women wearing scarves in the summer heat bleed one into another. People have dogs, drive American cars and paint their picket fences white. There is no litter, nothing out of place. It’s a little exhausting. You kind of want to muss Plymouth’s hair.
My friend took me to downtown Plymouth on my first night in Michigan, and I loved it.
There’s something so straining and desperate about anything as perfect as Plymouth appears to be that really appeals. I tend to be in horrified awe of people and places that don’t let it all hang out. You can breathe in a city with the occasional empty store front or boarded up window. It is what it is.
There’s none of that in Plymouth. We did a couple of slow drive-by’s upon first arriving, scoping out the wine bars where lovers cuddled in corners around dark bottles, peeking into art galleries full of water colours of sailboats and hay fields, noticed an independent film being projected against the brick wall of a well-patroned coffee shop, saw packs of boys in tight t-shirts talking loudly on street corners and gaggles of girls in flouncy dresses walking in large groups and disappearing into bars with live bands playing behind huge front windows. Families were lining up in front of a nickelodeon that faced the city square. It was like one long tourism commercial.
We settled into a promising patio by the town square for a round of bland martini’s and watched various groups of people go in and out of whatever establishment they seemed to belonged to. Funny how people still wear uniforms after high school. You have your older women in white jeans and print shirts, men in jeans and a dark button-down, young men in jeans with crazy things embroidered on the pockets and tight t-shirts, young women in flip-flops and dresses or daisy-dukes – they all go in packs. And as the night wore on, just about all of them were streaming into a little bar called 336 Main.
336 Main, as it turns out, is the melting pot of Plymouth, Michigan. We lurked like vultures outdoors for several minutes, hoping for a patio seat but eventually gave up and followed a flirty tall dark and handsome inside. We’ll call him Grey T-Shirt Guy. Downstairs there was a darkened lair with a separate bar where the marginally under-age crowd mingled with older men going stag. The main floor had a shot-gun type floorplan with several bars, staggered seating areas and a dance floor the size of a modest dining table.
The dance floor was completely packed. An Anderson Cooper doppelganger complete with buzz cut and jeans up around his chest did the pony for several hours, interchanging arms when one got tired, and found himself surrounded at various intervals by a rotating pack of animal print wearing bleached blondes teetering in heels. An entire frat house with baseball caps and baggy jeans flailed their limbs around without spilling their beers, a group of city girls who could actually dance were up against the wall tearing it up, and Grey T-Shirt Guy was so distracting that I had to sit down – all ages, all races and probably quite a few income brackets were well represented on that little square of dance floor absolutely going crazy with varying degrees of musicality to Rihanna’s “S & M”.
I mention that song, because it happened to be the one playing when I noticed for the first time where the music was coming from. Directly across from the dance floor was a little enclave with a state of the art karaoke machine, large computer, a set of bongo drums and…two of the most vanilla-looking people on the face of the planet. The woman putting Rihanna to shame was older, rotund and had long greying hair pulled back into a scrunchie. She looked as though she should be baking cookies for her grandkids or knitting something intricate on the front porch instead of shouting to the amenable crowd to “put their hands in the air and wave them like they just don’t care” immediately prior to launching into Sir Mixalot’s “Baby’s Got Back”. Her partner on the bongo drums (an interesting addition to that song, Rihanna should look into it) was a straight faced accountant-by-day who, instead of changing into a super-hero outfit at night, donned a Bermuda t-shirt, kept his straight and slightly bored facial expression intact and bongo’d the mess out of every song.
They were magnificent.
In a rigid town where everything seemed to have its place, where decorum was akin to law and what you saw was probably what you were supposed to get, this incongruous woman who could wail out Janis Joplin better than the lady herself and this man whose children probably held no appreciation for his talent, were absolutely amazing. Back in the day, someone had told this woman that she had a voice. Some people work really hard and get to Carnegie. Others have the time of their lives and are superstars to a mixed bag in a Plymouth bar. They were clearly having fun. Well, she was. He was a little hard to read.
When we left around 1 or 2, people were still streaming in to 336 and the pair were still going strong. We walked back to the car down barren streets, everything else in Disney village having long since shut down.
I wouldn’t mind living there.