Zoë Villegas shares reflections on finding a place in the ceremony, economy, and celebration of Valentine’s Day growing up in Detroit. Erik Paul Howard illustrates her musings with photographs from the places and rituals her reflections are rooted in.
Words by Zoë Villegas
Photos by Erik Paul Howard
Remember how it was... here in the Motor City where backseats were made. With women hauling buckets of plastic wrapped single roses, doing cash exchanges in a series of hand motions in under 15 seconds—across from the Grand Marquis with the blinking light guarding Armando's.
On the intersection at I-75 and Springwells where the smog sunset brought to you by Marathon refinery will offer an air of romance later, two men compete selling pink carnations and red roses on the eastern and western corners. Specials on Hypnotiq, Rosé and small teddy bears that say "I luv you" next to condoms and aphrodisiacs by cash registers at the liquor store, remind us what month it is.
Casino lights flash red and pink. The insurance building with a glowing heart illuminates Fisher Freeway. All month in lobbies of welfare offices we have women selling perfume from brief cases, negotiating prices and discussing plans for reservations, showing manicures and pitching last minute sales on makeup sessions. All red outfits we plan to wear later are fodder for conversation when we get our bureaucratic mess dealt with for the day. One more document to turn in. Denied a bridge card once again. Apply again tomorrow.
The ho store has been window-dressed with red tinsel and cutouts of bows and arrows displaying a sale on lingerie and all the variations of fabric that mimic lace, sequin, chiffon, satin and silk in the entire spectrum of erotic alternative fibers.
This economy was trained young—we were once freshman girls delivered singing Valentines and boxes of chocolates... for $1 anyone can say all the things they could never say. Radio dedications evoke memories of Ford-Wyoming drive-in make out sessions allowing songs long out of rotation to be made an exception for the sake of a collective memory.
Detroit carves a space for a moment to live—in between the stress and mundane of every day life, while we fantasize about leisure. If even in those two seconds at a light can be used for maximum potential filled in with the sentiment of romance buying a flower that is how it's done.
We take a holiday seriously. The message is about claiming our time, our right to love amidst the harsh reality of endless work to make ends meet.
Detroit says I love you the same way we do everything else, with hustling. Happy Valentine's Day to all the hustlers standing in the shadows of love.
For those about to ho, we salute you.