A.J.’s Cafe to close. But just who is this A.J. character?

February 9, 2012
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Sad news that we’re losing another one-of-a-kind spot: A.J.’s Café, which is set to close at the end of March, reportedly facing the end of a lease and rising expenses.

As fans prepare to say their farewells to the Ferndale spot famed for “Danny Boy” marathons and the like, we thought we’d revisit this 2009 autobiographical essay from A.J. O’Neil, that gives a bit of insight into the kind of unique character it takes to make a unique spot. And the kind of love of the region that it takes to become such a booster.

 

‘Detroit all of my life’

The first in our new series of reader-written essays

By A.J. O’Neil

I was born in Highland Park in 1962. I was raised in the suburb of Berkley. I’ve lived in Troy, Pontiac and Royal Oak as well. I’ve lived in the inner city of Detroit and in “challenged areas,” where vacant lots from torn-down houses remind me of the open farming lands that I tilled as a youth in Lapeer.

Essentially, I’ve been Detroit all of my life.

I’ve lived as a minority. I was told to be afraid. One summer afternoon, I got a flat tire as I neared home around Seven Mile and Evergreen. I was stranded, close enough to see the street where I lived but a world away as well. My sanctuary was on the other side of the “wall.” I did what I was told. I was afraid.

Two young men approached me. Would they beat me up? Would they steal from me? Flight or fight. “I cannot abandon my ship,” I thought to myself. “My Ford is my life, my way in, my way out.”

“Can we help you,” one man asked. They grind, they push, they get me home. They ask for nothing, only remarking, “You’ll do the same for someone else.”

I’ve been Detroit all of my life. [Read more]