Sterling Heights

Getting neighborly: Meet Sterling Heights' resident musichead, living the van life

Alex Delavan has gone great lengths (and distances) to keep his home in Sterling Heights, so much so that he keeps his second home parked in his driveway here on Albany Drive.

It’s a 2013 Chrysler Town & Country minivan, outfitted with a bed, refrigerator – even an old school Sega Genesis console hooked up to a little TV. Delavan retrofitted the minivan himself after watching DIY videos on YouTube, his own handy solution to getting the job he wanted but not wanting to sell his home in Sterling Heights. He named it The Urbanlander.

The Uplander disguised as a minivan.

The job in question is at Michigan State University in East Lansing. And instead of commuting each and every day, Delavan simply camps from the comfort of his Town & Country during the work week and returns to his Sterling Heights home as his work schedule allows. A hybrid role has him working from home on Mondays and Fridays and on campus Tuesday through Thursday.

“One of my friends started doing the VanLife in 2019 and I thought: That’s so cool. I also knew I wasn’t gonna live in a van full-time – but it did seem fun,” Delavan says. “Then, all of a sudden, when I got my job here at Michigan State during the pandemic, the van idea was awesome because I didn’t want to leave my house.”

Living the VanLife suits Delavan but so does staying rooted in Sterling Heights, where the 41-year-old purchased his first house in 2009 and has (kind of) stayed ever since.

On the surface, it all seems pretty normal. Delavan lives with his long-term girlfriend Lauren Haight and Moxie, their two-year-old Australian cattle dog mix. He was hired as director of the Division of Engineering Research at Michigan State University in 2020. He likes to collect sports and music memorabilia.

His career has taken him to places further away than East Lansing, with years-long stints in both Ohio and Kentucky, but Delavan kept his home and keeps returning to it, no matter where his muse might take him. 

“There have been moments where I wished that I could have been in the hip, downtown Detroit area, or Corktown,” he says. “But I keep coming back to the fact that I’m very happy where I am.”

[Related: See 'PHOTOS: How this unconventional traveler views home in Sterling Heights' on Metromode.]

Alex behind the wheel of The Urbanlander.

The VanLife also suits Delavan because he is a bond fide musichead. His trusty Town & Country comes in handy when traveling to music festivals, sure, but it also served its purpose this past February, when he went on a national tour with Chicago artist Siena Liggins as tour manager. Delavan, Liggins, and their group traveled through the Midwest and East Coast in that minivan, packed with people, luggage, and concert wardrobe.

Delavan is a music promoter through and through, personally and professionally. His social media is littered with concert photos, be it of national headliners or local bar room acts. He books acts for the main stage at Motor City Pride, the largest LGBTQ+ festival in the state. On Saturday, April 20, the Village Vinyl record store will be celebrating the opening of its new store in Sterling Heights, having relocated from its original location in Warren. That day is also Record Store Day, an annual event that has music fans lined up for hours to purchase special releases unique to the national holiday. Delavan became such good friends with the owner of Village Vinyl that he helps out at the shop on the biggest shopping days of the year, including Record Store Day, the day before RSD, and Black Friday.

He’s such a musichead, in fact, that he can’t recall the exact name of the award he received from Oakland County in 2017 – it was the Executive Elite 40 Under 40 award – but he has no problem recalling that his book Punk, The Way I Remember It was named #7 on BookAuthority’s list of Best New Punk Music Books To Read in 2021, and #70 on their Best Punk Music Books of All Time list. There’s no forgetting that.

“That’s kind of cool,” he says of the book, which archived the concert flyers of small punk rock shows from 1988 through 2019 in the Saginaw and Bay City area. “I mean, I think that there are a lot better and mine’s mostly just concert flyers. But I’ll take it.”

As for Sterling Heights, Delavan’s favorite go-to spot for live music is the Freedom Hill Amphitheater, which is located just a few short miles from his house, and he likes catching shows at local watering holes around town when he can. And now his favorite record store just moved into town, too. 

“One of my friends started doing the VanLife in 2019 and I thought: That’s so cool. I also knew I wasn’t gonna live in a van full-time – but it did seem fun,” Delavan says.

While Delavan and The Urbanlander won’t stay parked in Sterling Heights, there’s plenty of reasons to come home.

“I mean, I’m willing to live in a van three days a week so that I can keep my life here,” he says.
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Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.