Last week I was in Michigan. The remarkable thing is that of the fifty states there were four that I had never been in. The other three are Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. It’s unlikely that I will ever visit any of those three.
We have longtime friends who are from Michigan, and we planned a trip to the places that meant something to them, and while we couldn’t go to all of them we filled up a week.
We landed at Detroit, but never saw Detroit, and drove by signs to Flint, but didn’t go there. I hear the water is bad.
Michigan, at least the eastern part of the state is flat to slightly rolling, crisscrossed and dotted with small lakes and streams and covered with mostly evergreen forest. There is nothing spectacular about the terrain, and Mackinac Island where we spent a couple of days is just a hump rising out of the water. It is important for historical reasons. It sits at the confluence of lakes Michigan and Huron and near the Mackinac straits out of Lake Superior. There is a fort on the top and it has been both a National and State Park.
The Indian name for the Island was Michela Mackinac meaning Big Turtle. Mackinac is pronounced and sometimes spelled, Mackinaw.
Midland, where one of my friends grew up is at the confluence of three rivers. The most interesting thing about Midland is that it is the home of Dow Chemical and sports the Tridge, a foot bridge that forks to span three rivers. Our friends met while they were young professional canoe racers there.
Frankenmuth is not exactly my kind of place. It is done up in Bavarian Village and has the largest Christmas store in the world and a huge restaurant that specializes in home style chicken dinners. The town is genuinely German. Ancestors of the folks who decided to go Bavarian settled the place and were Bavarian. Christmas music and yodeling fill the air.
I’m sort of a low-places kind of guy and I enjoyed having breakfast at the Broadway Lounge in Midland where you can get beer with a really excellent breakfast, and lunch in Hell. That’s right, Hell, Michigan. We had lunch at the Hell Saloon.
How to Survive in Hell, Michigan
We also had lunch one day at the Legs Inn. Don’t ask me where it is exactly. It is near Mackinac Island and it is built of stones from Lake Michigan. The interior was decorated by the original Polish owner in driftwood, antlers, and other things he described as “nature’s oddities”. It is a good place to get Polish food. I had something called "Almost a Chicago Dog" with some sort of Polish pasta. The dog was good. I wasn't impressed with the noodles, but I'm not really a pasta person.
Mackinac Island is an interesting place. We got there by crossing the “Mack” bridge to St. Ignaz on the Upper Peninsula, and then taking the ferry to the island. Except for an ambulance and a firetruck, there are no motorized vehicles on the island. Transportation is by foot, bicycle, or horse drawn vehicle. There are Belgians and Percherons everywhere pulling wagons, and there are cabs pulled by less hefty and speedier horses. In addition to horses there are fudge shops. I counted nine. Everything smells of either fudge or horse excrement.
Cooling Their Heels
Whitefish Beure Blanc at
The Pink Pony
on Mackinac Island
I rode on the back of a tandem bike around the perimeter of the island, 8.2 miles, and found that it is true about riding a bike. I found that my balance returned almost immediately and I was able to ride with no hands. Seriously, it was the first time I had been on a bicycle in perhaps thirty years.
A bystander as this was being taken said,
"Cute. Matching shirts."
Dodging hikers, bikers and horse drawn wagons
All of the places were interesting, but every place on earth has some intrinsic beauty. What I discovered was that the people in Michigan were friendly and easy to talk with. True, they talk funny (even infants had strange sounding baby talk), but they seemed to be the salt of the earth as my father-in-law who went from Arkansas to Detroit in the 1940s in search of work described them..
I don’t know whether it is my time of life, or a poor memory, but it seemed that Michiganders are friendlier than people in some other Midwestern states. People make a place, not trees or rivers or deserts or mountains.
I had beer with breakfast at the Broadway lounge. When in Rome…
It is a coincidence that we were in Michigan when Aretha Franklin died. Born in Memphis in a house on Lucy Avenue that is abandoned now, her family moved to Detroit when she was two, and that's where most people think of as her home. A lot has been written about her and I won't say more.
When we heard I got out my iPad and listened to Aretha Franklin for a while. She was 8 months my senior.
Thinking about America in 1942 when we were both born, we could have been in the same town, even adjacent neighborhoods, and never met. Neighborhoods were segregated as well as schools and churches. So much has changed, and so much hasn't.
RIP Aretha. Catch you on the B side.