By Mitch MacKay, East Jordan
That’s East Jordan and can be extended to many contiguous communities at Northwest Michigan’s 45th parallel.
This exemplifies what the American Dream promises.
It’s rural and rustic, yes, Black Bears, and updating Merle Haggard’s Okie From Muskogee, you can, “grow your hair long and smoke marijuana” now if that’s your version of living right and being free.
Even back in the sixties-seventies people locally, but for a few transplants with lower-forty-eight ideas or outliers of prejudiced isolationism, naturally extended a welcoming curiosity toward all-comers to the bucolic nature preserve that is Northwest Michigan.
There are empty storefronts on Main Street, as there are in all states, as business moves to the outskirts for wider parking access though continual downtown resurgence occurs because there’s no replacing the town center heart and soul even with designer shopping centers feigning lookalike to old-fashioned architecture.
It doesn’t work. Only the real Main Streets satisfy the innate sense people have of going downtown.
The old opera house is gone, the movie theatre, the city council switched to city commission.
Many say the old charter was better with an elected instead of selected Mayor.
The matrix of the town remains, albeit a gentrification sense encroaches which does seek preservation while upgrading to current and futuristic standards.
These little towns won’t be Bay Harbor similes nor Hemingway Point haute couture that certain social sets prefer.
The Country House, the Rainbow Bar, Fern and Helen’s—those odes to Texas roadhouses of old are gone, missed but revered much like a deceased old uncle of charming but reprobate character, like the archaic jailcell in the basement of city hall corner which barred window used to look out on the side street presumably with fingers on bars.
Overheard are quips and adages of small-town ambiance: it is what it is; no U-Haul behind the hearse; when the strawberries come in, and many more colloquialisms that rural life seems wont to emote in grateful acceptance of the genuine satiety offered to the American citizen be s/he first or seventh generation immigrant.
As they say, we’re all immigrants, and denying is futile. We are integrated and mostly happily.
Realistically, Native Americans, Hispanics, African Americans, Middle Easterners, Asians, coexist with the still-dominant White race, a facsimile of melting pot to be found right here without undue ruckus or even comment.
Michigan welcomes all.
Naturally we like to complain. Who doesn’t? That’s why we have politicians as targets.
But, as soon as anyone from down below crosses the Ironton Ferry, the ambiance takes over and the angst dissipates, even for those still looking for “what’s doing,” which is basically nothing—nothing doing—that’s the beauty of it all.
Oh, sure, festivals and art fairs and carnivals, farmers markets, auctions, fireworks, skiing, casinos, but comity is infused from the get-go when crossing that invisible line from roughly Saginaw Bay to Muskegon heading north.
Many have done so, some to stay, others from the north departed and returned after working down there.
Snowbirds head south for bitter winter relief as sightseers come and go, the generalized newcomer syndrome being to buy land, build, settle, sell out after the first bitter winter with nothing to do but watch snowstorms.
Many others stay and settle.
No need to sugarcoat anything. This is the real deal: local honey, fresh corn, seasonal dirt roads, two-track lanes.
Lifelong residents don’t have to slow down. They know the pace and can’t find enough time to do everything, not even after retiring.
Medically, technologically, well … there’s room for improvement.
It’s all here, facilities, equipment, trained personnel, government insurance in varied coverage, computers, internet, and of course the automated services with Muzak for our listening displeasure at interminable wait time on hold.
We are nonetheless fortunate to have tech modernity even if antithetical to the rustic atmosphere otherwise, Burns Clinic to East Jordan Family Health Center to laptops-tablets, wired to wireless to Smartphones.
The kids can’t do without technology and we couldn’t coexist without the kids to show us how to use it.
The North Country, as some prefer to call it even though on Western Hemisphere maps, is located at halfway between the equidistant Equator and North Pole, hence 45th Parallel, or with Canada, Alaska, Greenland and the Arctic Ocean above us we’re one-quarter of the globe short of True North, Trolls to Yoopers.
Any school-kid can pick out the water-tucked mitten on a map faster than skipping flat stones across the Jordan River-Lake Charlevoix estuary.
Versions of Niagara Falls or The Grand Canyon exist nearabout.
Left behind at the 45th parallel are traffic jams, floods, hurricanes, and mass shoot-em-ups—subtracting the latter from the former, Goldilocks says “just right.”