With my previous visits to the USA involving only ever setting foot within the state of California, it’s without a doubt that my views of the American Mid West were a glowing bag of generalisations and stereotypes.
My arrival in Michigan led to the discovery that most of my pre-conceived perceptions of this part of America were simply wrong (emphasis on “most”…) As I suspected, my ability to blend in with the local populace came unstuck with my preference for wearing skinny jeans and a realization that my above average skills at the game buck-hunter was completely irrelevant to most topics of conversation I would find myself in.
A Choosy Beggar
One stereotype that definitely held true in Michigan however, was the American’s love for not-so-economical modes of motor transport, namely pick-up trucks, SUV’s and muscle cars. You can probably understand my excitement when I found out I was going to be driving a brand new GM for a trip I was doing to the Northern Michigan town of Petoskey.
Now, when I think of GM, classic macho Americana names such as “Cadillac”, “Camaro”, “Corvette” and “Sierra 3500” come to mind. So you may be able to understand why I nearly choked on my coffee when I saw the GM rep turn up in the all-new Chevy “Spark”.
Alas, the road to Petoskey was calling and besides, everyone deserves a chance right? So Old Sparky and myself quickly became acquainted with each other and we set off in search of glory… and my masculinity (Just for the record – Our friendship was quickly sealed when He cost only $28 to fill up).
As the local roads quickly opened up to freeway, so did natures colour. Having grown up in Australia, where the rugged bushlands consistently remain in a hardened shade of manky green, I don’t think I will ever get to a point in life where I stop giving conscious attention to the exploding colours of a Michigan Fall. If I hadn’t seen anything else on the journey, the sight of nature’s preparation for the coming winter would have left me more than satisfied.
Petoskey has long been a summer holiday destination for those in surrounding cities and states of the Mid-West region of America. To put it’s influence on mid-west holiday culture into perspective, “The Fishing Line” railway that linked the area to the rest of the country had over 13,000 trains arrive there in 1906. The huge number of inherited holiday houses and communities quickly answered the question as to why this paradise has managed to remain a secret to most outsiders.
Michigan According to Hemingway
“In the morning I was always hungry when I woke and I could smell the dew in the grass and hear the wind in the high branches of the hemlock trees, if there was a wind, and if there was no wind I could hear the quietness of the forest and the calmness of the lake and I would listen for the first noises of morning. Sometimes the first noise would be a kingfisher flying over the water that was so calm it mirrored his reflection and he made a clattering cry as he flew. Sometimes it would be a squirrel chittering in one of the trees outside the house, his tail jerking each time as he made a noise. Often it would be the plover calling on the hillside. But whenever I woke and heard the first morning noises and felt hungry and knew I would not have to go to school nor to work, I was happier than I have ever been.”
One notable holidaymaker to this part of Michigan was non-other than Ernest Hemingway.
As the above excerpt from his story “Islands in the Stream” suggests, his time spent here in the younger years of his life had significant influence on his future writings. With almost no prior knowledge of the topic, having the subject put into perspective by local Hemingway Society members, gave the whole surrounding area another dimension.
The consistent theme shared by locals of the Nobel Laureate’s connections to the region, seemed only surpassed in levels of enthusiasm when it came to the subject of using as much local produce as possible in their menu’s.
Spreading out to the Horizon, the fresh turquoise waters of Lake Michigan resemble an ocean. The area revolves around the lake and its interconnecting arteries of harbours, bays and rivers, meaning your meals are almost guaranteed to come with a view.
Most importantly, they have local craft beers to match their fine food (homework for the week: Find out why the local Strong Pale Ale was named “Hangin’ Frank.”)
I commonly hear of my fellow countrymen coming to the States with ambitions to arrive on the West Coast, buy a bombed-out van and then road-trip their way across the country before abandoning their vehicle on the East Coast, as they move on to Europe. “Make sure you drive through Michigan in the fall” will forever be my 2 cents worth if this conversation ever presents itself again.
*”Although part of my travels in Michigan was done in conjunction with Pure Michigan and GM, they had no part or say in the content that I have published. All opinions and views discussed in this post are my own. – AC”