365 Days in Michigan

The blog is about to take on a new continental flavor… I don’t know when the first update post will arrive, but you’ll find out soon enough. ;-)

In the meantime, some thoughts about Michigan. I’ll have been here exactly one year (to the day, incredibly) when I move out of my apartment in Farmington Hills. I had a pretty decent to-do list: visit a Michigan lighthouse (didn’t happen), join a community band (yes!), visit the Upper Peninsula (mmm… nope), go to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (uh-uh), go visit Detroit’s ruins (nope), go mountain biking (got the info, but… nope), go skiing (yeah, once — if falling on my face repeatedly counts), go drive in the snow (yes, but it wasn’t as epic as I thought it would be), and try not to get shot (I didn’t, but I did get to shoot a gun for the first time in my life). It sounds like life has been pretty sedate — that’s a pretty long list of did-not-happens — but the past four months in particular have been insane. Between a personal vacation, where I was able to re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-visit Mt. Rainier National Park, I also got to get a taste of what life in eastern Michigan is and is not like.

Winter isn’t as brutal as my friends from South Carolina make it seem. This one, in their defense, was particularly long… we had a nice little ice/snow day in April that was quite unpleasant. Early on in the winter, I learned that snow build-up around steel wheels makes for a very vibrationy ride — it makes sense, but at first it caught me by surprise that snowpack could have an even more pronounced effect than unbalanced tires.

Snowpack really ruins ride quality. Shaking steering wheel? Check.

It also led to a wet camera, but my XSi and 17-55 held their own. Even without weather sealing of any sort, snow didn’t lead to any problems. The Detroit River, however, did (keep reading). At first.

Also in winter, I visited the North American International Auto Show (aka Detroit Auto Show). It was pretty neat — a bit smaller than Chicago’s but very well attended — even if I had to book it home to watch the Chicago Bears beat the Seattle Seahawks. It was my first time seeing the Ferrari 458 in person… and it is mesmerizing in person. (Even more so on the road — I’ve seen one in the Detroit area.) As was its model. Not sure which one attracted more attention (okay, yes I am). I spoke to her for a few minutes — nice woman. She had her guard way up, though — probably has to fight off flirts for a living.


Chevrolet also had an exhibit thing where they took a series of images around a car… talk about a lot of Canon Rebels! If I had dropped and broken mine, a replacement would have been in easy reach.

Later on in the year, I drove around Hell, MI (I can’t believe I forgot to take a picture of the sign… but I was there). Apparently there are some good driving roads in that area (I only found one), but I did see yet another sign with my name on it. I’m thrilled I’m so popular here.

When I got home, my car — via the stitching on my steering wheel —  told me only to make right turns. It has racked up over 14,600 miles in less than a year — and that’s with four months of 6 mile round-trip commuting! The majority of the rest have piled on in 2011.

Being naturally defiant, I didn’t heed my car’s desires and went left instead to hit up Seattle, where I met up with many old friends (and couldn’t meet up with others due to a lack of time :-( ) and also the reliable Christine Falls. Overall, a solid trip… the first good-weather weekend of 2011. 70 or 75 and sunny… simply gorgeous.

Starting just before the Seattle weekend (when I visited the U of I campus), well, this is when weekends got hectic. Between dogsitting, traveling, band concerts, volunteering, golfing, and other random activities, every weekend but one in the course of twelve weeks was booked. Makes for a very difficult time planning the next rotation, this… but up to now, I hadn’t “explored” Detroit. Like any big city, there are pockets of bad news; being from Chicago, this was nothing surprising. The alarm, however, of my co-workers and friends when they found out that I’d be going to Belle Isle for a sunrise photo shoot, was. Apparently, it’s not a good idea. The homeless sometimes sleep on Belle Isle, and there has been at least one murder on the island. Even so, I wanted my picture of the skyline at sunrise, and on a second attempt, I got it. Nothing spectacular, but I hope there’s at least still some love left for the city. It’s sad (pathetic, really, in its compassionate sense — not the #4 connotation so commonly attached to the word) to see the ruins of what was once a magnificent empire. Some day, I’d like to go back and see how it has changed in the interim years. At sunrise, there is no evil, no 2008 collapse of the Big Three… the glow of the sun makes downtown gleam like the bastion of success it once was.

Facing east, the early glow also paints the Douglas MacArthur Bridge in a reddish pink.

Coincidentally, this was the last picture I took before my tripod, its head, my camera, and its attached lens fell into the Detroit River. The rock I was standing on was sloped and I had neglected to pay attention to that as I took my hand off the camera. Quickly fishing it out, I pulled the battery and memory card and hoped that it’d still work. I drove the rest of the way around the one-way island — seeing an incredible shot but not having a working camera for it — and left. (I will admit that the skyline picture was actually from the second time I chose insanity; I went back on a work morning to try to get the shot I missed, but the sun’s position in the sky had changed since then and the fog from the first morning wasn’t present on the second. The city itself, however, was actually clearly visible this time — the skyline was partially obscured by fog the first time out.) Thankfully, the camera healed itself, and the lens though unable to autofocus at first also has made [what appears thus far] to be a full recovery.

Finally, on the last available weekend to me before I leave, the Farmington Community Band played at Windemere Point on Mackinac Island. Unlike the rest of the Lower Peninsula, Mackinac Island is a huge tourist destination… I don’t think more than 1% of the people on that island are natives. Just about everything west of the ferry docks seemed gimmicky, but it is a very pretty area, especially when the lilacs are in bloom (as they were for the concert). Where we played our concert, one lone tree stood out from the Lake Huron shore.

On the ferry ride back from the Island to the mainland, the Mackinaw Bridge stood out defiantly in the distance. Like Detroit, it was once among the great technical achievements of Michigan; a symbol of the wealth and beauty that was prevalent in GM’s and Ford’s and Chrysler’s heyday.

After a year of living on the fringes of the City, after 12 months of getting to know the weather and the locals, I have to say that I’m genuinely happy my job placed me here. The end of summer was peaceful, the fall was restful and quiet, and while winter offered her challenges and chilled my bones, overall there really isn’t the sense of impending doom that I had heard whispers of prior to arriving. The Upper Peninsula is still a remote sanctuary for thousands of Detroiters, the weather is no worse than Chicago’s, and the scenery — when you take a moment to look for it — can be incredible. It’s not the Cascades, but nothing really is. ;-) I really hope that collectively, the inhabitants of the area can restore the city to the glory it once had… that twinkle in some kid’s eyes when he or she says he wants to work in Detroit or visit the Ford Museum or go to the Fox Theatre. Culturally, the city currently isn’t on the likes of a Chicago or a New York, but the potential, at least in this viewer’s eyes, is still there. It’s just a matter of putting our heads truly together and rebuilding it — brick by brick, foreclosure by foreclosure, block by block, city by city.

365 Days in Michigan

3 thoughts on “365 Days in Michigan

  1. Jeff Kocher says:

    Hey! Just came across your blog. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to show you some of our downtown gems and some of the progress that’s been made. We enjoyed having you in the FCB- you were a good addition to the section. Good luck in Germany! –Jeff Kocher

  2. Tigerotor77W says:

    Matt: I let it sit under a halogen lamp (only while I was at home — didn’t leave it on when I left the apartment). I was very happy it dried out successfully… knock on wood that it won’t get worse. :-)

    Jeff: it was great being in the section! I’m really going to miss it. Hopefully Gabe won’t take me off the list (maybe I should tell him not to), so I’ll try to keep up with what’s been going on, too.

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