My struggle to regain top form at the supermarket.
By Lou Blouin
[Contributor Lou Blouin, overwhelmed at Trader Joe’s in Portland, Maine.]
I love supermarkets. I love everything about them. Even the things that I probably shouldn’t. The light rock on the store PA system. How they seem to have a little of everything — even random stuff like rope and sweatshirts and potting soil. I also love how they’re all sort of the same — how you can walk into any supermarket in any part of the country and know exactly where stuff is going to be: Dairy will be on one side, produce on the other, meat at the back, pantry items in the middle. If you’re on the road and in need of a bathroom, it’ll be in one of two places: either toward the back or to the left — and chances are it’ll be a lot cleaner than a gas station bathroom. And for me, a great supermarket experience is always capped off by some causal banter with the clerks at the checkout lanes. Sometimes it’s just a simple conversation about the weather; sometimes you have your regulars and kind of develop grocery store friendships. Like the one I had with Skyler B, a cashier at one of the mom-and-pop chains in northern Michigan, who always kept Emily and I up to date on in-store political struggles between managers, and romantic flings between baggers. Regardless of how busy his lane was, we always went to Skyler B and you could tell he appreciated that. These sorts of relationships are of course always fleeting, though — cashiers tend to move on to other jobs — and one day Skyler B just wasn’t there. We found out later that his constant threats to quit or go down in a blaze of glory weren’t hollow: Another cashier informed us that Skyler B had been fired for sleeping under his register during non-peak hours. An appropriately legendary end for our friend who, of course, we never heard from again.
Admittedly, I’ve been known to take the supermarket friendship thing too far. Like the time Emily and I befriended two other clerks at that same store. The first was a 17-year-old cashier who we’ll call Misty S. She was awkwardly cute and endearingly self-conscious, sort of in the way the characters from Freaks and Geeks are. She bothered to learn our names, which is rare but very much appreciated in these sorts of relationships. (Usually with cashiers you get to know their names — they have name tags, after all — but they have so many customers, it’s hard for them to return the favor.) When I would shop alone, she would ask where Emily was and how she was doing.
During one of these solo trips, I greeted Misty S with the usual “Hey, how’s it going?”
“Not so good,” she said.
“Oh no, what’s going on?” I asked.
“Well… I’m feeling really awful today. I have really bad period cramps.”
Obviously my and Misty S’s grocery store friendship had just vaulted to the next level of intimacy, and, I guess, being sort of excited about this, I blurted out the first thing that came to mind:
“Yeah? That sucks. Emily gets really bad cramps too.”
Violations of Emily’s privacy aside, that response seemed to do the trick. From then on Emily and Misty S and I were full-on grocery store friends. The check-out lane conversations became more involved to the point where customers behind us started to get annoyed by their length. Misty S even friended us on Facebook. And like friends of the non-grocery store variety, Emily and I began concerning ourselves with Misty S’s love life. There was, in our estimation, another cashier about the same age, who we’ll call Josh R, who was equally awkward and sweet, and who we thought would be perfect for Misty S. Misty S’s and Josh R’s fantasy relationship became the frequent topic of conversation on our walks home from the grocery store. Then one day, all our supermarket matchmaking dreams came true. I spotted them out of the corner of my eye holding hands at the courtesy counter. I could hardly believe it. I elbowed Emily to get a look, and we played it cool until we were through the automatic doors and a good distance from the store, where we safely celebrated the juiciest day of grocery store dish since the legendary fall of Skyler B.
Things sort of took a turn from there, though. The comfortable grocery store rapport we’d developed with both Misty S and Josh R as individuals quickly evaporated when they became a couple. Josh R and Misty S were now inseparable. All of the over-the-register banter was now about their relationship. And because they often seemed to coordinate their shifts — and even when they didn’t work together, one seemed to hang out at the store while the other was on the clock — trips through the checkout lane started to feel like a strange form of double dating. The final weird straw came though over Facebook, when pictures of Josh R and Misty S in the shower together appeared on my news feed. It was nothing pornographic, but there was more skin and steam and sweat than I was prepared for. And I realized: Like the short plastic dividers that are used to separate orders at the checkout lane, some boundaries of grocery store culture should be respected.
From there, Emily and I managed to avoid all but a handful of awkward encounters with Josh R and Misty S. We had planned to relocate to Maine that spring and the move gave us a chance for a fresh start with new grocery stores and new clerks. But our dreams of a new beginning were quickly crushed. First, people in Maine are notoriously insular, and our conversations with the cashiers at our new supermarket hardly ever made it past a simple “Hi, how are you?” Second, in our new town of Portland, there were only three grocery stores for a population of 75,000 people. The stores were always overrun and checkout lines were so hopelessly long that our once beloved trip to the grocery store became the most stressful part of the day. All the baggers and cashiers were weary and worn, and by the time it was our turn at the register, so were we. Even if there was time for some good old grocery store banter, no one had the energy for it.
Naturally in this environment my supermarket social skills atrophied, leading to some bizarre behavior. Once while on a trip up to the remote vacation spot of Mt. Desert Island, Emily and I were totally taken aback when the cute, sassy blond behind the register in a tiny village market started shooting the shit with us. Over the course of the weekend, we had several good conversations with her, and so when we returned home to Portland, we actually sent her a care package, addressed to the market, complete with a handwritten letter, pictures of our cats, and an invitation to get together if she was ever in the area. We were like those desperate desert lizards that overreact and gorge themselves at the sight of food because they only feed twice a year. Or at least we must have seemed that way to her, because we never heard back.
After that I gave up. I became an efficient supermarket shopper like everybody else in Maine. Grocery stores were for buying food, not for making nice. And for the year that we were out East, I accepted that new reality without much thought to what I had been missing.
So when Emily and I moved back to Michigan last month, there was naturally some culture shock. On one of our first trips to Kroger, we filled up our basket with a bunch of sale items, forgetting that at Kroger you need the Kroger Card to get the sale prices. When Emily awkwardly realized this in the middle of checkout, a dark suit in line behind us silently handed his own card to her. And later in the week, when we decided to make some natural casing hot dogs one of our first meals back in Michigan (they don’t really get the whole cured meat thing out East, especially in Maine where the hot dogs are dyed fluorescent pink), we headed back to Kroger and hoisted our Koegels, ketchup, mustard, onions, and hot dog buns up on the checkout lane conveyor belt.
“Gee, I wonder what you guys are having for dinner?” the teenage clerk said as she scanned each item.
At first I got all bristly, thinking to myself, What’s it to you? It’s my dinner, why don’t you just mind your business?
Then I softened, realizing the rules of the checkout lane had changed on me yet again.
“Yeah,” I said. “Guess it’s pretty obvious.”
“You know where they have the best hot dogs?” the bagger chimed in. “Home Depot. Home Depot’s got the best hot dogs.”
“Really?” I said. “Home Depot?”
“Yeah, whenever my dad goes to Home Depot, I always tag along because they have the best hot dogs.”
I hesitated for a moment, trying to think of what to say next.
“Cool, good tip, “ I said. “Just watch out for the hamburgers at Lowe’s. I hear they’re not so good.”
The bagger looked at me first like she was surprised to learn they had hamburgers at Lowe’s, and then, realizing it was a joke, smiled and laughed. I smiled back and thanked her and told her to have a good day.
Emily and I walked out of the store, and we cast little smiles at each other as if to say, It’s good to be home.
“Was that dumb? That thing I said about the Lowe’s hamburgers?” I said to Emily.
“No, it wasn’t dumb,” Emily said. “You’re just rusty.”
Lou Blouin is a founding contributor at Found Michigan.
11 notes / Permalink
Rustilicious: A Primer on Catching & Eating Great Lakes Lobster
by Emily Bingham
Resembling delicious, prolific, miniature lobsters, non-native rusty crayfish are free for the taking in Michigan’s waterways. This week, Found Michigan gets the scoop from writer and outdoorsman Bob Butz, who’s an expert on fishing and feasting on this little-known local delicacy.
For more about catching rusties in Michigan, visit the rusty crayfish info page on the Michigan DNR website; for a species profile and tasty traditional crawfish boil recipes starring this invasive little crustacian, check out the highly informative and inventive blog, invasivore.org.
Music: “Crawfish” by Elvis Presley, featuring vocalist Kitty White; “Crawdad Song” by Woody Guthrie.
Special thanks to Hughthir White for helping with the audio tape-sync!
[Take “eat local” to the next level with an orconectes rusticus feast. Photo by Grace Loppnow, courtesy invasivore.org.]
0 notes / Permalink
[A defunct pasty shop in Michigan’s U.P. Photo by James Marvin Phelps.]
Last week we started musing about the adage “Midwest is Best,” and asked a handful of friends to let the saying inspire a piece of writing to appear here on Found Michigan. This week we finish up with the essays, with contributions from Portlandia, the Windy City, Indianapolis (by way of the Rockies), and Northern Michigan (by way of the Sunshine State). Enjoy, and let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Boltcutters: Notes on a Misnomer
By Dirk VanderHart
Hometown: Grand Rapids, Mich.
Current city: Portland, Ore.
My bike had just been stolen, so I decided to get day drunk. Pitifully day drunk, for precision, my considerable regrets and velocipede pinings awash in 24 oz. cans of Steel Reserve. I was on my couch.
This was a Sunday at the beginning of March, and I was listening to my roommate’s band practice upstairs. I’m not great at codifying music, but their stuff is sort of folky — acoustic guitar and keyboard and compelling melodies that I guess are occasionally sweeping. I enjoy their practices, when I’m not trying to sleep, and the music fit snugly with the malt liquor as a salve against thoughts of a bikeless future. None of this matters for our purposes here, except you have to set a scene.
What matters is that we four — a drunk-bound Michigander listening to the folksy stylings of natives of Illinois (keyboard, guitar, vocals), Indiana (guitar, vocals) and Wisconsin (drums, no longer in the band) — somehow found ourselves in a house in Oregon. Stuff like this happens constantly in Portland and Seattle. Probably most West Coast cities and maybe many East Coast ones. We midwesterners have a way of teeming, pooling. Somehow — whether by a subconscious soothing effect produced by the swaying monophthongs of our speech, or some innate, recognizable friendliness — we find each other.
Sure, we left the Midwest in the first place. Some of us might never live there again. But we teem and pool and we talk about the winters and the pasties; how swimming in an immense freshwater lake is so much better than the putrid, frigid, salty Pacific; and how Cedar Point has the best roller coasters anywhere. I have no fewer than five shirts that tout the state or city of my provenance and, to be honest, I’m not even sure why. Something about the place makes me need to rep it to death, if not live there right now. It sticks with you, in probably a million intangible ways none of us even realize.
Anyway, I was sitting day drunk and bereft on my couch when the drummer from Wisconsin descended the stairs and announced he’d like to get a tattoo. It just felt like the right time, he said. So we called ahead, and walked over the bridge into the city, and grabbed a beer, and my friend got his tattoo.
It says “Midwest Nice.” It’s on his neck.
Dirk VanderHart is an itinerant roustabout. Pity him.
by Margaret Fedder
hometown: Manistee, Mich.
current city: Indianapolis, Ind.
I recognized the mountains in the sky long before I lived among the Rockies. I can imagine stepping outside of my parents’ home, the feel of the sharp, cool cement porch, our paper birch trees coming to life. I look to the left—it was left, it was not west to me then—toward where Lake Michigan lies a few miles beyond the many trees and homes, not in my sight but in the cooling wind on my arms. Pods of clouds are in the distance, rising up like new mountains.
When I lived with mountains of earth and rock, they stood guard. They told me where I was and where I would or could be within minutes. They told me the season and time of day. They circled me and sometimes made it hard for me to breathe.
Midwest Mountains are air, are sky. They are puffs of white in stainless steel. They are whirlingly jagged but flexible, dynamic. They change shape and change location depending on the wind, the weather, the road you are driving down. They cannot be captured in any one moment, any one frame of film. They are the shifting backdrop to lakes and cornfields, to skyscrapers and factories, dogs and cows and cars.
There are moments when I ache for the solidity of the western mountains I left behind. But as my body remembers more and more the feeling of deep comfort at a sunless day, remembers the smell of damp wind, remembers the space in my heart created by flat, open land, I believe that it’s alright.
I don’t live in the Rockies any more, but when I look to the horizon, I see that I am home.
Margaret Fedder is a writer and teacher in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is originally from Manistee, Michigan and loves living in a city where people are jealous of where you grew up. mjfedder.blogspot.com
by Lindsey K. Anderson
Hometown: Goodrich, Mich.
Current city: Chicago, IL
I love it thick, thin, pan or hand-tossed. I love it homemade, at a restaurant or from the frozen food aisle. Pizza. I adore it. But not in a “This hand-formed crust has the true chew and char of a fantastic Neapolitan pie.” No, sir, I love pizza in any form of crust, sauce and cheese baked together to be savored — or inhaled.
And, really, is there anything better than pizza? Well, yes, yes there is — it’s called pizza and beer. What a successful marriage. The sanctity of marriage. Yeah, I said it. Give me the cliché crown because I will wear it with pizza pride! In fact, give me the crown and then give me a frothy, slowing-inching-over the-edge-of-the-glass-white beer with a hot, gooey triangle of love and my heart will be yours.
So, when I found out Chicago had a Pizza Festival (with local handcrafted beer!)…
We arrived approximately half an hour after the start of Pizza Fest and bee-lined our way to the ticket booths, passing knick-knack vendors showcasing their finest crocheted handbags (“That looks great! Yeah! But not as great as pizza, sorry!”) and hurdled past tiny children simply there for the carnival games (“The nerve!!”).
Finally we feasted. We stood in a Chicago parking lot with the sun beaming down on us; four friends gleefully shoving various slices of ‘za into our traps while washing the mess down with 312s. “Oh, there’s a free competition at the other end of the festival where you throw tiny bean bags into a hole cut out of a wooden box? Sure, I’d love to play!”
After 90 minutes, we were spent. “What’s next?” we quipped.
The day ended on an epic note. A note that only the Windy City could sing. We somehow managed a miniature pub crawl — first stopping at a Polish dive bar called Rose’s where large men sloshed pints over the pool table, followed by boots of suds and shouts of “Prost!” at a German beer hall. We hit a national chain known for ‘buffalo’ wings and then two of us tally-hoed-it over to a five-lane bowling alley where we kept score on paper and had no idea who won.
This is Chicago — the epicenter of the Midwest — a city where one block can change your entire day. Where people encourage you to get lost in the streets. Where 12 different cultures span a few hundred yards.
Chicago is the city of exploration. The city of summer. And most important — the city that celebrates pizza.
Lindsey Anderson is a magazine editor based in Chicago. She’s currently mourning the loss of her favorite Tombstone frozen pizza, which she can no longer find in stores. heylk.tumblr.com
Michigan: A Love Story
By Kierstin Reszka
Hometown & current city: Traverse City, Mich.
It was love at first clichéd sight, first snowfall, first stinging swallow of freshwater burning down my nose, my throat. It was my first taste of something bigger than me, of the thunder that rolled above Lake Michigan, the lightning that revealed the war between seasons. Powerful and foreboding, intimidating in it’s beauty and still somehow delicate; that is how I came to think of my northern Michigan home.
I was eleven when it ended.
Shortly after the death of my grandfather, my then-undiagnosed bi-polar dad and well-meaning-to-a-fault mother took us to Disney World. I took pictures as souvenirs to bring home to my friends who might never know the magic of strangers dressed up like imaginary princesses. I spent the evenings watching my parents barbecue and share beefs about the cost of propane with our temporary neighbors at Tropical Palms Resort and Campground. But the days dragged on into weeks, then into months. When I asked my mom when we would be going home, she told me to ask my dad and when I asked my dad he said nothing. This didn’t faze me. My dad doesn’t answer with words. He answers with manic, sweeping actions that wipe out centuries of belief systems, devastate entire cultures, and deplete humongous chunks of the ozone layer. It wasn’t until my one friend at the campground, a French-Canadian boy named Phillip, left to return to his home that I realized my father’s unspoken answer: Never. The vacation was over before it began. We were home.
Shortly after Phillip left, we collapsed the awning of our Dutch Star RV and travelled yonder to the stink of rotting biology that is the Everglades. At that point, it became as clear as the night skies of my hometown of Traverse City that I had just been royally screwed. My parents bought a house on Marco Island, a good 250 miles from Disney World, and some 15,000 miles from Traverse City. Our home in Michigan was sold, along with our belongings. My mother bought me a yellow boom box as my consolation prize. My heart broke.
I spent my hot, hot days in the Everglades fantasizing about the way a cool breeze lifts baby hairs off skin to reveal goosebumps. I tried my damnedest to appreciate the possibilities of a new life in a new place but recoiled at the sting of saltwater on my bare legs. I continued to tell people that I was just on vacation, I’d be coming home soon. I tried to remain the same, but my golden hair bleached white and my ivory skin turned brown from the mornings spent watching the tide make its advances. Any happy moment spent in the white hot sand felt like a betrayal to my Michigan, especially when all of my longings were born out of memories of cold autumn nights.
These facts exploded three and a half years after our Great Florida Vacation began, when my mother found me on my bedroom floor balled up and weeping in my underwear and sleep shirt, devastatingly pathetic. Missing Michigan had split me into pieces that didn’t sparkle, even in the unending brightness of the Sunshine State.
Two dizzying weeks later, as spontaneously and strangely as we’d arrived in Florida, my family retraced the steps we’d made that had led us across the country in the first place. Maybe my dad was having another manic earth-shifting episode. Maybe the stars in his eyes had finally aligned in my favor. Or, maybe, it was my lack of pants on that pitiful morning when my mom had found me sobbing that brought light to the ridiculous injustice of the past few years. Or maybe my dad was homesick too. I didn’t really ask. I didn’t really care. I was going home. All I cared about was that golden morning when I awoke to my mother telling me to pack everything that I couldn’t live without.
On the way home, I sat in the backseat squished against my brother, and as we crossed the Ohio/Michigan border I was overcome by this anxiety that maybe it wasn’t as I’d remembered it. Maybe my memories were a sort of fantasy I’d dreamed up to make up for the zero below winters. I felt feverish thinking that perhaps my love for Michigan would fall short of my expectations and I would be left homesick again.
But on that first day of my new life I fell asleep wrapped up in the bitterness of an October night with my old love, any tinge of fear overthrown by this: That no matter what happened or what was about to happen, it was true. It was true love all along, a love that gave me a home. And this night was proof that it was as amazing as my years of yearning had remembered it.
Kierstin Reszka is continually in the process of writing something that will forever better mankind as a whole. In the meantime, she partakes in the Michigan state hobby of pretending to be a photographer. Proof here: kierstin-happyphotos.blogspot.com
15 notes / Permalink
Our return to Michigan is just nine days away, and we’re beyond ready to be home amongst our fellow Midwesterners: people who love things like Big Ten football, who don’t take themselves too seriously, and who actually pronounce R’s at the ends of words (if you hear us saying “cah” instead of “car” you have permission to smack us). So for this week’s post on Found Michigan, we asked a handful of friends originally from the Midwest to share their thoughts on the adage “Midwest is Best.” We gave them each 350 words to write a bite-sized essay musing on what makes the Midwest special. We had enough responses that we’ll be splitting the pieces over two weeks; here are the first three.
PS: Please comment below or on our Facebook page with your own ideas or micro-essays!
[Midwest is best. Contributor Sarah Frank in her Brooklyn apartment. Photo by Megan Spelman.]
Michigan > New York, or, Why I Want to Hug Every Midwesterner in Manhattan
by Sarah Frank
Hometown: Allen Park, Mich.
Current city: Brooklyn
If there is one thing about me that has remained completely unchanged since the moment I moved to New York some three and a half years ago, it is my undying, unwavering, vehement (at times irrational?? Even deplorable??) obsession with all things Michigan. It was just 24 hours prior to landing in “da big ci-tay” with two enormous suitcases (which I lugged up six flights of stairs to a West Village sublet, thankyouverymuch) that I inked myself with a (very tiny) Michigan-themed tattoo. Thought process went something like this: “Omigoodness, I’m, like, moving to New York, which means my life is, like, totally changing and I’m, like, totally gonna forget where I come from, so, like, let’s get a Michigan tattoo, mmk?” It’s nothing more than a tiny heart on the fatty part of the back of my hand, signifying Detroit. I show this thing off to anyone who’ll listen. Which is obnoxious, I realize. (Who wants to see people’s silly tattoos? Unless they are in a sexy spot or something, which mine, regrettably, is not.) I’m always looking for an excuse (any excuse, really) to talk about Michigan, a place that I so dearly love and dream of returning to one day. (Note to Mom: I mean like when I have babies, not now!) Meeting people from Michigan in New York causes a physical reaction that at least makes me smile, and at most makes me actually shout “I’M FROM MICHIGAN!!!”
It’s almost as though I think Michigan is some tiny planet 3,000 light years away with 42 inhabitants. I get it, Michigan is a huge state with millions of people. But I’m consistently delighted to find them in New York City. When I see someone on the street wearing a Detroit Tigers hat, Red Wings jersey or a Michigan State sweatshirt, I have to actually put on hold whatever it is I am doing or thinking about to remind myself: “Do not approach that stranger to comment on his or her Michigan or Detroit paraphernalia. It’s a big city with a people from all over, tourists even, from Michigan. Do not hug them.” (Alright, occasionally I have high-fived them.) In a city like New York, you have to find something to hold on to or else it feels like you could just slip off the island and float away. For me, that’s been finding these little specks of Michigan wherever I can: Eating at restaurants owned by Mitten-ers, listening for those long A’s in words like “hah-key”, seeing someone from across a room actually point to a spot on the back of their hand (!!!), or just building a group of Michigan friends in the city to watch Detroit sports with. All of which has made this place feel more like home. It turns out I never forgot where I was from. In fact, I understand more now than ever. (Ink or not.)
Sarah Frank is a filmmaker and video editor at New York magazine. Her next tattoo will be a Lower Peninsula tramp stamp. sarahfrank.net
Pop or Soda, But Never, Ever Coke
by Bobby Evers
Hometown: Algona, Iowa
Current city: Chicago
I’m not sure if I can pinpoint exactly what it is that makes the Midwest great. It’s sort of like that saying about great art or pornography: hard to define, but you know it when you see it. This is usually when I am returning to the Midwest from somewhere else. You go to the west coast, or visit a foreign country, and when you land you feel a great weight lifted. A relief. And it’s all you can do to keep from kissing the tarmac. It’s that feeling I get when I cross the Mississippi River driving across US 20 into Dubuque from Illinois, the sailboats on the blue water, the rich blue sky with giant fluffy white clouds. It’s the kinetic tightening of my chest when I know, not just cognitively but spiritually, that I’m home. And we can forget the regional differences, the one-sided rivalry between Minnesota and Iowa, or whatever it is that Illinois seems to have against Michigan, or Ohio with everywhere, or what exactly is the proper phraseology for Pepsi (pop or soda, but never, ever Coke). We can forgive the high price of gas in Chicago, we can forgive the toll roads, we can forgive specific instances of high fructose corn syrup. Because we’re responsible for Bob Dylan. We’re responsible for Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, LeBron James, and Michael Jordan. We’re responsible for Wilco. We’re responsible for Ira Glass. We’re responsible for Saddle Creek. The sky in Minnesota. Lakeshore Drive. One of the only states with same-sex marriage. We are unconditionally nice, we are non-confrontational, and we want to be friends with you.
Bobby Evers is a writer in Chicago. He is a contributing editor for Two with Water, a DIY literary magazine. He is also a DJ for Chirp Radio, a Chicago community radio station.
From The State That Has Everything
by Susan Quesal
Hometown: Iowa City, IA by way of Macomb, IL
Current city: Austin, Texas
In Texas, they laugh at you: Who would want to go to Iowa? they ask. Iowa is boring. Iowa is full of wheat, they say, and sheep and nothing else. And when you suck your breath between your teeth and clench your jaw and settle that impossible ire that’s been sitting just below your larynx since you moved for some stupid reason to this arrogant, endless state and say, “It’s corn actually. And soybeans. And hogs more than sheep,” they shake their heads and say, “Oh in that case, let’s go!” It’s hard to impress a Texan, you see, because Texas has everything. We’ve got corn and pigs AND wheat and sheep, they say. And mountains and ocean and forest too. They don’t understand why anyone would want to be anywhere else, when Texas has everywhere already in it.
But there is something to be said for doing one thing well. There is something to be said for commitment to a craft, for having better of less. Iowa has the tallest, best smelling corn fields I’ve ever seen. Iowa has the most delicious pork chops imaginable. Iowa has small cities that rival Austin and Dallas for cultural output and investment. The restaurants are consistently good and the people are consistently nice. We might not do it all in the Midwest, but what we do, we do well. The Midwest exhibits a commitment to goodness: subtle, stable, thick-wrought kindness. Hand-hewn benevolence. Farm fresh eggs.
Susan Quesal is a graduate student in American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She credits Texas with making her aware that cottage cheese doesn’t always taste good and that feminism is still totally and completely necessary. no-promises.com
11 notes / Permalink
Win This Shirt!
It’s been exactly one month since the launch of Found Michigan! To celebrate this (mini) milestone, and as a thank-you to everyone who’s been so supportive of this project, we’re giving away a shirt featuring our newest print, pictured here!
To enter the drawing, leave a comment on this blog post or on our Facebook page (fans of the Facebook page will automatically be entered twice) with an answer to this question: What’s something you love about Michigan that you wouldn’t want to live without?
To get you started, here are a few of ours:
-Sunday afternoon games at Joe Louis Arena
-An abundance of cured meats that aren’t dyed fluorescent pink
-Lake Michigan sunsets
-Vernors ginger ale
-Locally elected governments that can’t be removed at the whim of the governor (we still have those for about a week or so, right?)
Enter by 9 a.m. Friday, March 18, at which time we’ll select a winner at random. Good luck!
12 notes / Permalink
Born in Michigan: The Lost History of Pro Hockey in the U.P.’s Copper Country
This week on Found Michigan, Lou chats with Dan Mason, the University of Alberta professor who unearthed the forgotten history of the first-ever professional hockey league — the International Hockey League (IHL) — and its roots in Michigan’s Copper Country. Dan stumbled across the IHL while researching the career of an early two-way lacrosse/hockey star named Newsy LaLonde, and when he noticed a hole in Newsy’s statistical career from 1904-1907, he went digging to find the reason why. The explanation? Many players like Newsy played in a pre-NHL professional hockey league known as the IHL during those three years. And though the IHL was just a blip in hockey history, the league changed the game forever.
Music: “The Hockey Song” by Stompin’ Tom Connors; “Gordie Howe is the Greatest of Them All” by Big Bob & The Dollars
[The Calumet Miners of 1904-05 nurtured two Hall of Fame talents: Jimmy Gardner and Hod Stuart. Photo courtesy of Red Jacket Media.]
5 notes / Permalink
Why I hope to spend more time up north by living in Detroit.
Growing up as one of the many metro Detroiters who clog up I-75 on summer weekends to get away from the swelter of city life, I developed a serious infatuation with certain places up north. It started with my family’s cottage, and over the years expanded into an entire list of secret and sacred spots that felt refreshingly far away from the pace of my “real” life downstate. On my list of favorite places: the sunset side of Torch Lake, the Bellaire dairy twist whose tacos I became obsessed with one summer, Deadman’s Overlook in the Jordan River Valley, the weathered dock pilings by the old cannery in the ghost town of Glen Haven, the Empire Bluff trail at Sleeping Bear Dunes, and the ice cream counter in the back of Alden’s general store, where the scoops are enormous and you can pay for a waffle cone with pocket change.
[What March looks like along the Empire Bluff trail.]
Some of these places were discovered on family trips around the area, and they became ingrained into our annual summer traditions. Other places I stumbled upon on my own and kept secret for myself. And then there were some that were given to me by generous friends. Like during the summer I was 19, when I crushed hard on an art school boy whose parents had a condo in Harbor Springs. He introduced me to his own favorite spots, like the Tunnel of Trees on M-119, and the wild beaches of Sturgeon Bay. One night we hiked Boyne Mountain, climbed onto the roof of the ski resort’s warming hut, and spent awhile gazing at the lights of Petoskey across the water of Little Traverse Bay. Crazy romantic, yes, but no matter how hard I hinted, the boy didn’t like me in the way I liked him. It all worked out though, because by the time we parted ways at the end of the summer, I had fallen in love — with new places up north I might never have discovered otherwise.
Over time, many of the spots on my sacred places list became ones I had to see every year. It didn’t feel right to let a summer go by without hiking to the dunes at Cathead Bay, or grabbing a sandwich from Gurney’s Bottle Shop, where they’ll top your order with anything and everything — except sliced tomato. Despite disgruntling many a tomato-loving tourist, the folks at Gurney’s stand by their theory that tomatoes ruin the texture of the shop’s incredible homemade bread. I love them for that, and I love taking one of their sandwiches down to this little park just east of the Harbor Springs marina, where I can eat sitting with my feet in the grass. After college, while most of my friends took off for jobs in New York City and Chicago, I moved back to metro Detroit but kept an eye on Northern Michigan. By then it had become my dream to live there. My freelance work as a regional travel writer frequently took me to towns like Traverse City and Petoskey, and soon it felt like more of me was living up north than downstate. So when I was offered a job at a Traverse City magazine, I thought I had landed the ultimate gig: living and working in paradise, surrounded by all the little places that fed my soul.
[The unbelievable waters of Lake Superior, off Pictured Rocks.]
But the reality of living in paradise was far from what I had envisioned. I spent my first full summer there in a blue-gray cubicle, down the hall from windows through which I could hear people walking and laughing on their way to the beach. By July, Traverse City had become overrun with tourists, and I hated them, not just because their numbers made it hard to find a parking spot near my office, but also because I was wickedly jealous that they were out enjoying my new home while I was stuck in front of a hot computer. Weekends, when I should have been enjoying the beaches and hiking trails, were swallowed up by the chores that I inevitably neglected during the work week. As the months went by, I became less interested in exploring and fell into the rhythms of everyday life. I hardly ever made it out to my family’s cottage, and not once in three years of living in T.C. did I make it to Harbor Springs for a Gurney’s sandwich. In truth, I saw less of up north while living there than I did when I was living in Detroit. As soon as I made this beautiful place the backdrop to my daily grind, I let up on the pedal to keep seeking out the magic in it, and everything became ordinary.
At a certain point, this complacency crossed over into actually wanting to leave the area. Not only did I no longer feel the urge to get out and see my favorite places, I felt turned off by many of the things that originally had charmed me: The small towns went from cozy to stifling, the beautiful white winters dragged on and on, and the glory of summer felt like something I could never really indulge in because I was too busy trying to get by. So I moved away — really far away — to another paradise that had special significance in my heart: the coast of Maine. And I should have seen this coming, but the same thing happened there. After the initial thrill wore off and it came time to start making a life, the region’s mystic allure dissipated like steam off a pot of boiling lobster. And there I was, bored again in a beautiful place, only this time I was a thousand miles from home.
[Representing Michigan in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.]
We all know about absence and the heart and the whole deal about growing fonder. So it hasn’t surprised anyone that I’m moving back to Michigan less than a year after arriving in Maine. But what has confused people is why I’m not moving back to my former “happy place” in the Traverse City region, and am choosing Detroit instead. I’ll be first to admit that some of the realities about living in southeast Michigan again have me freaked out: things like rush hour traffic, pavement, no topography to speak of, and having to lock my doors (something I haven’t done in four years). But in exchange, there is the beauty of a unique urban landscape, a vibrant culture and rich history, tons of local pride, and a new chapter in which the city is rewriting its own story. All those years I spent lusting after the supposed ideal life four hours north were years when I wasn’t giving Detroit a fair shake. This time around I’m looking forward to getting to know and love the city, for better and for worse. I don’t expect it to be paradise. I don’t have any expectations, actually, and for that reason I have a better shot at not feeling let down.
But beyond moving to Detroit for its own merits, I’m not moving to Northern Michigan because I have learned that surrounding myself with paradise all the time isn’t perhaps the best way to enjoy paradise. I want the places I fell in love with up north to remain magic in my mind, and not lose their luster through familiarity. It’s like this, according to my processed-meat-loving boyfriend: If your favorite food is hot dogs, you might dream of a life where you could have them at every meal. But too much of any good thing can dull the pleasure of it, and eventually you might get so sick of hot dogs that you never want to see another one again. So if you want to make your love of hot dogs last, you save them for games at Comerica Park, or barbecues at the Belle Isle beach, when you have all the right fixings and a cooler full of cold drinks.
At the risk of comparing up north to ballpark meat, there’s truth in the hot dog lesson. I’m not saying I’ll never again entertain the idea of living in Northern Michigan, but for now I’m content getting my fix in a way that, five years ago, I thought I was done with forever: by joining the crush on I-75 over summer weekends, and savoring up north in small doses. My hope is that by keeping a pleasant distance between me and my favorite places, they’ll once again hold the magic that first hooked me.
PS: I’m already compiling a new list of places in Michigan to check out this summer. The list includes Port Austin and the U.P.’s Keweenaw Peninsula, neither of which I’ve ever seen. What Michigan places (new adventures or old favorites) are on your list?
Posted by Emily - 3.1.11
5 notes / Permalink
Why Detroit: Answers from a Recent Returnee
Last week on Found Michigan we started a dicussion about “Why Michigan?” and, specifically, why some people are choosing to stay in or return to the Detroit area. Some of you chimed in with your answers, but we felt like Detroit is such a complicated place the question warranted a longer conversation. We’re still in Maine for a few more weeks, so we Skyped our friend Megan Frye, who’s got deep roots in the area and recently made a move back to metro Detroit herself. Lou talked with her from her Ferndale home earlier this week.
Featured music: ”Nova” by Crappy Future (based in Ferndale, Mich.)
[Frye in front of Michigan Central Station, a “ruin porn” icon in downtown Detroit. Photo by Cupcake Detroit.]
2 notes / Permalink
I can pinpoint the exact moment Michigan’s gravitational pull officially reeled us back into orbit. We were lounging on a hotel room bed during a post-Thanksgiving getaway to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and for evening entertainment, all we could focus on was hunting down a pirated web feed of that night’s Red Wings game. Since then we’ve only missed one regular season game. And I’ve started sending the injured Red Wings get well cards. Metaphorical point being, if you’re a fan of anything, and it carries on long enough, eventually you just don’t switch teams.
Last year we moved to Portland, Maine pretty much on a whim. In retrospect, it had less to do with Maine and more to do with escaping a beautiful but small town in northern Michigan that had closed in around us after living there a little too long. We’ve now been in Maine for almost a year, and most of it has been amazing. Notable perks include: $5/lb lobster that is so ubiquitous you can even buy it at the Walgreens that’s two blocks from our house; Mainer accents, which in their most extreme forms are still — even after a year — barely intelligible to someone from the Midwest; and an awe-inspiring coastline that’s decorated with dozens of quirky coastal towns, each with roadside stands selling everything from fresh blueberries to a bounty of awesome flea market crap you don’t need.
[Our first lobster experience: a three-pound giant at Fisherman’s Net in Portland, Maine.]
But around the time of that Portsmouth trip we started to get itchy feet. Emily and I are both blessed to have freelance jobs right now, which gives us the freedom to live anywhere we want. The corresponding curse is that you never know when that contract-work freedom is going to dry up, so we’re determined to live it up while we can. And so that weekend in Portsmouth was as much about scoping a new potential place to live next year as it was about relaxing.
Portsmouth is a beautiful town — like Portland, it’s right on the ocean; full of hip places to shop and eat; and close enough to Maine that you can still get cheap lobster. But rents were high and by the end of our second day there, we had already started to feel it wouldn’t be the site of our next adventure. So we checked out of the hotel and got back in the car to head north to Portland, where — in fumbling around in the car for our Maine map — I grabbed the Michigan map by mistake. There across the crumpled, ripped bottom right corner was the word: Detroit.
“What about Detroit?” I said to Emily. “I mean … to live next year?”
Saying the word “Detroit” out loud was like uncorking a deep secret well of Michigan pride that, once let loose, became impossible to quiet. Almost instantly we were romantically fantasizing about what life there would be like:
“It’d be so perfect because there’s so much going on and yet we’d only be four hours from your parents’ house up north if we need to get away!”
“We could get season tickets to the Red Wings!”
“Houses cost $40,000!”
“Okay, we wouldn’t have the ocean and wild forests of Maine, but trees growing out of abandoned buildings: That’s a pretty kickass side of nature!”
And so on. I think we were so excited that Emily even called her mom that night to tell her we were thinking about moving to Detroit. She responded first with shock, and then with a kind of muted support that suggested she was hoping her daughter hadn’t lost it. Since then the initial excitement and romance of the idea have given way to head-scratching and pragmatism: Do we really want to pack up and move again? Should we make a go of it in the city proper, or start in one of the seemingly safer, immediate suburbs like Ferndale or Royal Oak? Are trees growing out of abandoned buildings really enough of a nature fix?
But after thinking about it for the past couple months, our minds have now justified what our hearts wanted do back around Thanksgiving. And the answer to that question — the “What about Detroit?” question — is a definite “yes.” We’ve realized our impulse to explore a new area this past year has really been more about trying to find an area we could call home. And Michigan is that for both of us. Like I said: Once a fan, always a fan.
So on April 1st, we’re heading back. And not in the tail-between-our-legs sort of way, but full of pride and excitement that comes from knowing that I can wear my Red Wings jersey every day and not be known as “that guy.” Still, moving back will mean answering the “why” question a lot over the next year. So we’re starting this site to help answer that — both for ourselves and for others who choose Michigan as a place to live. It’ll be a collection of essays, interviews, photographs, and points of view that tries to steer clear of sappy, grand narratives and generalizations about what “life in Michigan” is like today, and instead present some real, entertaining and sometimes hilarious snapshots of the people actually living there.
[“That guy,” in a Maine supermarket.]
So for my first post on Found Michigan, I’ve been practicing my answers to the “Why Detroit?” question. Based on the handful of times I’ve had the conversation so far (mostly with people looking to rent our apartment here in Maine), I expect it might be a harder, more awkward conversation than the “Why Michigan?” one. So I’m preparing answers that’ll get me in and out as quickly as possible. Here’s what I have so far. Please send us yours.
Lou’s Top Six Reasons for Moving to Detroit
“Sick of missing Red Wings autograph opportunities at Meijer.”
“Starting a photography project shooting racy nudes inside Detroit’s ruin porn hot spots. Plan on titling it ‘Porn on Porn.’”
“Makers of Portlandia series rejected idea for spin-off series The Other Portlandia, but bit on Detroitopia.”
“Playing the role of ‘Young Creative Transplant No. 12’ on upcoming episode of Detroit 1-8-7.”
“Eminem Chrysler 200 commercial really spoke to me.”
“I turned 30 this year. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when you’re 30 — move back home?”
3 notes / Permalink
Our shop and blog will be up by February 14! In the meantime, check out our About, bookmark us, and come back soon to see what we’ve been working on!
3 notes / Permalink