I was 16 when I first set foot in the state of Michigan, and bypassed the lower peninsula altogether. We headed across the bridge, to my friends’ cottage in the Les Cheneaux Islands, high up in Lake Huron, off the eastern Upper Peninsula coast. Of course we stopped a few times in the nine hours or so it took to drive from Columbus, and we almost always stopped at Gaylord.
“Last chance for gas before the bridge,” someone would say. It’s about 50 miles south of the Mackinac Straits. Even though we’d been in the pine-trees-and-blue-skies north for at least 100 miles, Gaylord was the final turn before the home stretch.
(That the islands, and the cottage, were 45 minutes beyond the bridge didn’t matter. Once you crossed, you were as good as there.)
Gaylord was also the stop, going home, where you filled up and got junk food for the interminable, party’s-over trip home. My friend Paul, the party king, was famous for driving to Gaylord, getting a shoebox full of fries or bag of donuts at some drive-through, turning the wheel over to someone else and crashing for a carb nap in the back seat.
Anyway, while I don’t know Gaylord, I know its two freeway exits pretty well. After Alan and I got together, we started traveling to Grayling, about 15 miles south, and Gaylord faded into my past.
So on Sunday, I’m starting my trip home, hunger is starting to gnaw, and Covid or no Covid, northern Michigan was packed. Long lines at any sit-down restaurant, drive-ins and patios packed, and even McDonald’s in St. Ignace had a drive-through line backed up onto U.S. 2.
I crossed the bridge and tried Mackinaw City. Same story. So I got back in the car and figured, it’s Spike’s Keg o’ Nails in Grayling, then. As I approached Gaylord, I started seeing signs for lots of places to eat. Lots of them. It was a Five Guys sign that caught my eye; Five Guys aren’t exactly confined to Manhattan, but they’re usually located pretty far from little towns up north in Michigan.
So I took the usual fast-food exit and hooooly shit, this town has grown. There was not only fast food, but craft brewers, outdoors shops and lots of touristy stuff, but not overwhelmingly so. And this was just on one strip.
The answer was? Jobs, of course:
McComb said Gaylord is booming because it positioned itself to be ready after the economic downturn of 2007-08. Gaylord reeled when the Georgia-Pacific plant closed in 2006, eliminating 200 jobs.
McComb said the city has been able to attract employers and development because the city made itself attractive.
“We had a thriving community throughout the downtown and had things in place like an industrial park and another new industrial park, and infrastructure that we invested in in the downturn,” she said. “We really are a community where someone looking to invest can find an existing building or land to do it really quickly.”
I’m reminded of something someone said in an interview I did in northern Michigan once upon a time: “You want to change someone’s life up here? Give them a job.”
Other revelations from the trip: Radio has been entirely taken over by religious entities; I couldn’t find NPR to save my life. I did hear an interview with Salena Zito, the Trump whisperer on Relevant Radio, some Catholic network. She declared that Hollywood, New York and Washington are “all one big zip code” who dictate what the rest of us see and hear and…I turned it off. You had your time to cash in, honey. Once Trump is gone, you’ll just be another very low-rent Peggy Noonan, at one-tenth the salary, if that.
But it was a very pleasant trip, and when I got home? I got laid off. From one of my jobs; I remind you, I have two. They said it was for budgetary reasons, not performance, offered the usual letter of recommendation, all that. I’m…fine with it. Seriously. It was never the best fit, but it was important work. Deadline has more of an element of fun, and that’s the one that remains. I’m close enough to the end of my career that I could probably retire now, although I’d rather not do it abruptly. I’ll look for something else, and we shall see. Serenity now.
Tomorrow: Primary election. The day after that: Training for census work. I may not be back until week’s end. Enjoy yours.
Oh, wait. Before I go, I was calculating driving time to my election assignment tomorrow and found the Google Street View of my house. Alan made an appearance:
He was watering the ferns.