A look inside my head
I took Man Child back to school yesterday. This is his third year of college, so it’s becoming less heartrending for me. He attends a small private college in central Michigan, Alma College (Go Scots!). Lifelong Michiganders ask me, “Where is that?” When I reply, “Alma, Michigan”, I am greeted with puzzled looks and a repeat of the “Where is that???” question. Now, if you’ve ever met a Michigander, you know that the proper response to a “where” question is to hold up your hand in the shape of a mitten and point somewhere on the hand. You can even use a second hand to represent the upper peninsula, but that is an advanced skill. Please don’t try it at home. Alma is somewhere near the base of the middle finger. Smack dab in the middle of nowhere.
If you have ever been to Michigan, you know that our northern areas, including the upper peninsula, as well as our wonderful lakeshore areas along the western coast provide some of the most beautiful scenery one can find in the entire country. There are majestic forests of impossibly tall white pine trees. There is the grandeur of Lake Michigan, which leaves me in awe every time I see it. There are the sweeping hills of Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes. There is the pristine natural beauty of Isle Royale National Park…untouched by civilization, a haven for hikers, campers, and moose. What does the center portion of the state have to offer, you may ask? Corn. Lots of corn. A few trees, a scraggly bush, and some more corn.
Now, you must understand that we come from just outside of Detroit. We live in a suburb, but the city is nearby. Traffic is always a nightmare. Construction barrels are our constant companion. We are definitely city-dwellers. Our journey north to Alma takes us into a land that is much more rural. And we have several landmarks that we pass each time that always make us smile. Reminders that we are not in Detroit any longer.
The first landmark we pass is the smiling face of someone we have affectionately come to know as The Creepy Dentist. Now, I’m sure this man is a fine dentist. But the photo he has chosen to plaster on not one…not two…but three separate billboards just east of Lansing is disconcerting to say the least. I don’t know, maybe it’s the eyebrows. But this is our surefire sign that we are nearly half-way there.
We also pass the “World’s Largest Corn Maze”. Which promises not only corn and mazes, but “zombie shootings”. I can only imagine what goes on here! One day, we’ll stop 🙂
Turn right at the state capitol. For a brief time, we are back in familiar territory. Lansing is a big city, with a major state university (Go Spartans!). But gradually, as we drive north the traffic thins. Soon there are only a couple of cars nearby. Exits get farther apart. Barns pop up. I swear we hear birds chirping. Our next landmark is The Dilapidated Barn of Doom. This poor barn has been falling down for as long as we’ve been driving “up north”. Even before Man Child started college, we took yearly vacations to the northern part of the state. We have been watching the slow progress of this barn’s collapse since the kids were toddlers. A cave-in one year. Complete collapse of the southern wall the next year. Little by little, the poor barn disintegrated. Last year, only one wall was left. Yesterday, I didn’t see the barn at all. I think they finally tore it down. I was saddened by this.
Man Child’s favorite part of the drive is when US-127 stops being a freeway and becomes a normal road for a spell. There are many interesting local businesses that you just don’t see in a major metropolitan area. The Wilderness Jerky Outlet for instance. Where in Detroit could you find over 40 types of jerky, including alligator, salmon, wild boar, and kangaroo???? Last I checked, we do NOT have alligators, boars, or kangaroo in Michigan. I may be wrong.
Our final landmark is Hubcaps to Go. This is exactly what you would imagine…a big field filled with used hubcaps. Just in case you happen to need one as you are driving by. There doesn’t appear to be an actual store there. Just hubcaps. Lots and lots of hubcaps. There is a trailer. Presumably that’s the store. We often joke that we can pick up a hubcap or two while we dine on our alligator jerky. You know, make a day of it.
Yesterday, we saw a new sight. At the side of the road was a sign, professionally printed, that said “Retail Store” with an arrow pointing west. Very specific. We have no idea what they were selling, but we were tempted to stop anyway. Maybe there’s more jerky.
I may be poking fun a bit at my northern neighbors. But I love these trips up north. It gives me two solid hours to talk with Man Child. We talk about college, politics, music. It’s wonderful. We make the same jokes at the same sights along the way. It’s a bonding time. And I couldn’t ask for a better place for him to be than Alma. It’s a small town full of small things. A tiny movie theater with only two screens. A tiny bowling alley with just a few lanes. A tiny Sears store no bigger than our local hardware store. And a tiny college with fewer students than my sons’ high school. But it’s the friendliest town you’ll ever see. There’s never any traffic, even on move-in day. You can always find a place to park. You don’t have to lock your car. You can safely and easily cross a street. And it’s home to a wonderful college that is allowing my son to thrive and really come into his own.
I will miss these trips when he graduates.