It does a soul good to get out of Dodge once in awhile and see how others in the country are faring. Not that I didn't have a clue; but seeing is believing, as they say.
My route took me south on US41 to the Covington Junction, then east on M28 to Highway 117. From there it's a short hop south to US2, then east again to the Mackinaw Bridge. Thus far I saw little change but then my route was mainly rural. Baraga, Marquette, Munising and a few smaller towns had a couple more vacant storefronts and homes for sale. If I lived in one of these towns probably the changes would be more apparent.
Lower Michigan was another matter.
As I approached the bridge two cop cars were parked at the on-ramp. On the bridge, a cop was parked at each turn off on either side of the hill. Two more cops were parked at the first exit after the bridge. Either they were waiting for someone or having a Homeland Security exercise. I waved at the bridge camera after the toll booth on the St. Ignace side to acknowledge their watchful eye.
From the bridge it's an easy drive south on I-75 to Highway 127 which continues south toward Lansing. I exited west on Highway 46 toward Edmore. My destination was north of Ionia.
I've driven this route at least 90 times in 30 years so I notice "change." As expected, there were plenty of empty storefronts and partially completed building projects. Of note was a residential area east of 127 near Mt. Pleasant. "The American Dream" was lost in a sea of overgrown yards and vacant homes.
A much clearer picture of our economic decline continued west along Highway 46. Like I told Sweetie, it was a 22 mile yard sale. If I'd been driving the truck I could have chosen between pontoons, boats, motors, motorcycles, log splitters, mowers, tractors, balers, trucks, cars, golf carts, furniture, building materials, fencing, generators, books, clothing, knick knacks and appliances.
Driving around the Ionia area I saw much the same, though the vacant/foreclosed homes were most obvious. A megamansion south of Ionia on over 20 acres had recently been sold for about $260,000. It was rumored to have cost twice that to build. The swimming pool and fountain will require major work; the race track downhill from the house has weeds growing through the pavement; and whomever bought the place must believe their fortunes will fare better than the previous owners.
A friend from a neighboring town took a drive with me one day and we wound up counting empty homes while reminiscing about who lived where years ago. After 70 homes we stopped counting. It was too depressing. Ionia's downtown is nearly vacant and food pantries do a booming business.
The elderly friend I stayed with has her scanner on 24-7. Robberies, domestic disputes, property damage, road rage, driving without a licence, no insurance or plates, drug busts and alcohol induced fights are the norm. After listening to the scanner for two days I decided against taking an evening stroll through her neighborhood. On the third day a visitor asked me how it felt to "get out of the sticks." I said the "sticks" were safer and quieter. She said, "The quiet would drive me nuts." I told her it's a matter of what you're conditioned to: violence and noise or peace and quiet.
On my drive home I had plenty of time to reflect. It amazes me that I ever lived in a city, small town or even a crossroads with six houses. Ionia is a prison town so it attracts the families of prisoners. Add to the mix commercial farms who hire migrants and being located near the I-96 drug corridor and you have a volatile mix.
There are only four people who bring me back to that area and soon that number will dwindle. I'm thankful for the friendships and the memories for they're all that's left in a decaying area.