I’ve written before about being from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and I am proud and blessed that I was able to grow up there. Towns are small enough where everyone knows your name, and just far enough apart from each other to ensure Friday night football rivalry games that somehow both sides equally attend. We spend our summers biking to the lake. Even without cell phones we were never concerned about knowing people that were there hanging out. We climbed bluffs with friends and sat on the top thinking how far we could see. We hiked through the woods to a clearing with a stolen bottle of liquor from our parents house to add to the garbage can party that someone, somehow organized at school. The U.P. really is a great place to grow up.
A few years after I got married and moved to the lower peninsula we brought our niece down from the U.P. to nanny our two kids for the summer. She had never been out of the U.P before and was eager, but also nervous about “coming down state”. The first thing my husband taught my niece was how to drive in the lower MI. He explained to her that it is a much faster paced place than the u.p. and that, it seems, everyone is in a hurry. “Never hesitate.” he told her, if you do you wont ever make it passed the stop light, and people will honk and swear at you. He also took her on the expressway, something many people dont like to do. My niece adapted quickly and was out driving around quickly. I wanted her to experience the many positives of living in a more populated area. We went to the mall, saw movies and went to concerts in Detroit. My niece loved it, I even got her to try some ethnic foods like sushi and hummus. She did not like the sushi, but loved the hummus, I took that as a win. She spent the summer with us and said she enjoyed it as was glad she did it. She knew if she wanted too she could move out of the upper peninsula. She didn’t, but knew she could if she wanted.
I never really thought much more about her being out of her element at the time. Recently we needed to get in contact with an old acquaintance from the days my now husband and I were dating in the U.P. The gentleman, a friend of my husbands family, and my husbands employer for several years, had fallen ill and we wanted to talk to him and offer our support. When we called the only number we had for him, his son answered. His son is younger than us by a few years, but is now grown, married with a couple of young kids. He is running his dad business and has been very successful doing it. My husband and I joked that we must be so old if this kid so much younger than us was a grown man with a wife and family.
We invited him down to visit us and told him we could take him and his family to a Detroit Tigers game. He thanked us, but then said, rather mater of factly said that he “Never goes below the bridge”. The bridge, by the way, is the Mackinaw bridge, a 5 mile span across the waterway where Lake Michigan and lake Huron connect. Its a beautiful site, but many people have a hard time crossing it. Several (ok many) years ago the wind blew a small car that was trying to cross it off the bridge and into the cold deep water below. The woman in the car died instantly. To this day, they close the bridge if it gets to windy or stormy which only adds to the scariness of the bridge. In my mind the son of our friend was kidding, surely you have been in lower Michigan before, for college, for hunting, to see friends, shopping, to attend a sporting event, something! It’s not a wall, it doesn’t cost you a million dollars to cross, there is nobody checking your passport before you do it. But he wasn’t kidding, he nor his wife (and now kids) had never been below the bridge. I hung up the phone and thought about the conversation. If he has never been below the bridge that that must mean he has never been out of the Upper Peninsula.
I sat and thought about it for a moment. Is this person so happy that he has no desire to leave the area he was born and grew up in? Did he not ever watch a football game and think how fun it must be to attend one? Go someplace where 60, 000 people go with the common goal of drinking beer and cheering on their favorite team? Did none of their friends every leave the U.P either so there is no need to go visit and catch up on old times? Have they never wanted to go to a museum, see a play, attend the Thanksgiving parade?
Maybe it is just me, and my husband, who thought about doing these things when we were growing up? I mean, I didn’t grow up and say that I was going to live in lower Michigan, but I never said I would never leave either. How many opportunities would have passed us by if we simply said “We dont go below the bridge”. I know we are all different, and want and need different things, but I prefer to take each opportunity as they come. Some opportunities I will jump on and some I wont, but I hope that I continue to not let constrictions of where I live dictate which opportunities I accept. I never want to say, “I cant, I dont go below the bridge”.