The up-side of jetlag is the symphony of birds at 5.30AM in the morning. Another up-side is the chance to be able to write. It’s been a while.
Today is the second day of my second visit to Jackson, Michigan. It’s a delightful part of the world and a city where I never imagined that I would spend so much time. But that’s what happens when your girlfriend is a Michigander.
What can I tell you about this place? Focusing just on the state, one thing that stands-out is the super-friendliness that exists. This is a part of the world where people are really keen to ‘reach-out’, as they say here.
Stopping off at the super-market on the way back from the airport yesterday, the question from behind the check-out ‘do you have much planned for the rest of the day?’, really stood out. I’ve missed that openness between strangers in Germany and Europe, and I really appreciated that it was a launch-pad for a fun conversation about music, travel and home. All in a couple of minutes.
From my first visit, I found that curiosity and warmth is really everywhere here. Everyone wanted to know where I was from, what I thought of Michigan, what I was interested in, why I was here. It didn’t really matter whether I was at one of the amazing breweries, meeting new friends or ordering a coffee – I never felt a stranger.
Another thing that shouldn’t be forgotten about Michiganders is the sheer number of them. 10 million. That’s almost half of my whole continent’s population.
With this dynamic comes an energy and a warmth, which is not the image of Michigan that gets presented to the rest of the world. Before I started to meet Michiganders, my image of this part of the US was of economic ghost-towns. Cities with gutted populations, angry Americans (turning to Trump at the 2016 election) and communities still reeling from the down-turn in manufacturing.
And while these factors have all shaped this state and millions of lives, it’s a reminder not to let politics and economics define your understanding of communities and place. People aren’t robots.
Maybe it’s history that provides a better map. One of the most interesting things I have learnt about Michigan is that it wasn’t one of the original 13 US Colonies. That wouldn’t happen until 1837. Michigan has a strong history as a ‘frontier state’ which is captured brilliantly in Tiya Miles’ ‘The Dawn of Detroit’.
It has long challenged expectations, as being more open compared to the stuffy British roots of the Eastern States. It smashed expectations by creating the nucleus of the American ‘middle class’ through the Model T Ford Factory Model, and in Mo-Town it turned the world up-side down as being the home of the 20th century’s most iconic music.
History tells us that all cities have their booms and busts. It also says that it will be remembered by people trying to do things differently, and a state with as much warmth as Michigan shouldn’t go stale. It’s good to be back.
(Photo: Detroit, Michigan – December 2018)