We had to drop my daughter off at Detroit Metro.

I like Detroit Metro (DTW). It is easy getting in and out, being immediately off the freeway. There were no big crowds and it was modern, open and clean. In many ways it reminded me of a small regional airport more than a big city international airport.

The City of Detroit fell on hard times as far back as the late 70s as foreign competition cut into the US auto industry’s profit margins. It was a part of the “Rust Belt” that had depended on heavy industry for jobs that eventually disappeared in a global and technology oriented economy. The inflated wages and luxurious benefits of the union workforce didn’t help. Neither did the manufacturers’ stubborn refusal to rethink their product lines. They had big financial and psychological investments in the way things were and couldn’t adapt to how things needed to be. Ford and GM moved most production out of town. AMC died. Chrysler went on life support, came back and was then bought out by foreigners.

The Michigan Economy was crushed and still has not recovered 40 years later.

Ford River Rouge Plant
River Rouge plant once contained everything from a steel mill to a glass factory. Vertical integration became uncompetitive in the ’70s.

Chicago Midway has BIG problems. The workers there were surly and not very helpful. You can tell it is old. According to Curbed Chicago, it is ranked by customers as the worst of the 50 busiest airports in the US. Then you exit right onto slow surface streets and the surrounding neighborhood is grungy.

If you have a choice, go thru O’Hare.

Chicago is also part of the infamous Rust Belt that stretches roughly from Chicago to central New York state. However it was more diversified and not dependent on auto manufacturing and didn’t suffer as much. Still, there are miles of shuttered businesses and collapsing housing on the south side. It is an extremely dangerous place, both to live in and to transit through.

Don’t take the shortest GPS route to the airport. And the toll on the freeway is worth it.

Los Angeles Exteriors And Landmarks - 2016
Bradley Terminal at LAX

LAX has its own problems. Most importantly it is massively overcrowded and in need of modernization. The approach to the airport is on surface streets – just like Midway – but at least it is not impoverished. You don’t feel like you’d be in danger if your car broke down. On a busy day it can take a half hour just to drive the loop through the departure terminals. They are working on expanding the airport and rationalizing the traffic flow and the cost will run upwards of 14 billion dollars and take a decade. They’ve been putting it off for a long time but the 2028 Olympics is forcing their hand.

There is a Fly-Away bus you can take. I would never consider using LAX any other way.

I’d suggest using any of the regional airports before taking LAX. Burbank is my favorite. But sometimes cost of fare trumps time and convenience.

Great Northern Broadleaf Forest
Home was the northern hardwood – red pine forest.

Michigan is a land of deep forests, scenic rivers and cold lakes. It lays on the northern edge of the Great Northern Broadleaf Forest that once covered the entire eastern half of the US, across to Europe beyond Moscow and even into the higher elevations of the Mideast. It skips across Siberia to start up again in China and Japan. In the southern hemisphere we see it in SE Australia and SW Chile.

I was adopted and grew up in the hardwoods and pine of the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Up to the age of 15, when we moved to the exotic small town of Midland, I lived a Tom Sawyer life surrounded by streams and fields and lakes. During the long summer days I’d leave after breakfast and pretty much do whatever I damned well pleased with the sole proviso that I be home in time for dinner.

I grew to love nature and very early developed my odd hobby of getting naked as soon as I was out of sight of the house. My mother and sister would never go look for me, my father was 50 miles away at work in a chemical factory.

Nestor Lake and the North Branch of the Tobacco River, two of my favorite naked places.

I have high functioning autism, aka Asperger’s. I knew from the very start of kindergarten I didn’t fit in. I didn’t understand what was happening around me and other kids just didn’t interact with me. I usually ended up playing alone at recess. I was still lucky for someone in my position. My cousin Jim (who was 2 years older than me) and a boy named Mike both lived nearby and we rode the bus to school with each other.

“Nearby” was a mile and a half and a mile, respectively. It was an easy walk down narrow gravel roads, even easier if I rode my horse. Quite a difficult ride on a beat-up one speed bicycle on roads where the sand and gravel were as soft as its tires.

One of those roads has since been paved.

Budd Lake
View from the room. You can swim or rent a boat very cheap. Budd Lake is next to Harrison and Wilson State Park.

Our next stop was the town of Harrison. I’d reserved a room for a week overlooking Budd Lake. City names Like Harrison and Clare and Gladwin should tell you where the European settlers of this area came from. There is still a significant Roman Catholic population but they have largely been overrun by German Protestants. I don’t think anyone cares about that theological split any more. Everyone has intermingled.

Except for my cousin Jim, everyone older than me in my adopted family is now dead. Jim and his branch of the family is all that is left.

Jim was an extrovert and a happy kid with one problem: He was brighter than anyone else in his grade by quite a bit and a fairly close match to my own intelligence. We were friends and talked about everything from biology to astrophysics – in grade school. Once his need for high octane intellectual discussion was satisfied, he blended in perfectly with the other kids. (I wasn’t so lucky.) Mike wasn’t a very sharp tool in the shed but he didn’t mind associating with me. He had his own problems finding acceptance.

That deck makes a great deer stand.

He has fixed up a hunting cabin and dug out an old cattle watering hole to make a swimming hole and a picnic area. A bit of algeacide keeps it clear. Every 4th he hires a band and has a massive and possibly illegal fireworks show there. It includes firing salvos from a couple of canons he owns.

So, as a grownup, Jim didn’t discard this childhood obsession. He just made it real.

We did far more dangerous things than your average kids. Like making our own muzzle-loading matchlock muskets from scrap pipe. (My cousin made a 2 inch cannon in metal shop.) Trying to make our own gun powder. Separating hydrogen from oxygen by hydrolysis and then igniting the results. My cousin dressed up like Davey Crockett and brought his working replica Kentucky Long Rifle to school on the bus for school and demonstrated how to load it. Had to leave it in the office because it wouldn’t fit in his locker.

We both liked things that went boom.

About 5th grade I got into building and launching model rockets. Probably the safest thing I ever did. Drew up designs for making them into weapons of war but they cost a few dollars each for the kit. At 25ยข a week allowance, I couldn’t afford to blow the cash by blowing up a rocket. No doubt today I would have been thought a terrorist.

Welcome to my cousin’s kitchen.

Of course nobody blinked when you asked to have two weeks off for deer season. Every house had multiple guns and all the kids knew how to hunt and shoot. We’d go hunting miles over trackless forests without the slightest fear of getting lost. It was, in many respects, a more innocent age. Free range parenting at its best.

After we left the rural solitude of Clare County for a ^%$#@! trailer park in the mighty metropolis of Midland, we all drifted apart. Jim got married. He tried some classes a a local community college but never got anywhere. Hard to do when you’re working full time and supporting a family.

Mike died in a hit and run. Apparently he was heavily intoxicated while walking down a two lane blacktop highway late at night. The money everybody knew he’d had on him was missing. There was little effort to investigate.

Fast forward to today.

I meet up with my long lost cousin in a bar in the big city of Beaverton. He proceeds to tell my wife every embarrassing thing I ever did as a kid and makes up a few more. Some of them I wish actually had happened.

That’s a chipper. You feed Poplars into one end and it debarks it and spits out woodchips out the other end into a truck which then drives a couple hundred miles to a pulp mill to be made into paper.

Jim now works as a driver and wood chip operator for a paper fiber company and lives on a rural homestead. His brothers still farm their land and assorted odd parcels in the area. His sisters are still the housewives they’ve been for 30-40 years now. They aren’t oppressed and they aren’t denied any rights. A housewife is what they’d planned on becoming and that is what they did. When my wife got in with them it was endless chatter about kids and family and even discussion of whether Noah was before or after the Ice Age and if before, did he have dinosaurs on board?

Jim and his wife are quite a bit more sophisticated. He’s an atheist and she is an agnostic. Not exactly in the closet about it but not exactly pushing it either. Jim doesn’t fit in either but he wears the camouflage well. I never did.

This is the home Jim grew up in with 7 siblings. It is overrun with plants and windows are broken. My home? Gone.

I hate to say this but many members of my family are hard core racists. Jim’s brother was having a birthday party. He was no longer the happy-go-lucky boy I knew. Life and  failed marriage had treated him harshly.

Some land of a deceased relative my cousin farms. It is planted to rye which is well beyond harvest and will be plowed under. The state taxes agricultural land at a much lower rate than land left unplanted – which it calls recreational land – so it is a kind of plant it or lose it. Residents can’t afford the taxes otherwise. Outsiders from affluent states are moving in to scoop up deals on unimproved land for private recreation or future development and the state wants their money.

Abandoned farmhouse and barn.

He was poor by a lot of definitions himself. Two years younger than me and killing himself with farm work to get by.  Plowing and seeding and harvesting his own farm and hiring out to every other farm in the area he could. Endless days on an old tractor from sun-up until well after sundown for part of the year, making well below minimum wage. Then scrambling for work the rest of the year. Not much in terms of social security to hope for when he can’t work any more.

My paternal grandmother’s house on the outskirts of Clare. Overgrown, broken windows, sagging roof. I have a lot of memories from here.

Not an evil person, just one twisted by fate. And a very strong person. Profanity was a large proportion of his vocabulary. So much hate and so little time!

Through it all Jim and I sat in troubled silence. Nobody’s mind was going to be changed here. I gave him a hunting t-shirt I thought he’d like for a birthday gift. He sneered at it and set it aside. I guess he doesn’t have much use for his citified cousin who struck it rich.

Jim, OTOH, doesn’t have a bit of racism about him. He probably has 30 points of IQ on everyone around him and enough courage to declare himself an atheist in a fundamentalist Christian crowd. Managed to get regular above-the-table work as a truck driver for various operations that actually paid into social insecurity. I am amazed how two brothers living within miles of each other came to such totally different outlooks on life.

Not Amish, the rig is far too modern. Possibly Mennonite.
That’s an Amish rig. The fight to force the reflective triangle was bitter and some still refuse.

It doesn’t just stop with race or ethnicity. The local Amish and Mennonite communities catch a lot of hate too. They tend to cooperate within their faith, pooling money and assisting each other without pay, even financing their own loans as a group. They also take full advantage of being a tax exempt religious organization by holding services in homes. This makes them economically competitive despite the low tech approach. Jim says that people are just jealous that they are handling their affairs better.

Quite a contrast to those in northern Indiana.

For my experience with them, Mennonites are the kindest and friendliest people in the area. (Never had any dealings with Amish but I’m not going to make hostile assumptions.) Just different. Different enough I could never live in their community for even an instant. But that is okay. They could never live in my world either and keep their faith. I wouldn’t ask it.