Grand Rapids & Kalamazoo .

peopletriprptMy Grand Rapids AirBnb stay was way out in the country. One of those houses you pass by and ask “why would somebody live there?”. Well I met two of the nicest people, and I can answer the question. Their house is modern, on a huge tract of land, surrounded by corn fields, on those 2-lane ribbon highways that cut up Michigan square counties into 640 acre quadrants. There’s no traffic, and the low lying parts fill with fog during the cool and humid summer nights.

818grr1Of our hosts: she is a newly retired teacher, and didn’t want to be bored now that the kids are grown and moved out. He still works locally, but had the week off so was home during the day, able to have a morning coffee and share stories. Plus they love their home, love to entertain for dinner, and entertain visitors. So the thought of sharing it with strangers really appealed to them. (I’m sure the pin money helped encourage the idea). They have decided they want to die in this house, not cash it out and move to a manufactured home in 55 plus community in Florida. He joked that someday he’ll be buried out back with all the family dogs, cats, gerbils and parakeets.

818grr2They are originally from Ohio, married and moved out west “back before Skype” when you paid for long distance calls by the minute. (I related: just like when Lyn and I moved from Detroit to “distant” Denver). They wanted to come back, to be close to family but not too close, and they found West Michigan as the perfect distance and geography beautiful. Much like our own stay in GR in 1985, only AFTER relocating did they fully grasp that it was too conservative for their liking. Was his story literal or apocryphal that he was out “shooting hoops one Sunday” then received an anonymous note in his mailbox that “we don’t do that around here”? I know when we briefly lived here, there was really only one movie house but 6 or 7 putt putt golf courses, because the conservative Christian Reformed simply did not go see movies at the time. Also the two local restaurant chains, Mr Burger and Russ’s, were both closed on Sunday (like Chick-Fil-A).  Its no reach to think his story was literal.

819grrSo eventually they moved neighborhoods, then moved again to out here in the country where there would be nobody to spy, and judge, and send them poison pen anonymous sermons. And they both love home improvement. She loves planting and gardening and decorating and organizing. He loves planning and engineering and construction. For all 20 plus years since they built their house, they have constantly had a project going; from the first planting of those giant trees “as twigs” to his current laying an elaborate flagstone path to nowhere, just because he can, and because it will look gorgeous.

818grr3I sat for coffee on an elaborate multi-level deck, with a trellis roof that was lit with tiny white twinkling bulbs. There were steps down to a gazebo, with a built in hot tub, and an out building workroom next to a full sized kid’s play house; all hand built, slowly over time, with love and careful planning and learned mastery of all the necessary skills. They even tore out and rebuilt their own designed kitchen because while the builder followed their original design, their design was “too stiff” and not homey enough.

So I’m staying two nights out in the middle of nowhere, with a huge house, with every square inch oozing hyper design and a love of detail, and glowing with warmth and care. For the first time on this trip, I unpacked my clothes and carefully put them away. I didn’t want to dishonor this house by just dropping my suitcase on the floor or throwing a publix bag of dirty laundry in the corner. I’ve worn my shoes and tucked my shirt in, not stiffly from fear, but out of respect. So much love and care ….

They are new to AirBnB, and are being way too fussy. Left out an array of soaps and shampoos, extra towels, greeted us in the morning with juice and coffee and yogurt and fresh berries from the backyard. Over coffee my first morning, we all talked for around 2 hours.

There are more guests in the other bedroom. A grown daughter and her mother are on vacation from the Detroit area. The dad is joining them on my Friday departure so we will meet over morning coffee before I head off to Kalamazoo.

The woman is a midwife, and when I said I was from Dearborn lit up and shared stories of midwifery with Arabian women. Funny stories of how they refer to her as “doctor”, how appreciative they are of her help, and how cooperative of her directions. We speculated about cultural influences.

Then she dropped a bombshell. She quit her job and is transferring to instead teach at the local community college. Why? She loved her work. She is / was universally loved by her patients, doctors, and fellow workers. She was being forced to perform “a procedure” which she found morally objectionable and decided to quit her job rather than compromise her values.

WOW!

I just assumed it was abortion, but could not figure out how that tied to midwifery. After 30 plus minutes talking about leadership and morality and her patients and coworkers she finally let loose it was over Circumcision. She refuses to do them, and refuses to counsel them, except in the RARE circumstance of a medical necessity. I’ll do one in a second, without thinking, if its medically necessary for the little boy. WOW!

I was swelled with pride to be in her presence, and she seemed to shrug it off as just a day’s work. She mentioned that people she respected told her “you’ll be on the right side of history”. I did my best to repeat that message. In the end, she was confident enough she didn’t need bolstering, but we talked about the issue, social change, who is continuing the pressure to maintain circumcision and why. It was a wide ranging and imaginative talk, over fresh blackberries and hot coffee, that I was certainly not expecting to have early in the morning. I told her how we had a UU activist make a presentation, and later showed that an activist was making a similar presentation at a local GR discussion group. Yeah, she’ll be on the right side of history, but it takes brass balls to quit your job over principles.

These guests raise chickens, have fresh eggs daily, and mom and daughter both told hilarious farm stories about harvesting eggs and harvesting chickens while growing up. Her funny point was that many “hipsters” are now raising chickens (because it is trendy) without knowing how, why, or what to do. She told of overhearing one hipster at a coffee shop telling another about how his crate of chickens caused so much trouble while he was in the grocery store. Like the live chickens were pairs of socks or bags of flour. Yes, Mr Clueless, live chickens will act up if left alone while you shop. So it raised the overarching dilemma (which we did not solve): when the thing you are pushing for, advocating for, protesting for, finally comes to pass it will eventually be embraced and followed by idiots. You may love a thing, understand its importance, make monthly 3 minute speeches at city council to change zoning ordinances to permit its occurrence. But once it catches on, the parade of people embracing your issue will include idiots, hucksters, apple polishers and hipsters. Is that a success? Still need to think about that one. I can’t stop thinking about those angry chickens.

818saugI headed into Holland, to Lake Michigan, and then down to Artsty-Fartsy Saugatuck for very long a one day loop. My main mission was to hit the UPS store and pick up my replacement windshield. It was due to arrive last week at AMUUSE camp, but for reasons unknown was marked “unknown address” and sent back to Charlotte NC. When I arrived at the store, it was on the shelf waiting for me, and the clerk helped me cut the box and bubble wrap. I brought my tools and the bag of screws and grommets I have been carrying since I removed the broken windshield in Rochester NY. In less than 10 minutes, the new one was aligned, in place, and snugly attached. I tried to take a picture to send to Adam, but the damn thing was so clean it was near invisible to photograph. After riding home tonight on a buggy nighttime country road, the smudges should be plentiful to take a picture today.

The plastic fairing, a decorative cover that hides the screw heads and stops bugs from getting sucked into various windshield joints, would not reattach. To store it for the last three weeks, I pushed it into the space under my seat, slightly squeezing it to fit. It is now permanently bent slightly more than normal, and wont align with the perfect curvature of the windshield. When I crashed the bike 18 months ago, one screw post on the fairing got sheared. I reattached it with superglue, and when that failed Adam & I used epoxy resin. That too eventually snapped off so only gravity and snap (and the one good screw) has been holding it in place. Well with the fairing bent, that isn’t enough. I had Adam order me a new one, and we’ll ship it to a UPS store down the road. That trick worked so well.

Without a windshield, I’ve been a little more vulnerable. I wear my helmet with full facemask (and its simply COVERED every day in smooshed bugs). Also, I’ve been wearing my jacket, gloves and blue jeans 100% of the time with no windshield. However there is this one tiny spot, a sliver really, where the collar of my jacket falls short of my neck. Its a target about 4 inches long and 1 inch wide on both sides of my Adam’s apple. The space resembles the shape of the collar flaps on a man’s dress white shirt. Well that little piece of flesh has been a magnet, with flies, beetles and the like whipping me there at 60 plus mph. I have several pink marks from the three weeks without a windshield. Well, to add insult to injury, on the way to UPS, in the last 10 minutes without a windshield, a small bee slammed into my skin right there and gave me a sting. Yep, a cherry on the sundae. The sting has been burning and itching all day, and I was just 10 minutes from having the windshield reinstalled.

818_zeel.jpgTo rest my brain after my bee sting, I stopped in Holland at a coffee shop and chatted. The server turns out was a 16 year old high schooler from local Zeeland (I had guessed 25, oops). I asked questions about how things had changed since I last lived here in 1986 30 years ago. She said how Zeeland, a suburb of Holland had built a new high school and made its old one a middle school … then built a second high school … and is rumored to break ground on a third high school. Where, I asked, was the influx of students, homes, construction, jobs … I just didn’t see signs of explosion. She said it was there, that Holland had been regularly voted a top-10 “most livable town” by Forbes or USNews, and that developers had used that to draw new residents. There has been a regular draw to the county, and once Holland had no more room for growth, the other “Dutch name cities” (zeeland, noordeloos) started getting the construction. I asked about transit use: MAX (Macatawa Area Express) can be used, her mom even used it after having eye surgery, but nobody seriously considers using transit.

I headed down to Saugatuck and walked a little street fair, enjoyed another coffee, and even bumped into my roommates (and breakfast pals) from the abnb. They were geocaching along Lake Michigan while I was recharging from a long day on the scooter.

819twirl1

When leaving the GR abnb, I took the spontaneous advice and hit the “Twisty Curl” ice cream stand. Its in the middle of nowhere, on a corner on a farmer’s field. Supposedly the farmer’s wife wanted to open and run a retail daily so he built a building and lot. There was amazingly good traffic, and I bumped into some Harley riders who asked all about my Bergman when they saw my FL plates and the suitcase. I told them about my trip, and the technical specs of my super-scooter. It was a nice lunch.

I also meandered into Wayland, MI my father’s boyhood home during the great depression of 1929. His mom (my grandma) is buried in a church cemetery with a famous family story. They were not good church members, didn’t attend regularly, (“didn’t make enough donations”, in dad’s words), so grandma was buried, quite pitifully, in the farthest far corner, alone and abandoned. Hers was always the only headstone within 50 yards of that spot and it abutted the far fence. The message was clear, you’re allowed in “begrudgingly”. Over the years the cemetery has increased in size, so she no longer is stuck against the far fence. And the middle area has started to fill in with family headstones (“They gave big dough” according to dad). But the separation and segregation is still obvious even today. With the passing away of my dad and his sisters (my aunts), the grave is obviously no longer maintained or decorated regularly.

I visited another couple dinner meetings with groups involved in alternative lifestyles and power-exchange relationships. I’m hoping to write up a paper on my findings, but wanted in particular to see what was happening in traditionally conservative Grand Rapids. The one group was very active with the vast majority of members being young adults. Anybody my age was, like myself, from out of town and just visiting. “Old couples” were considered people in their 40’s with kids in middle school, but the majority were in their mid to late 20’s with no kids.

So with no detail information or scientific data, just an informal dinner with a social group, I’m guessing that Grand Rapids (like America) is evolving to be less conservative and the younger people are more open about their relationships. Also, college age kids tend to be more open to challenging the old social order. Now, in more socially radical Saugatuck, I found a similar situation, but to a lesser extreme. I hope to publish my information and insights soon.

After many phone calls, I finally gave up visiting my old friend Hank. He has lived in the Kalamazoo area but is now ill; bopping in and out of hospitals or otherwise recuperating at the home of a family friend that serves as his caregiver. Missed calls, dangling texts, and his leaving his home of 40 years caused us to never connect. I will be returning to Kalamazoo eventually, probably next year, and hope to see him then.

I was able to make time for a dinner with another long time family friend. We met and dined in downtown Kalamazoo and it was nice to see how the town had improved (but transit is still just a bus network).

Her twin daughters are just slightly older than Jesse and our two families played together 20 years ago in suburban Detroit. She relocated to Kalamazoo decades ago, enjoyed a long career in an unrelated field, got divorced, and recently had health problems like other folks our age. It was a cold punch in the stomach to think I may be going through the trauma of separation and divorce, only to contract some horrible illness. She has recovered, but was a living lesson of how precious every day must be treated.

I was dumbfounded to think of her twins as in their 30’s, but time marches on for everybody, whether you see them or not. We laughed and gossipped and reminisced until we ran out of time and energy. Sadly, we left so very many stories only half told and questions unanswered. I simply have to go back to Kalamazoo, to finish these conversations. I also forgot to take a picture of the “old” us. It was delightful that as we dined on a sidewalk cafe table multiple people walking by recognized her and stopped (to interrupt our conversation and meal). I could not have been happier. They each had to hug, ask how she was, setup future lunch or dinner dates, and they even met me a little. After each visitor walked away, she would try to tie them into a previous story (“That’s the daughter of the lady that I told you was …”)  It was heartwarming to see that my treasured friend was plugged into her town, or at least into the part walking by that sidewalk that Friday night.

I stayed at a cheap profile motel right within the city of Kalamazoo, a few blocks from downtown. If you thought about it, you could have told me that the local county services would also use that motel for short and medium term housing for families, the chronically
underemployed, and I’m thinking a couple of the mentally ill. The desk was run by two people, a woman doing all the paperwork and an energetic (and amusing) black man with salt and pepper hair and beard, wearing the tired clothes of a maintenance man. “Settle down up there”, he shouted to those leaning over the balcony, canned loosey beer in hand, “We’ve got guests now, so just settle down!”

819kmot3
Surrounding area was being rebuilt & gentrified.

He also organized the cars packed with homeless families’ possessions into their proper parking places, and he generally ushered everybody around the parking lot keeping things organized and running. I had a couple nice conversations with my new neighbors (“Nice Bike!”, “Where in Florida?”) and I also walked around the surrounding neighborhood which was (of course) starting to gentrify.

In the morning it was repack the bike, check out, and head off to Indianapolis.

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