If you happen to feel any attachment to the idea of traditional Christmas you should stay as far away from Frankenmuth, MI as you can manage. And you should probably stop reading now. I have precious few Christmas illusions left and I still feel that the place consumed a piece of my soul. Christmas is of course important. Very important. For the economy. If not for all the presents that need to be bought and returned in December and January respectively, we would have to close most of the retail outlets. And I like the shops. Not so much shopping but just the idea that there are people willing to engage in this sport. They make for a nice background to otherwise dreary December days. Also, I don't mind fancy lighting. So if you have any warm feelings associated with Christmas it would be in my best interest, if you found something else to read just about now.
It's far from the truth but from our point of view at least 90% of American middle class lives in suburbs. This is where all our friends who opened their houses to us on this trip dwell.They all seem quite content with their houses even though locations require driving everywhere: work, store, theater, restaurant. Some enjoy having yard and even grow their own fruits and vegetables, but most decry lawn mowing inconvenience.
There was no war here. Nor a natural disaster. The lake did not flood the town as it did in New Orleans. The German army did not march in methodically burning houses like in Warsaw. No bombs were dropped. But you'd be excused to think something terrible must have happened. The place looks like the infamous lower 9th ward in the aftermath of Katrina. Houses are left deserted, boarded or burned. Furniture is rotting on a sidewalk. Roads are beyond repair. Abandoned cars are parked on driveways leading to nowhere. It's not quite a ghost town: manicured lawns neighbor weed-overgrown ruins. A few residents appear out of nowhere and one starts waving in our direction. In all other places in US we would approach him and start conversation. Here we turn and speed away. If America has a failed city this is it. No wonder journalists flock here to shoot photos of ruin porn much to the annoyance of locals.
Northern part of Michigan is rural. An attractive version of rural, where agriculture takes a form of orchards and vineyards. Nestled between lakes Michigan and Huron the land has moderate climate suitable for growing temperate zone fruit. We sample local plums, late raspberries and various preserves including exotic thimbleberry. I find that I can almost forgive the irreparable change to the environment for a cherry pie (but not for cornflakes).
Despite all the talking about inevitability of its flow, time is actually quite a flexible concept. We are driving east on the interstate 90 and out of a sudden there is a sign: Central Time Zone. We didn't cross any state borders and - judging by the total blackness on both sides of the highway - we are in the middle of nowhere. And without much warning one hour of our day is gone. I suppose middle of nowhere makes sense for a time zone change. And the hour that we just gave up wasn't ours to keep. We borrowed it in July when driving through similarly empty Texas. Although why in South Dakota the time zone change line isn't straight is beyond me - there are only 4 states in the Union with fewer people per square mile.