Just One Headlight
More often than not, when I write about a particular memory from my travels, the experience falls in the “delightful” column rather than the “disappointing” column (see The Mile High Club from December 2011 or Overnight On The Amtrak from April 2012). Even these downers lasted less than twenty-four hours and were offset by the delights of my destination. You might presume that were both the travel and the destination so equally reprehensible, that I might never return for an encore performance – not entirely correct. I do try to give every locale the opportunity to redeem itself. Sometimes it flounders (I’m looking at you, Indiana) and other times it flourishes, and sometimes it takes decades before I am willing to return.
Yet for a location to be truly heinous, as in sixteen months of god-forsakenness, I have memories that run cold and deep and dark and depressing. During the first two weeks in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I sat in an empty apartment, flanked by a folding card table and a used recliner, accompanied by an infant and a loaner AM/FM radio. Were it not for the fluorescent light in the kitchen and the two harsh bulbs over the bathroom sink, I would have always sat in darkness. As it was, I often sat in the darkness anyway, listening to the radio, counting the number of cars that passed along the two-lane, state road with only one headlight. The percentage of padiddles to the overall population proffered a reality less surprising than the fact that this is how I spent hours every evening until my furniture finally arrived.
Catch No Waves
Prior to the days when the U.S. gave a rat’s ass about military dependents, we struggled to survive in the frozen tundra between Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. I knew hell had frozen over when the Air Force offered us a single-wide trailer with a wood-burning stove as the only source of heat against minus-forty-degree wind chills as suitable living quarters. The fact that I stumbled upon this empty room in a ‘wood-be’ log cabin at all felt like a sad excuse for a blessing. At least we had radiated heat and not plywood floors. Covered parking, despite the 200 inches of snow that fell that first winter, was a luxury we were not afforded, and the government employees who manned the isolated outpost made those of us passing through feel as if we did not deserve the kindness of strangers. We survived that first winter until we landed in base housing, thanks in part to me grabbing my bootstraps.
When the base landed on the closure list in the early 1990s, I truly believed it couldn’t happen to a more vile location. Those nights I sat watching the one-eyed automobiles out the window taught me how to live life on my own. I honed a talent for building up my inner strength to triumph over difficult surroundings and small people beginning in earnest during those first few weeks up north. Even the one station I could get on that borrowed radio played the same hopeless Beach Boys song multiple times each week during my solitary evenings. When given the opportunity to remind its local residents of a world outside where people go catch some rays on the sunny surf, in morose contrast the sad DJ instead repeated “Sloop John B” to remind listeners of the terrible place we sojourners landed. Leaving its own brand of torture emblazoned in my mind, and beyond any other journey I have taken, life in the UP was the worst trip I’ve ever been on.