As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came across a conversation that struck a nerve. It is no secret to my readers, or to my friends and family, that I have been desperately looking for a path back to school, back in Mount Pleasant, MI. I loved my time there, and really fell in love with the entire community.
This conversation that I read, it really made me sad. I’ve been doing a lot of research in my mission to relocate my family in a more suitable place for settling, and my heart keeps calling me back here. So reading the bash-fest on Mt. P on this conversation thread had me thinking about whether or not it was a good idea.
I thought about it, and came up with this. Professor Fanning, I apologize for putting you on blast, but I think you might need a little reminder of why Mount Pleasant is, in fact, pretty freaking awesome.
Rebuttal: Why Mount Pleasant Doesn’t Suck
It’s in the middle of nowhere. There are a lot of fields, open fields, not much to see. There’s a river that runs through it, clogged in the summer with drunken college students and their beer and their swear words. There are strip malls, questionable gas stations and a bar that’s both the pride and embarrassment of the student crowd – everyone who is anyone goes there, but can’t be seen by anyone. There are a lot of bars, actually, which means the weekend starts on Thursday and every weekend night can tend to be a little rowdy. Traffic is horrendous through a large chunk of the town, as newly-licensed drivers navigate their way through adult life. Meijer on a Saturday morning makes Rage in a Cage look like a playground jungle gym, and the line for the empties is literally a mile long. There are a bevy of chain restaurants and Save-a-Bunch-Mart-type grocery stores that have all the same stuff, meaning that what you came in for is probably at a different store. If you need a car towed, you can call a hundred different places, but chances are they all close at six so if it’s six-fifteen, you’re outta luck, sister. That will be an extra $125. I’d rather have my eyeballs gouged out than pay the gouged price of gas, so it’s best to fill up twenty minutes out of town – if you can make it. Those roads seem to go on forever into nowhere.
Yeah, Mount Pleasant really sucks, doesn’t it? There’s nothing there of interest; no shopping malls or movie theatres that play something other than “CrapAss Action” flicks. No art museums, no hip bookstores, no trendy bistros or hippie drum circles. There’s a casino that brings in the frumpy tourists who talk shit about the Natives when they’re down, and buy up all their tourist-trap gas station dream catchers when they hit it big, talking about “heritage.” They call the people “townies” but they’re not. They’re transplants, just like everyone else who was enchanted with the beautiful web the city has built, of students, families, artists, mechanics, athletes, businessmen and farmers. We came, we admired, and we stayed. Because that’s what you do in places as pleasant as this.
Rolling hills, fields that go on forever. They’re dotted with farmhouses, some built before our parents’ parents were born. Trees that bend over the road as if to shelter us from the brilliant shine of the stars we can actually see. A river that flows throughout the county, cutting a path for quality time, family fun, excellent sportsman’s activities and outstanding photo ops. Tradition flows on those waters as deep as they run in our culture.
I don’t know about you, but nothing beats a BBQ Pulled Pork sandwich from Mountain Town Station, an excellent upscale restaurant on the western side of the downtown area, except maybe a bag o’ bitty burgers from Pixie. You’ve got entertainment venues, such as Kelly-Shorts Stadium, or Soaring Eagle Casino, and enough hotels to house the masses. There’s a different style bar for every walk of life, and a church for every kind of redeemer. If you can’t find something you need here, you can take your family for a ride through the countryside in any direction and I guarantee you’ll find something you’re looking for (maybe you didn’t even know you were looking for it) within 20 minutes. What you don’t have is a mall, taking away business from the mom-and-pop stores that provide the excellent personalized service you can’t find at a chain. I guess, and I’ll give the haters this, you don’t have a zoo. That’s kind of a bummer.
BUT, there are, on any given day, a vast menagerie of animals for your close-up viewing pleasure on display in the wild, and if you take a look around, you’re almost there.
You’ve got poets, and singers, and artists, and creators… you have a community that rallies behind good causes. That’s why you still have a library in the midst of so many other small communities losing theirs. You have a handful of coffee shops, each one the center of its own clique. You’ve got an ice cream parlor that can’t be beat (gotta love Doozies) and a real, legit lunch counter at a real, legit old pharmacy with real, legit chocolate sodas. So, I mean, how bad can it suck? You’ve got a high school that someone wanted to go to so badly that he faked his own adolescence to be there. If you find yourself with a flat tire, there will be three cars behind you offering their help within ten minutes, I guarantee it- and each one of their drivers will know a guy who will take care of it for you. There’s a waterpark for tourists, but there’s another waterpark that stays open a little longer than the beaches, and everyone of all shapes, sizes and age can play there for free. The parks are gorgeous, kept nice and clean. There’s a lane for everyone, the walkers, the riders, the drivers. It seems Mount Pleasant has a place for everyone – such a nice place to be so welcoming of all kinds.
There are community programs that provide for its citizens, even the broken ones. All you have to do is call a number, and at the other end, you’ll find a listening ear. People rally behind each other there – because strangers are friends and friends are family. There is help to be had if you need it, and I know because I’ve needed it, and I’ve been blessed to have spent as much time in Mount Pleasant as I have.
Take a walk down Main Street, or University Street. Soak in the excitement of a college student’s life. For at least nine months out of the year, there are about 20,000 people there who are having the best years of their lives in Mount Pleasant. Turn onto Broadway, and look up. Look up at the architecture, the way time has moved past the buildings, leaving some untouched, and allowing some to be remodeled into modern-day business that support the local economy. Walk across campus, and look down. Take in the words, the messages, the advertisements in chalk, the voices of those who are part of something. That’s the beautiful thing about this city – there are so many things to be part of, and being part of that community is a true privilege.
Leaving was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I couldn’t even say goodbye as I drove down Pickard. Tears are flying off my cheeks as I write this because I yearn for it the way I would miss a long-lost love. It embraced me in a way I could only describe as what an orphan might feel like when they finally get a family. I count the days until I can return, and when I do, the first thing I will do is dip my toes in the Chippewa, and thank God to be Home.