Living In Upper MichiganI didn't live in the state of Michigan long, less than a year, but it was long enough for my first son to be born there. My husband is the one from Upper Michigan, born and raised there. When he got out of the Air Force, we weren't sure where to go or what to do, but I figured I had my chance; we spent the last several years living near all of my family, and I owed it to him to give the midwest a try to be near his friends and family. Unfortunately it didn't work out, my husband is an airframe and powerplant technician by trade (airplane mechanic) and there isn't alot of that kind of work in Upper Michigan.
My husband is a veteran of the first Gulf War, but we were lucky, his time was up and there were no stop loss orders yet. (I don't think they ever did have stop loss orders during the first Gulf War, but we didn't know that there wouldn't be either.) He actually had intended re-enlisting, but I wouldn't let him because I was afraid they would send him back, and I didn't want him gone from me ever again without any sort of time frame. Somehow it's easier to take when you know they will be back in a week, a month, even a few months. You can mark the time off on your calendar. During a war there is no way of knowing, even in the support positions outside of the war zone, like my husband was in.
So we drove to Michigan from New Brunswick, Canada. We were optimistic. He didn't have his A&P licence yet, but he could finish up the tests within a couple months while he collected unemployment. And he did, but he couldn't find work at the smaller airports in Upper Michigan, they simply weren't hiring. So we moved into a little trailer and he worked installing basements in Iron Mountain for $7 an hour while I, hugely pregnant, sat waiting to pop. Yes, we lived on one $7 an hour paycheck. We did have help from the gubmint though. We had WIC, food stamps, Medicaid, and a program for rural areas that partially pays the phone bill since it's necessary for emergencies. It was the most miserable time of our lives being that poor and feeling like there is no way out. We did also get some help from his family, but they are poor too, there is only so much help you can offer when you are having a hard time making ends meet yourself.
Once my son was born, I helped in my own way by taking him out in his borrowed stroller and collecting bottles and cans by the side of the road to cash in at the end of the month when the groceries from food stamps and WIC had run out. You see in Michigan the returnables are worth a whopping 10 cents each and it does add up when you need a loaf of bread or pound of hamburger.
But what is my impression of the state of Michigan? I have mixed feelings about the people in Upper Michigan, they can be very insular and I know that I felt like an outsider as did my brother-in-law from Missouri. You never really feel like you fit right in. At the same time after living on a reservation where everyone knows everyone else's business, I liked that the small town we were in was pretty much the same. You always knew who was who and what they were up to. I know my husband feels more or less like the entire town is his family, they care about him and what he is doing and where he is going.
Another thing about the people, it seemed like 99.9% were blonde haired and blue eyed. Most of the families originally immigrated from Scandinavian countries or Germany with a few Italians thrown in for that .1% with the darker hair and eyes. And if you have seen the movies Grumpy Old Men or Fargo, and heard the accents and the slow way of talking, that's not just Minnesota, Upper Michigan is like that too. My father-in-law had a friend who owned a little fishing resort up there with a bar to hang out at. I used to go there just to listen to him and his son talk because their accents were so thick I used to wonder if they were purposely doing an act to amuse the crowd.
I don't think there is anywhere in the United States where you won't find racism and Upper Michigan is no different, but it wasn't directed towards Native Americans, at least not in front of me. I did occasionally hear slurs againsts blacks, latinos, and gays. Mostly I would ask if they ever even met these different sort of people or otherwise point out the ignorance in what they were saying, but sometimes you gotta know when it's not worth engaging, give them a dirty look, and walk away. I do think it is mostly ignorance and not a burning deep down hatred, but I still wouldn't want to be black, latino, or gay in Upper Michigan. I felt like an outsider; those people would feel invisible.
I also never felt disrespected by the men for being a woman there. It's funny how we believe that rural people are backwards and suburban people are modern and civilized but I find that it's the opposite. Rural people tend to be poorer which means both men and women must work outside the home. This tends to blur the line and expectations between gender roles. It's in the suburbs that men can believe that their wives jobs are a whim and that they are still the real breadwinner. At least in my suburban Wisconsin neighborhood I have heard more comments like these from the men when they talk about their wives, "I didn't want her sitting around watching soap operas so I made her get a job."
If you're the outdoorsy type who likes hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, riding dirt bikes, swimming at the lake, spotlighting deer at night, or just getting together with some friends around a fire and shooting the breeze, then Upper Michigan is the place for you. Those are some of the things we did for fun. It is a beautiful part of the country that at least feels untouched, but it really isn't, unfortunately there are industries polluting the area with mining and forestry at the top of the list.
So my recommendations are, if you are independently wealthy, like the outdoors, are of Northern European extraction, and diversity isn't especially important to you, then you will probably like Upper Michigan just fine. On the other hand, if you are looking for work, DON'T GO! Alot of Upper Michiganders have had to leave even though they didn't want to, because you can't make a living wage or get ahead at all. If you like the city for museums or other cultural pursuits, or even for mall shopping, you won't like Upper Michigan much. The same goes for if you aren't of Northern European ancestry unless you want to be a hermit, or if you are but like to be around a variety of people, probably not for you.