Friday, August 26, 2011

Mackinac Island: Americana made in China

Mackinac Island (pronounced mack-i-naw, um, eye-land) is at the top of the Michigan mitten. Except for a couple of emergency vehicles and snowmobiles, cars are banned from the eye-land. This peculiarity brings millions of tourists to Mackinac--that and the fact that Somewhere in Time was filmed there.

If you want to enter the Grand Hotel, where Christopher Reeve read his lines so stiffly, you'll need to have a crisp ten dollar bill with you. Mackinac likes to make a clear distinction between Grand Hotel guests and the sloppily dressed tourists who come to the island for the day. If you're able to bike around the island or hike the trails, you'll have a great weekend on Mackinac, but if you're a person of limited mobility, there's not really much to do there except eat fudge, hang around the tiny town and look at the quaint houses--but don't get too close.

Can you imagine how the 500 or so year-round residents of Mackinac feel when hordes of tourists stand in front of their homes and take pictures? I got a taste of the animosity while returning from one of my late afternoon hikes. As I was getting close to the town, I spotted a woman and man standing at their front door talking. When they looked at me strangely--and then more strangely--I smiled and said Hi. 

"Where are you coming from?" the woman asked me with an enormous smile that said her question was anything but friendly.

"Um, from up the road there. The trails?" I pointed to where I'd just come from like I was afraid I'd done something wrong.

"Oh," she said. "I thought you were coming from my house." She said "my house" as if it were the Grand Hotel.

"But aren't you standing at the front door of your house?" I asked.

With a big smile the man said, "It's all right. It's all right."

I walked on trying to figure out what had just happened. I think they were accusing me of trespassing although I'd never left the street. They live a block off the main street, so I'm sure they have lots of unwanted guests. Here's the thing, dear Mackinac Island residents: There's no industry on Mackinac Island. No farms. No businesses besides B&Bs, fudge shops, restaurants, bars, novelty shops and clothing stores that stock t-shirts and hoodies that say MACKINAC on them. If you choose to live on Mackinac Island, shouldn't you at some point come to terms with the fact that there will be lots and lots and lots of tourists? If this makes you crazy, maybe you should consider a home in Nowhere, Montana. It's beautiful there.

The streets of Mackinac Island are lined with American flags, which gives you the feeling you've stepped back in time--maybe 1912?--back to a simpler era with lots more horse shit on the streets and black domestics in the hotels. I'm not sure which one was more offensive. I love horses, so I'm going for the conspicuous presence of subliminal racism.

The most offensive--and sad--thing about Mackinac Island is that, for all its Americana appeal, almost nothing in the stores is actually made in the USA. It was a bit nippy the second morning, so I went looking for a Mackinac hoodie. I don't have anything against garments made in other countries: I just like to support the local economy when I'm traveling. I spent a couple of hours searching through every store on the island only to find that almost all of the garments in the stores are made in China, Pakistan, India and Nicaragua. I finally settled on a hoodie that was at least assembled in the US.

Mackinac Island is worth a visit if you're into quaint houses and horses. If you're looking for real Americana, Mackinac will probably disappoint.

To continue with I Must Be Off! A-Z, go to N is for New Zealand.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Ficton, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day.