I started humming it pretty much as our plane landed in Detroit and ear-wormed it for the entire week until we rolled into Chicago.
“Michigan seems like a dream to me now / It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw / I’ve come to look for America…”
I grew up three miles south of the Michigan border, but time spent there during my childhood was either negligible or forgotten, or both. Well, except for one night senior year of high school when friends and I took advantage of Michigan’s kindly state law which at that time made it legal to drink at age 18. Needless to say, the night did not end well. Michigan raised their drinking age to 21 not long after, a decision possibly set in motion by the debacle in which our hapless crew discovered the folly of mixing copious amounts of cherry vodka and Coca-Cola.
But that was then and this was now, and after a week’s tour in Texas and a twenty-four hour foray to Virginia, we were ready to low-key it for several days until we were due in the Windy City. What could be more low-key than a road trip through Michigan? So off we drove from Detroit, north by northwest, me riding shotgun and humming Paul Simon and crinkling the paper map on my lap and generally driving my dear husband out of his mind. (It’s a talent of mine, well-honed after many decades of practice.)
Cornfields make me nostalgic. Way back when I had a newly-minted drivers license I used to take the Buick out on the back county roads of northern Indiana and drive past miles and miles of cornfields. Then, I was lost in the corn maze of adolescence and the corn maze of the Midwest, desperate to escape from both. But now I see a cornfield and I want to just stop by the side of the road and look at it for awhile. As Annie Proulx mused in The Shipping News, “as you get older you find out the place where you started out pulls at you stronger and stronger.” I was feeling that pull. I hummed a little louder.
“So I looked at the scenery /she read her magazine/ And the moon rose over an open field…”
Paul Simon was willing us to stop in Saginaw, where I have read that a local artist painted the lyrics to America on various down-on-their-luck buildings around the town. But the more practical consideration just then was lunch, and with all due respect to Mr. Simon, we weren’t looking for Mrs. Wagner’s pies. Since we had fond memories of our German lunch the previous week in Fredericksburg, TX, we decided to veer off I-75 and see what was cooking in the little town of Frankenmuth. The answer: pretty much everything!
You really need to be hungry as a horse to eat at Frankenmuth’s Bavarian Inn. Maybe that’s why Buddy the Belgian draft horse is stationed right outside the restaurant. For a nominal fee, you can commune with him over a few oat cakes, which seemed like the least we could do after we’d just downed noodles and cabbage and bratwurst and fried chicken and more.
A post-prandial walk around the neighborhood and across the covered bridge was a necessity:
No color in the trees yet, but just a hint of fall in the flowers:
The mitten that is the lower peninsula of Michigan turns out to be a size large and it took most of the day for us to make the catty-cornered drive up and across to our destination on Lake Michigan. Hours and hours of cornfields and barns and me looking out the window and humming, lost somewhere between Midwest past and present. Those familiar gray skies. Miles of flat highway stretching out beyond us. I had no idea where we were, but it sure felt like home.
” ‘Kathy, I’m lost,’ I said, thought I knew she was sleeping /
‘I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why’ /
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike /
They’ve all come to look for America /
All come to look for America /
All come to look for America”