When I hear friends complain about the invasion of those “Friendly Illinois People,” I refrain from pointing my finger, because I know that three fingers are pointing right back at me, an Illinois native who moved full-time to Michigan in June 1987 with his wife and fellow writer, Natalie McKelvy.
Yes, we are part of the problem.
If, indeed, it is a problem.
Having lived here, where God and Santa Claus and the movers and shakers from across the pond take their leisure, for 27 solid years, I see the so-called problem both ways. I am, as it were, a transplant who has gone native but who can still handle the Dan Ryan Expressway at rush hour with one hand. Well, two hands now that I am a mellow old Michigan boy, but I see the situation from both perspectives.
And for that reason, you might want to lend me your eyeballs for a few minutes.
You see, we live here along the West Coast of Michigan where folks flock from all over the world every summer to soak up the sun on our fabulous beaches, ride our back roads on bicycles worth more than most used cars, and sip the nectar of our vineyards and prowl our towns and “shoppes” and just basically hang out and have fun.
And there’s the rub.
So many people in our backyard all summer.
But then I have to remember that when I point at them I am pointing three fingers at myself, because I am one of those Illinois people who planted himself in Michigan soil, because he wanted to slow down and hang out with the Berrien Birding Club and watch the birds come and go along our lovely lakeshore.
So when a friend suggests that those Illinois people have taken over a Sawyer or a Three Oaks and another friend becomes absolutely apoplectic at the sight of a person with out-of-state license plates executing an illegal U-turn in Three Oaks, I smile and point to myself and say: “Been there; done that.”
Illinois and Indiana and Ohio and New York and Massachusetts and Arizona and Polish and German and Japanese people have been flocking to our golden strand since, well, talk to the folks who know local history, and you will know that this area has been a mecca for moderns since at least the 1920s.
And why not?
Some friends from Poland who summer here every year tell us that our beaches and dunes remind them of the lovely beaches on the Baltic they knew as children.
Our visitors are here for a good reason: they love this area. And what’s not to love?
Many have been summering (and now falling, wintering, and springing) here for generations.
The love is deep, friends.
Again, does there have to be so much love?
Yes, there does.
It is unavoidable.
But don’t get me wrong: I am not in favor of floating docks at every beach from New Buffalo to South Haven, nor am I advocating the paving over of every dirt road, particularly the dirt road in front of our little cottage in the dunes.
All I am saying is give peace a chance.
Yes, John Lennon had it right: we should learn to get along with one another.
Granted, that can be a particular challenge on summer weekends.
But here’s a suggestion:
I attend Saint Agnes Church in Sawyer, which is quite popular with the summer set. So popular in fact that one is hard pressed to find a seat.
So I joined the choir.
That way I get to sit up front and survey the summer parade of visitors. I say I am a Catholic, so I get to practice being a Catholic by seeing the world in a small-c-catholic way.
And, on weekends, we can always get out of Dodge and head over to Chicago for a day of fun and games, particularly at those two Major League ballparks they have over there. And maybe, just maybe, we might hear some disgruntled Chicago native complain thusly: “Look at all these stupid Michigan people taking up all the good parking spots.”
So there you have it, sports fans.
Lots and lots of people scrambling for a personal piece of the proverbial pie.
Can we all get along?
Sure we can.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go sing in the choir and then take a prime parking spot at one of those ballparks in Chicago.