Sunday, August 3, 2008

Up North

For many years, I have been fascinated by Buckley, Michigan. I was reminded of this on our return trip to Ballet Etc. in Traverse City. Buckley is a village of 550 people. It, and a lone gas station, are the only outpost of civilization between Cadillac and Traverse City.

Early in my radio career, I lived in Cadillac. (I was the afternoon announcer at the now-defunct WKJF AM/FM, "Your Light Rock, More Music Station.") Cadillac surrounds a lake, and each shore of the lake has a distinctly different feel. My house was on the non-tourist side. It was then one long highway of mom and pop shops. It seemed to have changed little since the 1950s.

I lieved in the town for half a year before I even knew the resort side of the lake, with its hotels and restaurants, was there.

There is a lot to do in Cadillac for the person who enjoys hunting, fishing or snowmobiling. I was more of an indoor girl. And when I became tired of my cramped and isolating radio studio experience, I would make the trek to Traverse City. I became very familiar with the route and its landmarks.

Every time I came to Buckley, this tiny outpost with a bar, post office and not much else, I would wonder briefly what life in the town must be like-- miles away from any place-- a community the size of my high school graduating class.

Cadillac has changed quite a bit in the intervening years. Valery and I had the pleasure of staying on the resort side of the lake before heading on to our class in Traverse City. (Hint: If you want to plan an economical weekend getaway to Traverse City, think about staying in one of the lake front motels in Cadillac. They're much cheaper, while still rustic and scenic.)

Although we were lodged on the resort side of the lake, I couldn't resist driving to my old stomping grounds. Something has happened to the town-side of Cadillac. Most of the mom and pop operations have closed down and been bought up by chains with their plastic facades and bright colored logos. The 1950s era businesses that remain, which once had an untouched charm, have been made shabby and out of date by the juxtaposition. Cadillac seems somehow both more built up and more run down than I remember.

The radio station building where I onced worked remains, although it is a lifeless, automated router for another station. The "Incredible Broadcast Machine"-- a decidedly credible Winnebago painted with the station logo-- has driven into the sunset. Half of the office space (which was once home to Muzak) has been given over to H&R Block.

Yet little Buckley, Michigan remains the same and life is probably the same as it ever was. And it retains its power to spark my imagination.

Valery and I have traveled all over the country and we've seen tropical Florida, the Alabama gulf coast, Midwestern farm country but there is no place like home. He is from Moscow, I am from Michigan, and the type of nature that grows up north, its pine trees and lakes, are refreshing and familiar. This is the kind of natural world we both enjoy.

Ballet Etc. is a pleasure, in part because of this environment, undistubed by the noise of heavy traffic. As we headed into the studio all we heard were the songs of birds.

And of course we enjoy the metaphorical fresh air of a visit with Tom Morrell, one of the great friends we've made on our travels. Thanks so much for giving us another opportunity to work with your students, and thanks too for the Traverse City cherry souvenirs.

John Prine & Iris Dement - Our Town - John Prine & Iris Dement