The 2017 Great American Escape
The Indiana Tollway, representing the joinder of Interstate Routes 80 and 90 from Chicago east into Ohio, runs along the most northern edge of the Hoosier State. Last night, we stopped late in South Bend, famous as the home of football powerhouse Notre Dame University. This is not my first time in Indiana; once, years ago, I stayed the night in Indianapolis on an unhappy cross-country trek with my parents, from Boston to California. I admit to having only a vague concept of the state, a mishmash of images from TV — the Indy 500 auto race, brutal maximum security prisons, discrimination against gays under Vice President Mike Pence (in his days as state governor) and cornball family values à la “The Middle.”
But Michigan somehow feels different. Despite the media’s images of Detroit’s blight and violence, of former auto plants, now boarded up and decamped to Mexico, my thoughts drift to the Holland tulip festival, to the hallowed halls of Ann Arbor, and to the Mackinac Bridge and the Upper Peninsula. With Lake Michigan on the west and Lake Huron on the east, I think of sailboats, seagulls and saltwater taffy.
All of this is foolishness, I know, for Michigan is likely no better or worse than Indiana, its esteemed neighbor to the south. By pure happenstance, however, Michigan will always occupy a special place in my heart as the final piece of my puzzle. For Michigan was, until Monday, the last of the 48 continental United States that I had yet to visit.
I explained to my wife that the Indiana Toll Road flirts with the Michigan border without ever inching over into the Wolverine State. To pull this off would require a bit of strategic planning. We could head north from South Bend into the Niles, Michigan area, but the map seemed to indicate that finding our way back to the interstate might involve some complicated road wrangling. On the other hand, we could proceed about 50 more miles along our trek east and exit the interstate just the tiniest blip south of Sturgis, Michigan. I even found a pizza parlor with a website that promised a decent lunch in Sturgis.
The exit we’re looking for, I told my wife as we entered the freeway and collected a toll ticket, was Star Mills/Sturgis. If we got off in Star Mills IN, we’d be less than five miles from Sturgis MI. My face fell as I examined the list of exits on the toll ticket. No Star Mills. No Sturgis. What now?
I harbored the unreasonable hope that perhaps some minor exits went unlisted on the toll ticket. Then again, I reminded myself, some exits may be closed as several were in the Gary/Hammond area near Chicago. A more likely theory, I realized, is that what looked on the map like an exit to State Road 9 was actually not an interchange, but a mere overpass or underpass. Visions of returning to California with only 47 states under my belt danced through my head. ABM would be my new self-deprecatory joke. All But Michigan.
As we approached a town named Howe, I knew we were getting close to where I wanted to be. Could the Howe exit get us there? And Howe? (Greet adversity with horrible puns, I always say.) The sign does say Highway 9. That looks promising. And then, just before the off ramp, a small sign appeared, “Sturgis.” (No mention of Michigan, as if the Indiana authorities wouldn’t dare utter another state’s name. Foreigners!)
My wife was driving, and I all but yelled “Here! This one! Get off here!” We paid the toll, headed north on Route 9 and were greeted about a minute later with the sign pictured above. A few minutes later, we were enjoying lunch at Mancino’s on Centerville Boulevard in Sturgis, state of Michigan.
Now that I’ve visited each of the 48 contiguous states, what’s next? Well, there’s only one thing left to do. Onward to Alaska and Hawaii!