Many people from outside of Michigan don’t realize how large our state is, or that we have two peninsulas. Driving from Detroit to New York City is about the same distance as driving from Detroit to Ironwood, our state’s westernmost municipality. Both trips run about 600 miles. On our southern border Michigan abuts three other states, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin. It’s that upper peninsula that abuts Wisconsin. Our westernmost counties lie in the Central Time Zone. And Ironwood? Ironwood is actually west of Saint Louis. Missouri.
Before the Mackinac Bridge was opened in 1957, people had to take a car ferry to get from the lower to upper peninsula. Each fall, when deer season would approach, cars lined up for miles as hunters from southern towns and cities waited for their turns to get across. So you might figure that there would be a little rivalry, maybe even some animosity, between the residents of the upper peninsula, the Yoopers, and the residents of the lower peninsula. Ever since that bridge was built, we who reside in the lower section have been called Trolls, because we’re from “below the bridge.”
One winter I was traveling across the upper peninsula for business. From where the bridge empties into Saint Ignace, I took state route 2 west. There are towns every so often for the first part of this trip, until you pass the town of Iron Mountain. After that point you can drive hours without seeing anything man made other than the highway itself. It was in this stretch, with dark approaching, that I noticed a car parked on the side of the road. I hadn’t seen anyone else for a long, long time and wondered where the driver was on this freezing evening. Eventually I came to a cross road with a little store, a combination grocery and gas station. I stopped to use the rest room and buy a snack. The owner was an older man who worked alone. I casually mentioned that there was a car abandoned by the side of the road a ways back east. “Yeah” the owner acknowledged. “He was here. Outta gas. Wanted me to close and drive him back.”
Well, I suggested, if he’d of stood out front with a gas can in his hand, the first person driving east would have picked him up. “Yeah,” he admitted, “But I wasn’t going to tell him that. He was from below the bridge. He called the State Police and they came and drove him back.” A State Trooper heading east had passed me, so I felt relieved that the stranded driver was safe. I paid for my stuff without indicating my own appellation and drove off into the darkness, still a long way to travel before I slept in Ironwood that night.
Years later I received some advice I’ll share with you here. If you ever travel to Michigan’s upper peninsula and a resident asks you where you’re from, just tell him you live in a little town south of the Soo.