©2013 Text & Photos by LeeZard
Monday September 2 – Fredonia, NY-Meronci, MI
For the first time in my journey, I have nothing to say about my drive from one location to another. With a few exceptions, such is freeway driving in the United States. Instead, I settle in to listen to an eBook, Infamous, a novel by Ace Atkins. It is a wry, gritty crime drama set in the 1930s featuring George “Machine Gun” Kelly. The time and the miles fly by.
I actually didn’t know I was going to Meronci, MI. In fact, it doesn’t even appear on Google Maps unless you search for it – which I didn’t. It seems there isn’t much in Southern Michigan, except for Toledo, OH. Look at a map.
When choosing a destination I look for a place within about 300 miles with nearby camping. My preference is a city, county, state or national park/recreation area, etc. The problem in Southern Michigan, at least according to Google Maps, is that the nearest campground to any town or city – other than Toledo – is about 45 miles away. I look beyond my normal driving distance and find the Lake Hudson State Recreation Area, about 20 miles from the City of Adrian, MI. It is well over 300 miles from Fredonia, NY and a five-hour drive, all freeways. I am resigned.
To my surprise and relief, the little town of Meronci is only eight miles from the campground. Even better, on this Labor Day, everyone is leaving camp. When I awake in the morning my only neighbor is a little yellow and black bird in a nearby tree. Otherwise I have the campground to myself and, just for the hell of it, throw off my clothing and romp buck-naked for a while. What a great feeling! Trooper looks embarrassed.
Tuesday September 3 – Meronci, MI
Meronci is barely in Michigan. Its southern border is the Ohio state line. Downtown is just three blocks long. There is one gas station, a traffic light, a small locally owned grocery store, and two, count ‘em, two pizza parlors. On this Tuesday the streets are all but empty.
Founded in 1838, Morenci and environs is primarily agricultural, mostly corn. Palm Plastics was a large (for this area) manufacturing plant here but, thanks to the recession, closed down late last year throwing more than 200 people out of work.
Forty-nine year old Bill Foster was the maintenance man in that factory. “I saw the handwriting on the wall and got out early. It had a ripple affect throughout the town here.”
Ripple affect, indeed. In 2011 the median income in Morenci was about $35,000, more than $10,000 below the state median. Home sales dropped from just under 40 in 2011 to about 20 in 2012. There were just two new home building permits in 2012.
In a way, Bill Foster was lucky; he immediately found work with a former employer and now drives RVs and construction trailers all over the country and into Canada delivering them to customers. But, while the salary is the same as it was at Palm Plastics, it really isn’t.
“My job is now in Indiana and I have to drive 80 miles to get there,” he says, “but at least I’m working. The problem is, I’m away from home a lot more.”
Ironically, the recession drove him out of this job in the first place. “After Hurricane Katrina and then with the recession, sales of these trailers went way down, a lot of manufacturers closed and so I left for the job at Palm. Funny how things work out.”
Fifty-seven year old William Rezoski has held the same job for thirty-five years but the recession still wormed its way into his life.
“I’m a machinist at a factory in Fayette, OH (just south of the state line from Morenci). We make parts for Ford Trucks. Truck sales suffered during the recession and we cut way back; we lost more than a hundred people, more than half the workforce. My job wasn’t threatened per se, but my hours got cut way back. Where I was once making tons of overtime, I was lucky if I got 40 hours a week. We had to cut way back at home.”
Many of the stores on Main Street are in historic old buildings. Sixty-five year old Pearl Phelps owns one of the two pizza places in town, Pearl’s Pizza Palace. She says she saw business drop off a bit since last year, “but not as badly as some of the other businesses in town. I don’t know why.” She says she is starting to see things bounce back “just a bit.”
I find it most interesting that the owner of the largest farm in the area, State Line Farms, declines an interview. That’s happened maybe six or seven times in almost 7,000 miles.
As I’ve noted before, many large family-owned farms across the country pretty much held their own, if not prospered, during the recession. As I drive by State Line Farms on my way to camp, I slow to see what I can see. Besides the very large twin grain silos, the big yard next to the barn is filled with what appears to be several brand new shiny tractors and other equipment.
Perhaps the owner declined to speak with me because he feels the embarrassment of riches. This is only speculation on my part but it is an educated guess.