As a kid, my family often went to Stagecoach Stop and Prehistoric Forest, and played putt-putt and drove go karts at the little amusement parks. Even back then there was a level of hokeyness – but it didn’t matter. Those places were tons of fun.
But now, it’s all shutting down. There are a few attractions that are still humming along. The majority, though, lie in disrepair (or worse).
In high school, my dad and step mom were married at Stagecoach Stop’s little chapel, and their reception was held in the old timey tavern.
Stagecoach was a bustling place back in the day. You could watch a gun fight in the town square, grab some ice cream, pet a goat in the petting zoo, and even stay overnight in the motel. There was a working lumber mill, and horse rides, and a drive-through haunted Halloween tour.
Driving down US-12 now, and passing through the Irish Hills, it feels like a ghost town. It’s almost like a run-down part of town, with all the windows broken out and no one left to protect it. Eventually, I’m sure, these roadside attractions will be mowed down completely.
So last fall I took a drive out there, seemingly back in time, to capture some of those attractions I remembered from childhood. Before they disappeared.
At Stagecoach, I ran into a couple that was hosting a garage sale of sorts on the property. Most of the area was closed off, but I asked if I could walk around to grab some photos, and they said “yes.”
The Irish Hills Fun Center, a general amusement park with putt-putt and go karts, was completely abandoned. The kart track was still in decent shape, but the rest of the property was fading fast.
Prehistoric Forest, the true goal of my trip last fall, has been known as a target for vandalism. With motion sensors and cameras guarding the place, it was risky to try to grab photos of the place. When I drove past, there was a utility truck and a man taking measurements, so I played it safe and drove on.
Turns out Jordan grew up in the town next to mine growing up, attending a rival high school at about the same time.
But it was his alma mater, his wife’s job, and his own first job in the financial world that brought him up to Harbor Springs, Mich. Now? He’s a barber.
In a tourist town like Harbor Springs, about 10 minutes around the bay from Petoskey, Jordan says his Harbor Barber shop does good business. Fifteen customers a day during the winter, and upwards of 40 during the summer.
He says it’s tiring, being on his feet all day, looking down at customers. But the money is good.
“You can still make a good living doing this,” he said.
Just do the math: $15 for a shave and a haircut. Forty customers a day in the summer.
Jordan says the old straight razors could nick a customer, and then transfer some of the blood onto the leather strap. Cross-contamination. So he uses the disposal razors, but treats them in the old-timey way.
The whole old-timey shave is a novelty, he says. Customers, though, enjoy the ritual: the warm towel, putting your feet up, the patient pace of the job.
Some of the guys felt like they could’ve gone to sleep after The Towel Treatment. Especially after a long night of drinking.
The bench comes from the southern part of the state. The stool comes from Georgia, but the metal was manufactured in St. Louis.
One room. One stool. One sink. One customer after the other.
[I gave a shorter, punchier version of this essay at Jackson Magazine’s 30 And Under banquet, as a way to warn these ambitious young professionals what was in store for them. They probably already knew the second part, but the first part was 30 And Under wisdom after I was honored last year.]
There’s not much tackier than unasked for advice, so we’ll call these next two tid-bits “tips” instead of advice.
Tip one: whether anyone who is honored as a 30 And Under winner likes it or not, you’re going to become a celebrity in Jackson. The picture and profile will show up in the magazine and you’ll have strangers on the street saying “congratulations!” It happens. And grandma and grandpa and that guy you owe money to will all call and say they saw you in Jackson Magazine.
It’s a heavy burden, those first few months after winning. You’ll be famous to a group of people who have a very local sense of fame. You’re now in a select group of people that will probably make appearances on JTV or United Way billboards.
And in case you weren’t busy enough now, you’ll have community groups and committees asking for your help for their next big project. Jackson needs help, so being an up-and-coming hotshot means groups are pointing their volunteer laser beam right at you. Be prepared.
Tip two: listen for what people say about Jackson, especially when they pipe up about an idea, project, or event being “too good” for this town.
I heard it even before I was honored, but now I pay more attention. Too often, someone will claim an idea will never go over, never be attended, never be supported – because Jackson just isn’t that classy of a town.
Don’t think about that wild project you want to tackle, because it’s too good of an idea. And don’t even attempt to tackle some barrier in town, because they’ve been there and tried that and it doesn’t work around here.
Jackson has a crisis of confidence – a low self-esteem that rates somewhere between Chelsea and Hillsdale. Maybe it’s too much bad news in the past generation, or maybe it’s something in the water. Whatever. It’s very real.
It’s also true that good ideas have died on the vine in this town. But I’d rather have too many good ideas than a hum-drum philosophy that accept mediocrity and doesn’t break a sweat.
So don’t settle. Don’t let “good enough” be good enough, or think that something exciting is too exciting for Jackson.
I often think about AKA Sushi, the little boutique eatery up by Starbucks on West Ave. A business owner could have played it safe and threw in another McDonald’s, or Tim Horton’s, and offer another chain restaurant. Those are good enough for Jackson. Anything fancier would never make it, right?
Instead, there’s a hip sushi joint that draws a crowd on a Friday night. Not settling has been good for business.
Jackson’s chapter of the American Red Cross took a chance on a pop-up art gallery. With real art! And people had to pay to get in! The result was a smash success. The RED committee didn’t settle.
But many of my 30 And Under compatriots understand this already. They don’t go to work and go home and flip on the TV, day in and day out. They don’t settle for a life lived as usual – if they did, they wouldn’t be honored by Jackson Magazine.
The way we make Jackson raise its chin is by doing what we’re doing: not settling. Experimenting. Taking chances.
It’s tough, and it draws attention to your efforts, but the payoffs are pretty cool.