My Favorite Things Michigan

Sunday, October 30, 2011

If you've been following this as casually as I've been updating it, you may or may not know that I'm a huge admirer of Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabbarok's economics blog Marginal Revolution. If not, I recommend you check it out--and don't be fooled by the "economics blog" description--Tyler and Alex both have the ability to boil down the many complexities of economics into general, effective, everyday language.

Among the vast and varied number of subjects discussed, one of the best is "My Favorite Things..." a tag used by the two that covers the cultural highlights of a particular city, state, or country. And since neither of the two has gotten around to covering Michigan, my beloved home state, I figured I'd offer my own.

Favorite food: Gotta go with the obvious: Farmer's Home Cheeseburger. Behind that, Mackinac Island Fudge is overrated but still very tasty (it is fudge). There's also the pasties, which get better the farther north you are. The vineyards around the 45th parallel make a big deal about their wine, and some of it is excellent. I've found that any winery that also makes cheese can be relied on for delivering a good white.

City: Saginaw is a shell of its former self, and of the Tri-City area, I prefer Midland. Grand Rapids is nice, at least to visit, the same goes for Traverse City, and, in my experience, all of the UP. Detroit and Ann Arbor are nice, too, at least the, um, nice parts of them. While everyone focuses on the Detroit area, though, I think some of the best parts are farther north--anywhere near water is a plus.

Lake: Duh.

Author: There's a lot of local mystery writers based in the upper Lower Peninsula who've garnered much acclaim, but I'm ignorant of their work; so here's the big ones: I don't think anyone reads Theodore Roethke unless at gunpoint. I don't like Mitch Albom, and Elmore Leonard was born in Louisiana. Don't know much Joyce Carol Oates but would like to. Jeffrey Eugenides is a Nobel-Prize winner, but I didin't care much for Middlesex. Edna Ferber I haven't read. I think I'm biased against my home state. Yikes! My picks are Chris van Allsburg (born in Grand Rapids) and, though she was born in Canada, I can't not mention Isabel Patterson.

Novels: Need I mention the Michigan connection to the Nick Adams stories? The Time Traveler's Wife is set in South Haven, though I haven't read it (the book, that is, not South Haven, though I don't suppose I've "read" that either), and many of Elmore Leonard's novels take place in Michigan. Anatomy of a Murder is still a fun read.

Movie, set in: My personal favorite film, Anatomy of a Murder. I really liked Gran Torino and have a very, very soft spot for Street BossNever got into Grosse Pointe Blank. Beverley Hills Cop deserves mention, but the best parts take place in California. The reverse is true of Hardcore and True Romance. Tucker: The Man and His Dream is very underrated.

Director: This is a whollop of trivia. Did you know Francis Ford Coppola, Jerry Bruckheimer, and Roger Corman were all born in Detroit? Add to the natives as Sam Raimi, McG, and, of course, Michael Moore (I don't like his politics, but Roger & Me is a fantastic look at small-town life, and Moore at least is willing to put his money where his mouth is). Also, Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, also the creator of Freaks and Geeks, and he directed a plethora of Office [U.S.] episodes, Arrested Development episodes, Weeds and Parks and Recreation) was born in Royal Oak. Paul Schrader, author of Scorsese's best films Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The Last Temptation of Christ and director of the film Hardcore, whose scene of George C. Scott breaking down and saying "No" has become an Internet sensation) was from Grand Rapids. But the award should go to Robert Flaherty, director of Nanook of the North -- makes sense for a Yooper born in Iron Mountain.

Television program, set in: Freak and Geeks

Actor: Bruce Campbell is not really that funny on his own. Ed McMahon I appreciate more for his inspiring Hank Kingsley. Taylor Lautner, Bob Eubanks, Casey Kasem, Dave Coulier, and Tim Allen are all rote (Grand Rapids, Detroit, Flint, St. Clair Shores, and Birmingham, respectively). Give me Selma Blair in Hellboy (Southfield), Sandra Bernhard -- Season 6 of Roseanne -- (Flint) -- but, most of all, Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars. Also have Judge Mathis and Jeff Daniels, the latter of whom is a serious contender. Escanaba in da Moonlight is pretty fun.

Musician: I'm not a huge Stevie Wonder fan, but he deserves a nod. There's also, of course, Motown, the Four Tops and The Temptations being some obvious, if not generic, choices. I love the best bits of Eminem and Madonna, as well as Iggy Pop and Sufjan Stevens. And we can't forget Bill Haley. But I think Al Green probably takes it.

Artist: Irving Couse is well known but it seems only within his own circles. He reminds me of Gerome.

Gamer: Sid Meier was born in Detroit. Civ 2 is his masterpiece.

Economist: I'm at a loss here. Though Robert Shiller was born in Detroit.

Entrepreneur: Duh. Though Herbert Doan was a wonderful and very, very intelligent man. Will Kellogg deserves mention, too.

The bottom line: When I think of cuisine I think of the UP, but the fudge and pasties don't do much for me. Michigan is a game wonderland, yet it's never embraced that fact. Pheasant, grouse, and venison should be key ingredients in the food, but they're ignored.  It seems the best people who came out of Michigan left it pretty soon, my self, my sister, my girlfriend, and one of my closest friends included. Nevertheless, if you go by the people organically grown, Michigan may be one of the greatest states, culturally speaking, out there. Charles Lindbergh (born in Detroit) belongs somewhere, too. Must be something in the waters.


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