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June 27, 2002
Downriver heat, humidity and home (Gail)

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Gail's hometown of Riverview, Michigan (and her first new clothes in months)

We have come to the part of our adventure that has caused me the most concern. We have arrived in my hometown. Riverview, Michigan. For those of you who are not native to this part of our country or those who may have failed geography, Michigan is NOT on the east coast. It's the state shaped like a mitten and that makes sense in the winter when it's freezing cold here but this is summer and we are sweltering in the heat and humidity. It's in the region loosely defined as the Midwest (only because it was at one time on the western frontier of our country) and has as its claim to fame Detroit. Okay so it's not such a great claim but my hometown is just south of Detroit, downriver as we say. This is steel and car country.

We arrived at Detroit Metro airport from Washington D.C. and immediately felt as though we had walked into a different world. On the flight over our luggage had been opened, even my backpack, which was encased in a plastic bag, and some things were missing. They weren't valuables but still this was distressing because we had made it all the way around the world and had only lost one umbrella from an outside pocket, how sad that four things disappear in our own country. The counter help was not much help, and rather than stand around waiting (we weren't the only ones with this problem) I left a report, gave up all hope of recovery and we went to get our van.

The shuttle driver managed to cram in more suitcases and people than he really should have and off we went. His idea of luggage storage was very odd, he laid some of them flat on the shelves and those he couldn't fit he stood upright in the aisles. After one of my three suitcases had tipped over twice onto another rider we both commented that if he had just put all the suitcases on their sides they all would have fit on the shelves and I would not be scrambling trying to keep my suitcases from sliding down the aisles knocking the kneecaps off everyone else.

At the car rental counter the paperwork was started when I mentioned that we would have two drivers. She said that would be $6.00 per day for the extra driver, I said okay, she typed something, then she just stood there. I assumed that she was waiting for the computer to do something but after about three minutes she said "Go get your husband so I can have his license and I can process you". Oh were you waiting for me? "Uh huh". Okay, how was I to know, she hadn't said anything at all, just stood picking at her nails.

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One last rental car

We finally picked out our minivan and headed out. At this point I have a question for the governing body of this state, "Where in the world do you put the tax money?" It certainly is not in the roads. I am not exaggerating when I say these are the worst roads we have driven on anywhere in the world, other than the unpaved roads of Tanzania (the paved roads there are better than Michigan). Drawing on my long buried memories (it's been six years since I was last here) we jostled and rattled our way down vaguely familiar streets to the mall where our second daughter Colleen works. She was so happy to see us; it's been more than a year. Joss proved to her how strong he is by picking her up off the floor and she was amazed that Cameron stood nearly as tall as her. We spent a little time catching up with her then we left to check into our Best Western rooms.

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Two boys with their sister

Check-in was strange. All four of us walked in together. There was no one else in the room. I gave the clerk my name, she found the reservation, two double queen rooms; so far so good. She then asked if I was paying for both, I said yes we are all one family. She then asked if we wanted the other room in a different name. I explained we all had the same last name, that the children would be in one room and the adults in the other. She asked if anyone called for the other room what name would they asked for. "Lee, we are one family". All I can get from this is that she just couldn't understand that we are a family and that, yes, Russell and I are married, same last name. This is a three-star establishment, but the carpeting was loose in the halls, the knob came off in the shower, the handrails in the pool came off, weeds were growing through the cracks on the patio (about one foot tall), the bushes were so overgrown near the doorway that you needed to bushwhack your way to the door, the tubs had hair in them, oh I could go on but why bother. We stayed because the location was good and the choices in the area are few.

The boys did enjoy the pool. Cameron got over his fear of deep water and spent a lot of time jumping into the deep end. After a couple of days they were both able to dive to the bottom of the five feet area and get the pennies Russell would throw in for them.

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Very happy -- and comfortable -- in a pool

Just like on the rest of our trip we decided we would have breakfast and lunch in our rooms so we walked over to the nearby store. (A drugstore in the USA is very different from one overseas. We were amazed at the amount and variety of drugs available that we could not get in Europe without asking a pharmacist, including cough remedies.) When we got to the counter we noticed the clerk was reading the employment ads while she was working. She said she wants a better job, we wish her luck. Russell commented that no one seems to care much about customer service and they don't seem to be happy in their jobs.

There are some signs in my hometown of things improving, the playgrounds are wonderful, the high school has a proud new sign and there is roadwork going on (desperately needed). Some changes were the type of "hey they tore that down…" but mostly it was "hey they should tear that down". The whole area looks tired and rundown and as I said to my mother when I called her, it's all gone to seed. After the little cars in Europe the number of pickups trucks here is staggering, (with the roads here SUVs make sense). Russell was amazed at the number of "totaled" cars he saw on tow trucks and the rust, dents and dings in those not being towed.

We also notice much more now just how large Americans really are. We heard all around the world that Americans eat a lot and are very overweight. Well, here anyway, they surely are. Even the small children are overweight. Going to the pool meant seeing more flesh pouring over and out of swimsuits on both men and women, young and old. There is more tattooed flesh here then I care to see, on the women and the men. There are so many loud and pushy people, swearing seems to be just common language no matter who might be listening (including children). I am so very grateful to my parents for teaching us that "ain't" isn't a word. I haven't heard so many double negatives in a long time.

By now you have probably guessed that we were not falling in love with the "downriver area". Honestly, I have very mixed feelings about all of this because I grew up here and have wonderful memories of my childhood here. But I am so glad that 20 years ago I followed the rest of my family and left. I know if I had never left my life would be so different. There is certainly no chance that I will ever want to move back here. I can't help but think, "there but for the grace of God". The rest of the state of Michigan is truly beautiful and there is still so much to write about. Perhaps this letter about my hometown sounds brutal but I know that I must write about this place in the same way I would write about it if it were in another country. It is true; you can't go home again. The Riverview I remember no longer exists.

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Gail's childhood home: two adults and five children in a tiny three-bedroom house (mom's rock is still out front, but the old backyard is completely gone)


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