We began the day with breakfast in Adams, Wisconsin at The Country Skillet (which has 5 stars from 5 reviews on Yelp). Breakfast was good, and we overheard several interesting conversations at adjacent tables. Apparently, the home construction industry in the area is doing well. Transgendered folks have more rights than traditional genders. People spend a foolish amount of money to have cell phones and other computers. And people are trying to cash in on the eclipse in absurd ways. After our meal, we spoke to a couple of the gentlemen whose conversations we overheard. We described our road trip to them and then asked the question, “What comes after Trump?” One guy replied that it was too far into the future to even think about, at least for him. He said he did not have the energy for that. The other gentlemen said he thought there was nothing in the future after Trump, and then added that he hoped Hillary wasn’t in the future. Neither elaborated on his thoughts, I think we genuinely surprised them with the question.
Before we left Adams county, we passed through the town of Friendship. We came upon my favorite juxtaposition of business signs: the Who Cares Bar next to the Friendship Café. With that Readers Digest moment behind us, we drove on.
We briefly stopped for fudge in Wautoma, in Waushara County. We asked the proprietress when the building had been built: 1888. She told us the history of the businesses in that spot, almost continuously in use for 129 years. There were always interested merchants to take over the space, in contrast to towns we visited later where old boarded up businesses seemed to be the norm. I think it would be apt to describe Adams, Friendship, and Wautoma as thriving small towns, in productive agricultural areas.
We then went to Waupaca, in Waupaca County. This was a shorter visit, with just a drive through downtown. This was another prosperous small community. The farms in the area were well-maintained and looked busy. We drove through Merrill in Merrill County, making similar observations. We then drove to Crandon for lunch, at Tricia’s Treasures (6 reviews, 5 stars on Yelp). Getting to Crandon from Merrill required a lot of driving on county roads. The area was a little more forested and a little less agricultural than the counties we visited earlier, but the town was pleasant with plenty of foot traffic at lunch time.
As a reminder, we chose these counties because they had voted for Obama/Democrat in 2012 and swung by at least 20% points for Trump/Republican in 2016. There was no indication those counties had especially suffered economic hardships. Economic hardship was one of the explanations for Trump’s success, but it was not evident in the ones we visited in the morning. We also noted that we saw only one Trump sign on the trip (so far). It is hard to make meaningful comparisons, but we both noted that after Obama’s wins in 2008 and 2012, there were plenty of his signs and bumper stickers displayed – at least in the Pacific Northwest. Now, Wisconsin might not do that sort of thing no matter who wins or loses. Or it may be that Mr. Trump’s support was not especially deep, or not a choice that inspired a lot of “hey, I’m on that team” sentiment.
We then drive for several hours north and east into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, crossing the Mackinac Bridge into the southern peninsula of Michigan. The counties we drove through (but didn’t stop in) looked far less agricultural, with areas devoted to seasonal recreation. The small towns here had more closed businesses, more homes that were shuttered or abandoned, more rusting equipment in untended fields. These counties did not meet the criteria we used for stopping to visit, but they did also vote for President Trump in the 2016 election.
We stopped for the night in Gaylord Michigan. Commercial construction was going on all over town. When we spoke to the person at our hotel counter, she told us that several new restaurants had opened down town. The town was larger than the ones we visited in Wisconsin – and not on our list of counties to visit. We needed to visit a Hertz office, and this one had one that was on our route.
The downtown has an alpine theme, with storefronts painted in that manner. We visited The Iron Pig Smokehouse (excellent ribs and wings with a very smoky flavor). Our server told us that the town had an alpine theme because of a sister city. After our meal, I found that the sister city is Pointresina in Switzerland. The server and bartender confirmed what our hotel clerk had said: the town was growing and things were going well. Our server was not from Gaylord, she had moved away from Cheboygan – a town she said was not growing or thriving. I will note that Gaylord was right on interstate 75, an observation that will be used in tomorrow’s note.