Taking Off the Rose-Colored Glasses

Driving around Lake Michigan from Detroit to Minneapolis and beyond, I’ve had trouble seeing straight. The colors in the landscape are so vibrant — turquoise lake, bright blue sky, greener than green farms stretching as far as the eye can see — I don’t trust what I’m seeing. I take off my sunglasses and squint. Yep, still beautiful.

Vacations are like that. Walking around with rose-colored blinders on, seeing only the bucolic perfection around you. It has been tempting to pretend not to see. We’re visiting some of the most photo-ready spots in Michigan and Wisconsin. Then I remind myself I’m not really on vacation. I’m supposed to be learning something.

If you look more intentionally no matter where you are, in even the prettiest vacation spots you’ll see the contrasts. An old cemetery set on a rolling hill above I-90 with a cluster of cars around it — a burial in progress. In the shadow on Lambeau Field and the jazzy new revitalization of downtown Green Bay, a neighborhood of very unhappy-looking people where you happen to stop for coffee. The young people holding up sings, begging, on the arterial out of Grosse Pointe to I-94. Even on Mackinac Island, which you can only reach by ferry and which seems to have been scrubbed clean of anything less than perfect, I spotted a homeless man — an okay gig in the summer, maybe, but what happens in the winter when you can’t get back to the mainland?

I thought about capturing these moments on my phone, but I hesitated too long. As if the not-so-pretty pictures would spoil the rest. I really didn’t want to look.

I did manage to get one of these photos. The view toward Detroit from Grosse Pointe.

Striking in contrast, but not as unusual as it should be. Drive long enough in one direction in most American cities and eventually the leafy green will turn a dull grey. All of that grey. Urban blight we call it. Poverty, more accurately.

Fortunately there are people like my friend Erica who are willing to use their influence and privilege to help lift up these neighborhoods. A teacher with a passion for early childhood education, Erica began a music-based program for kids in the Austin neighborhood in Chicago and raised enough money to buy property there to start an early childhood education center. Check out her story at A House in Austin.

And I’ll try to keep my eyes open.

[To learn more about our thirty day adventure across America, check out our other publications 30 CUPS ACROSS and BEST (HEALTHY) ROAD FOOD.]

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