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I have never vacationed in Michigan before, other than a wonderful wedding there nine years ago; however that fun, busy event left little time to explore the area.  Growing up in Wisconsin, a vacation in Michigan was never even considered as an option.  It was an absurd concept, like taking a road trip to Mars.  No one I knew ever crossed the Big Lake and went to Michigan for fun.  A funeral maybe, although Michigan people and the Wisconsin people I knew did not usually have familial ties.  So, nope, not even for a funeral.

What is it about neighboring states that creates this virtual wall?  Is it the sibling rivalry of states?  Each place is largely the same but depending on where you live relative to The State Line, you have your allegiances.  It is an arbitrary line on a map, but it spurs fanatical sports rivalries (Packers vs. Vikings), creates the butts of jokes (did ya hear the one about Olie and Swen in Minnesota?), road rage (well, you can just see how they learn to drive in Illinois, can’t ja?”).  It is also the rationale for why their highways are not as well maintained (even though they have tolls!) their women are not as strong, and their children are not as above average, to quote Garrison Keillor, a Minnesotan who knows a lot about such things.

So, back to the story:  off we go to Michigan for a family reunion of sorts, no expectations about the location whatsoever, just looking forward to seeing cousins and in-law cousins and the mini-cousins some of them have begot.  The drive took much longer than expected (but that is another story…), so we I was a bit frazzled by the time we arrived.  It was getting close to  dark when we pulled in to the rental house, so we did not see much scenery or even the lake.  What I did see after all the warm welcome hugs and happy exclamations was… pie.

All kinds of pie.  Pie from Bob’s Barn of Pie.  It is a good thing that I did not go to Bob’s myself, as I suspect I would not have been able to decide.  They extolled the wonders of blueberry lemon, strawberry rhubarb, and many others, but there before us was a beautiful apple pie with an artisan top crust, a triple berry pie oozing with berry goodness, and… an apple jalapeno pie.  Eyebrows shot up, mouths drooped agape — really?   Yes, indeed, She had just baked them fresh today.  She baked them all herself.  No one knew who She was (clearly not Bob) but we reverently referred to She the Pie Maker for the rest of the weekend.  She was good at her job, that much was clear.  She had a calling.

I could not help but notice that the apple jalapeno box was missing a big slice.  Turns out Bob at the Barn of Pie has a favorite flavor and it is apple jalapeno, so he helped himself to a big ol’ slice of the last pie right before they came in, but he insisted that they must try this pie because it was his favorite.  Perhaps he sensed they were from Illinois so he wanted to make a peace gesture and bring an end to this whole state rivalry thing.  A peace pipe of pie.

Either way, we were happy to have our 3/4 of an apple jalapeno crusted wonder, which everyone declared oddly delicious, with almost a chutney-like sweet/hot flavor.  Yum.  Immediately my perception of the whole state of Michigan was elevated considerably.  Any place with Bob’s Barn of Pie that She made fresh in innumerable flavors was a state that needed to be re-evaluated top to bottom.  Time to put aside my preconceived notions about MI and discover why so many of our Ohio friends go there every summer (that was always so mysterious…)

And I will hereby and forthwith call this land Michipie.

The next day brought sunny, seasonably warm weather and a trip to the beach.  The sand was white and soft, the water of Lake Michigan was clear and cold and refreshing.  It was beautiful.  There was that gas generator running loudly there on the sand with a long orange extension cord running to a boom box blaring tunes at 10:00AM, but by then I already had my rose-colored Michipie glasses on and I did not see any drawbacks to this place.  How cute!  Look at the dancing drunk people and the ones passed out on the towel!  They must be visiting from some other state (like Indiana) because people from Michipie are clearly much nicer than that.

Don’t get me wrong — Wisconsin is still my little slice of heaven and always will be.  I’ve learned though to look at my neighboring states in a new light.  Maybe we don’t have to fly to far-away states to have adventures.  Those far-away states have states all around them that make fun of them too.  Maybe, just maybe, I could be a little more open-minded.  I’m just saying.

And, in the end, it was not just the fine crusted pastries that made it the best “end-of-summer” weekend I think I have ever had.  It was the feeling of family, people who call me Janie and I don’t mind, people with whom I can grill brats with a garden trowel…

…but that is a story for another day.