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My Town Monday: Local Books

Today is supposed to be a special My Town Monday where participants read a book set in their town and talk about it. I liked the idea, and I’m going to read all about where the other My Town Monday posters live and the books written there. (You should to– go see Travis Erwin for links.)

However I didn’t find any books set in Livingston County, Michigan. There are several local history books, which I would give my left arm to actually own… the historical societies printed them but don’t have them anymore.

Elmore Leonard lives in Whitmore Lake last I knew. His mystery stories were set in Detroit, apparently since he grew up there.

Michael Moore hails from Flint. I’m told that one of my aunts used to work for him delivering the first paper he printed.

Steve Hamilton wrote the Alex McKnigt series set in the Upper Peninsula. And I’m sure there are other Michigan-based stories.

But nothing seems to be set in Livingston County. Not yet, at least.

For now, the only stories I know of set in Livingston County are my own. “Assortment of Bullies,” “Failing Mark,” & “Pleasure Business” (see links–>) are clearly set in Livingston County. There are others that, well, as the author, I know they’re Livingston County stories, but there’s nothing in the text to convey that.

Perhaps it’s because there’s nothing particularly distinctive or noteworthy about this area. It’s your pretty average place. It does have a little itty-bitty hamlet called “Hell” (yep, Hell, Michigan is in Livingston County… I’ll have a post on that some day soon!)

I think the average-ness is what makes it a perfect setting. This is “Anytown, USA.” It’s also the setting I use in my Bo Fexler novel. In my novel, I refer to the local places (and the local weather trend of winter returning univited for an encore in March.) It could be any small city, any county that suffers from lopsided, speedy growth. You may not be able to find it on the map of Michigan unless you know where to look, but at the same time, it could just as well be any other place.

Do other readers like the idea of a story set anywhere? Or do you prefer traveling to some other city, with recognizable landmarks?

As a reader, I’m a little of both. As a writer, I write what I know. And I know Livingston County.

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My Town Monday: Today’s Letters are M-DOT

Since last summer, the major thoroughfare that I use everday to and from work started it’s metamorphosis. They started by cutting down all the threes all the way down the road. At the end I don’t use, they completed a massive contruction project. Now, the construction had dominated the portion of the road I use.

Watching the new bridge be built from the ground up was pretty cool. The cranes in that picture are working on the bridge. It is being built along side the current bridge over the TSBY rail road tracks.
But there was one thing that nagged at me. The bridge was not wide enough. The word was always that M-59 was widening. In an earlier post, I explained that M-59 (as shown here) is primarily a 2 or 3 lane road.

They’ve torn up the land along M-59, changed the traffic lights at the major intersection and begun serious work. Now, I’ve heard the jokes and seen the many road projects where the orange barrels seem to be doing the bulk of the work. Not true with this project. These photos were taken about quarter after eight on a Monday Morning. Already, the crews are in full swing, backing up traffic, moving dirt around. And they were working Saturday, too! It’s like Road Crew from the Twilight Zone.

But what are they doing? All I had was a few bulletins that politely informed me that my route was going to be jacked something dreadful. Sadly, there is no good route to avoid this mess without heading several miles out of the way via dirt roads. Or going through town, if traffic isn’t backed up in the intersection over M-59. But I don’t much like going through town– it’s quite a bit slower than my normal route, even if I don’t get stopped by the traffic lights or the train. (ha! wishful thinking!)

Well, a little research on the Michigan Department of Transportation (M-DOT) website and I’m pretty certain that the stretch of M-59 that I use every day is being widened into a 4 lane boulevard. Four lanes= good. Boulevard= divided highway= Michigan Left= bad.

Ah, the Michigan Left. What is it?

Okay, well, not that bad. (Comic from The Michigan Left is a specially designed roadway where in order to make evil Left-hand turns, a driver must drive past their road (hey wait! I was supposed to turn there!) Then, the driver will make a U-turn in the Mediam (only at specially designated areas). Then the driver cuts off– I mean, enters traffic and crosses lanes until they reach the right hand turn that takes them where they would have made a left onto at a normal, not screwed up intersection.

I borrowed this image from the Michigan Highways website. The Michigan Left allows the state to avoid those Evil Left Turns. And everyone knows that Left Turns are the 8th Deadly Sin. Seriously, though, I understand that left turns are the most dangerous thing one can do on the road way and road planners are trying to make for better driving. Given the increased traffic on this stretch of M-59, it seems ineveitable that they would create a divided highway.

As a divided highway, all the residential developments along with traffic from Howell High School would be able to make much safter left turns, particularly duing busy times of the day. Like from 8am until 7pm. With something of a lull just before and just after lunch.

My biggest problem with the Michigan Left is that I try to be an effecient driver. I don’t like driving out of my way to get where I’m going. Some stretches of divided highway I’ve been on (like the East side of Hartland where M-59 again becomes a divided highway, there are some looooong stretches without a mediam turn around.

I’d actually rather have a roundabout, myself. Not that most drivers around here are ready to learn how to use the several we have just yet.

The Michigan Left is much, much more common was one enters areas that are, well, closer to Detroit. As a happy habitant of Cow-Town and Little Cow-Town, I don’t think we need them stincking Michigan Lefts. All M-59 needs is a turn lane all the way down it. Traffic isn’t that bad that it warrants a Michigan Left.

But, like the five lane bridge that was built and used for three lanes, I’m sure this part of a plan for the future. The local government surely thinks that, in spite of the increasing numbers of foreclosures, vacant homes, and empty storefronts throughout town, that someday, Howell will someday grow again. This downward economic spiral can’t last forever.

The orange barrels are out in full bloom around here. And in MY way.

How are you enjoying Road Construction Season?
(Does anyone else have trouble with blogger funking up their post once they add any pictures? Oh my word!)

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My Town Monday: Carnegie Library

Of course, libraries are awesome just because they are libraries. But we have an extra-special library in Livingston County. We have a Carnegie Library.

Taken from the Michigan Historical Marker for the Howell Carnegie Library:

The Howell library association originated as the Ladies Library Association in 1875. That year, ladies began offering books for lending. The need for for spacious, permanent quarters grew, and in 1902, for three hundred dollars and railroad travel expenses, Detroit architect Elijah E. Meyers, designer of the Michigan State Capitol, agreed to provide plans for a new library. The township board hired local builder A.G. Kuehnle for the project. Throughout the county, farmers gathered fieldstones used to build the Neoclassical library. The structure stands on land donated by the four sons of Howell pioneer William Mc Pherson. An addition to the library was completed in 1991.

“If the city of Howell will pledge itself to support a free library and provide a suitable site, Mr. Carnegie will be glad to furnish ten thousand dollars for a free public library building.” In 1902, in reponse to a request for funds, steel entrepreneur Andrew Carnegie’s secretary sent this message to Howell Township Supervisor W.H.S. Wood. Carnegie funded over 2,500 free public libraries throughout the English-speaking world. The philanthropist’s gift to Howell eventually amounted to $15,000. In return, the township pledged annual support of no less than 10 percent of Carnegie’s donation. The library opened on November 19, 1906.

Now, if that’s not cool enough, the building looks awesome. The stonework is incredible. Apparently, there was some ugly remodeling done during the 60s (did everyone do drugs then?) but it was fixed later, restoring the library to it’s glory.

When they added on, the addition juts out the back. There are two hallways leading to the rear addition, but the inside walls of the hallways are the original rear of the building. How cool is that?
I was going to just poach some pictures from the library’s website, but instead, I’ll directed interested parties to the virtual tour. And they did a nice job on that, too!

There’s something truly wonderful about going to the Howell Library. From the neat old architecture when you walk in to the 1875 plat map hanging in the rear, and, least we forget, the books.

Like any smart library who wants to make sure they can keep their funding, the Howell Library has some computers and movies alongside the regular books and the audiobooks.

And there are teenagers who hang out on the front lawn day after day hour after hour. Wish they went inside, but at least if they’re hanging out in the middle of downtown Howell, they can’t get into much trouble. Too many witnesses. Not that they really cause trouble– though some folks are afraid of those rabid-looking teenagers.

But the library is still a nice place to go. I think, of all the libraries I’ve been in, the Howell Carnegie library is still my favorite.

My Town Monday started by Travis Erwin. Visit him for more My Town Mondays.

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My Town Monday: The Little City that Never Sleeps

It’s 1:41AM. What are you doing?

You could be shopping for groceries or new shoes or lawn furniture. You could be eating out at one of several fast food joints or even a sit down restaurant. You mail a package or even go to the gym. At least you could in the Brighton/Howell area.

We pretty much run 24/7 around here. I’m so used to it, that I don’t even consider that the rest of the world… doesn’t. I realized this most sharply after a little weekend trip to Shipshewana, Indian for the Regional Pokemon Trading Card Game Tournament.

What do you mean places CLOSE on Sundays? Not in my area. Most places are open. There are few things you can’t do on Sunday. Or at 2 in the morning.

I do my grocery shopping at 10pm at night, though I must admit that 5am is better since by then the shelves are stocked. I have my pick of stores, too– 2 Meijer Stores, 2 VG’s, 2 Kroger’s and 2 Wal-Marts (if you count the new one out in Fowlerville.) Plust the assortment of drugstores, but I don’t go to them. For those who aren’t familiar with Meijer, they have the distinction of being the first 24 super-center, long before Wal-Mart did either. So, as long as I’ve lived in this county, one could go to Meijer at all hours for a can of paint, a pair of windsheild wiper blades, a gallon of milk and a bunch of bananas… at 3am.

I’ve mailed packages in the middle of the night using the automated postal machine. Of course, with the proliferation of ATM’s, I can do my banking in the middle of the night. Then I can go get something to eat.

I’m going to list the ones off the top of my head. I haven’t been on the midnight shift in a while, so I might be off. But for one’s dining choices, we have Little Chef (local sit-down restaurant), 2 McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Taco Bell. The last two I think are open until 1 or 2am. We had a 24 hour Subway for awhile, but I don’t know if they ever got anyone for the midnight shift. There are probably other places, and much of the town is open until 10 or 11 anyway.

I’ve never gone to the 24 hour gym. Yeah. I get enough exercise pushing my luck. And doesn’t typing burn calories…
It’s dreadfully jarring when I go into these strange lands where things aren’t open 24/7. Where restaurants are closed on Sunday. Where people sleep at night instead of shop or eat (or work.) I spent some 5 years working midnights in retail and I still love the middle of the night. One of the best parts is that the world is quiet– but I can still do most everything I need to. Even if I rarely go out at 2 am for a little shopping or dining, it’s always nice to know that I could. I am, after all, very used to and rather comfortable with this always on city.

I always figured that if little cities like Brighton and Howell ran 24/7, then surely most of the world did.

Does your town stay open 24/7? If not, how on earth do you stand it?

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My Town Monday: First Impression

About the center of Livingston County is the city of Howell. Howell lies about halfway between Lansing and Detroit and that’s no coicidence. It was a stop along the Grand River Trail before there was even a road. Originally, the town was called “Livingston Center” a fitting name, if not one that’s entirely uninspired.

The Livingston County Seat is located in Howell. You can tell by the map I poached from Google Maps that there’s still plenty of green in the Howell Area. A couple lakes. Not too crowded (though getting there…;-) It’s a rather pleasant little city.

So, to get to Downtown Howell, perhaps for one of our few attractions– which include the Festival of Lights, the Melon Fest and the Michigan Challenge Balloonfest or perhaps to visit the Carnegie Library or the County Courthouse or ride the Santa Train– one would travel down I-96. The best way to get to the downtown area is to get off at D-19. And one of the first sights to greet you is this:

A pair of abandoned houses. One boarded up and looking rather forlorn. The other melting with decay. Especially if you get off Westbound 96, you’ll wait at the traffic light staring straight at these two properties. Welcome to Howell.

We have a quaint historic district, lots of cool old architecture, but the first thing we want to show you are these two old negelcted properties.

Occaisionally, rumors buzz about a new road that would bypass the downtown, a route for semi-trucks to keep them out of hte historic downtown area. The construction of the loop road would take care of these two old houses. But in the meantime, we sure know how to put our best face forward.

Now, I’ll admit that one of the things that always astounds me is how hard it seems to be for a city to knock down a derelict building that’s on the verge of falling down itself. Though, these old houses are often rather tenacious, holding on and standing long enough to be trashed by vandals and punks and drug addicts. I think it would be better to have a pile of rubble than a house that some squatter or kid could get into. Most people aren’t drawn to piles of rubble.

There’s plans to “beautify” D-19 (or Michigan Ave as it’s called coming into town). Plans to put in some roundabouts and traffic lights and flowers and such. But these plans never address the sorry first impression that one gets. There is only ever one first impression. And Howell’s first impression is akin to walking into someone’s house and finding dirty undies on the dining room table.

And it’s not like these houses were recently abandoned. There’s no excuse for this.

So, if you happen out to Howell, try to ignore the way we great you. The downtown’s much nicer.

(I was too busy to get out and take my own pix, so I poached these. =)
We’ve got some great history and some neat things in this town. Not eaxactly a hopping tourist attraction, but it’s still a pleasant town. If you’re not scared off before you get here.

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