Marquette offers all amenities of home, by Nicole Walton

I was sitting in the tiny waiting area at Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport, killing time until I could board my puddle-jumper flight to Marquette.
I had just returned from a jaunt to the East Coast, which included a day in the Big Apple: walking, gawking and jabbering with my two girlfriends; looking up, looking ’round and poking through various street vendor displays; and, lest I forget, eating, drinking and generally being quite merry.
It was my second time in New York, and I had enjoyed watching and communicating with a mixture of people. As I sat with my book in a small row of padded seats, I couldn’t help but think about where I had come from and what I was returning to: the big to the small, the always-up-and-running to the lower-key. Yet as I waited in that quiet nook of the airport I knew—I was certain—that I made the right choice when I came to live in Marquette.
Large cities fascinate me. Each one has a rhythm, a particular beat all its own. For me, New York is the piano-pounding pulse of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, London buzzes like a busy pub, and Heidelberg steadily marches. And while I thoroughly appreciate my time in the Big City, I find I much prefer the gentle ebb and flow of the Upper Peninsula, where most of the liveliness we experience is natural, not man-made. We feel the coursing of sap through the trees, the push and pull of waves, and the swaying of grassy fields.
It would drive me crazy to live in a concrete-lined city and not be able to find a patch of green I could plow my toes through, or have to get to the tops of “mountains” only by elevator. The ability to spin myself in a circle and not hit sixteen people by the 360th degree fills me with gratitude. In fact, I believe that bounty of sheer space probably is one of the foremost reasons people choose to live in the U.P. You can walk down the sidewalk and not have to alter your course every two steps because other pedestrians have cut across or bumped into you. You can holler out your front door and not have to deal with a dirty look because you nearly broke someone’s eardrum. A three-hour drive from the middle of Marquette gets you to the Mackinac Bridge, not four blocks down in the middle of rush-hour traffic. Yes, after sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in packed restaurants and zig-zagging my way to various attractions, space is a blessing.
Of course, larger cities offer multitudes of museums, theatrical performances and just about any type of culture you’d like to sample, and many have said that’s one of the drawbacks of living in the Upper Peninsula. But with the ubiquitous Internet, university concert and arts series and public broadcasting (excuse the shameless plug) covering the U.P., we are quickly closing that particular gap. On any given day there are sights to be seen, plays to be watched and live music to be heard. Events are planned for young audiences as well as mature age groups. Prominent authors come to give readings and answer questions about their work. We are hardly a cultural wasteland.
U.P. residents value their independence. We can do it by ourselves, we say. Yet when the chips are down and our neighbors need help, we gather together to offer any and all assistance—a formidable force. We are more likely to know who our neighbors are and what they do, to stop at the end of the driveway and chat with the mail carrier. In our case, familiarity does not breed contempt. It forges bonds. We know who we can count on when ill winds blow.
During my visits to populous cities, I compare and contrast how their inhabitants live to my own life and ponder what would be “normal” or “outrageous” within the paradigm of our individual existences. A woman at the Minneapolis airport highlighted wonderfully the difference of big-city and small-town living, pointing mightily to the benefits of the latter.
I was perusing my aforementioned book when a lady who appeared to be in her early 60s approached, looking at the wall behind me. She was carrying a cell phone and a cord with a plug, searching for an outlet so she could charge the device.
“I’d better do it now while I have the chance,” she said.
So I turned around, located the outlet behind my seat, and offered to plug it in for her. I stuck one end of the cord in the wall, she stuck the other end in the phone; she thanked me, put the phone on the seat next to me…and walked away.
Toto, it seems we’re back in Kansas.
That woman didn’t give it a second thought as she left her cell phone inches from a perfect stranger, who could have unplugged it and run.
Now, I had just spent a day in New York, constantly aware of where my purse was and placing it where I could grab quickly should someone try to snatch it, and here was a soul from the Midwest, completely trusting I wouldn’t rob her of her phone. Perhaps I look trustworthy, but I’m attributing her faith in me to small-town mentality. People just don’t take other people’s things. It’s not nice. I giggled inwardly, went back to my book, and reminded the lady the next time she passed to remember where she put her phone.
You just can’t get a better example of contrasting ideologies than that.
So I’m looking forward to my next big-time vacation. I want to see as much of the world as possible before I buy the proverbial farm. But even though I’ll be visiting some of the most highly-touted—and highly-populated—places on earth, I will be the lucky one. I get to come back to Marquette. That, in itself, is worth the trip.
—Nicole Walton

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