Circumstances today led me to a town to which I hadn’t been in nearly thirty years.
Lapeer is a tiny municipality in the lower portion of Michigan’s thumb. Think a northern Mayberry, RFD. During the final two years of my first marriage I drove each morning from Pontiac, about thirty miles south of Lapeer, to do the morning show at the AM radio station in Lapeer.
The station, call letters WDEY, was run by a guy named David Sommerville, a forty-something high-strung guy who suffered from Crohn’s disease. Bought a cat as a sort of station mascot that I loved to torment after the overnight DJ left and before the receptionist (Diane) and sales staff (one woman named Donna) arrived. Don’t ask me how I remember all that. All I know is I remember it, although I can’t recall what I had for lunch last Thursday.
My mission this day was to see if one really could go home again.
I had little trouble locating the historic district downtown. A beautiful church—more than a century old—was right where I’d left it; as was the post office, although a new one had since opened down the street. The old one is now a historical landmark.
A few blocks straight ahead, on the left, the facades of the buildings looked similar to what I recalled, but somehow different. The five and dime under which the radio station sat atop, was no longer a five and dime, and although the shortwave radio antenna still sat on the roof of the building, no evidence of the radio station existed.
Other landmarks I recalled from my days as the morning show host—E.G. Nicks for example, a bar and grille for which I’d done plenty of ads, was still there. But Lapeer Tire had become Belle Tire. The car dealership was still there, but I couldn’t recall the name it had been, only that it wasn’t what it is today.
From Lapeer I took Michigan Highway 24 south to Pontiac—the route I took daily when I worked the morning gig at WDEY. My show started at six and I liked to arrive at least twenty minutes early to get a coffee and prepare for my show.
I recall one morning drive north on this mostly two-lane highway, with occasional stretches of four lanes through Lake Orion (where there is a Ford plant) and Oxford. It was dark and a motorist behind me was hot to get me driving faster than the five miles per hour over the limit I was driving. Traffic coming southbound was brisk—UAW employees on their way to the morning shift at the Ford plant.
This guy was right on my bumper, weaving from side to side in our lane, flashing his high beams at me in an effort to get me to go faster. Of course I only slowed which, for some reason, seemed to incense this motorist.
Noticing some debris ahead in our lane, I managed to drive over it without hitting it. Not so the guy I had in tow. A few seconds later he pulled off onto the shoulder of the road with what I guessed was a flat tire. I laughed my ass off at that, and devoted more than a few minutes discussing it on the air. It never occurred to me that the guy might listen to my show.
On a whim, as I neared Pontiac, I decided to drive by where I once lived with my then wife, a tiny mobile home park on M-59 and Elizabeth Lake Road in Waterford. It was so tiny they couldn’t accommodate double-wide homes. I had visions that it had been razed at some point over the years to make room for a strip mall or a McDonald’s. I wondered if I would be disappointed to find another part of my life erased forever. Imagine my surprise when I found the park still existed.
I pulled into the driveway wondering if the old home might still be there, but I couldn’t recall the street name. As luck had it, the first street to which I came was Marge, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. A name I’d used in my very first novel written nearly twenty-five years ago, “Large Marge” was a security guard who played a bit but humorous part in January’s Paradigm.
I wheeled my car to the right—the only way I could turn. There, not thirty feet from the intersection, a dark gray home.
No, I thought. That can’t be it.
Then I noticed the address, painted on a rock next to the driveway: “16”. A second ton of bricks hit me: Sixteen Marge was the address on my license for the short time I lived there, before my first wife and I parted company.
I slowed to a stop in front of the place; it had bay windows on the end of the house facing the street. Our home had bay windows like that. I used to sit at my kitchen table on Sunday morning sipping my coffee and staring out that bay window at the house across the street, contemplating my marriage and my unhappiness.
This aged home fit well in this old park, better than it had more than thirty years ago when it was delivered, brand spanking new with that new mobile home smell. I left the park for home through the only other entrance wondering how many families had lived there over the years since I moved out.
As I drove home to Dearborn, nearly twenty miles further south, my thoughts drifted to all the homes in which I’ve lived over the years. Excluding the house in which I grew up, I’ve lived in six, and only one, the current home, was a brick and mortar house. The others were a mobile home and apartments.
All of which left me to conclude that one’s efforts to go home can never quite get you there—except the one in which you currently lay your head. My current home, which I share with my wife, Colleen, is the best.