(from the opening of Black)
We are halfway between the equator and the North Pole. At least that’s what the sign says alongside the road. It is big and green with white block lettering and it is mounted to two eight by eights that are cemented into the ground. Anyone traveling US 23, the single paved vein that connects our harbor to the rest of the world, sees this sign and eight miles later they see another. Thunder Bay, Michigan, it says, A Warm and Friendly Port. But don’t let that saccharine slogan fool you. The people here are as deep and unpredictable as the mighty Thunder Bay River that brings ships in, sends ships out, and makes Lake Huron rise and fall.
Thunder Bay feels safe, but accidents happen all the time. People are found face down in the river, belly up in streams, bloated and unrecognizable in the big lake. Some are found shot dead during deer hunting season, burned up in their house, blind, or fish shanty. Others die while cleaning their shotguns. More often than not, alcohol is involved. But according to our local statistics, Thunder Bay is a great place to live. We have a decent school system. A low cost of living. We’ve never had a murder and we don’t have much crime. We are quiet folks, living quiet lives in a lakeshore town. Once, we were lumberjacks. Now, we work in the steel mill, the paper plant, on the boats, or in the quarry. But some of us don’t work at all. We get by on unemployment. Social security. Handouts. And the land.
Besides shipwrecks—we are a bit of a tourist attraction for divers, shipwreck hunters, and Great Lakes historians—the only time Thunder Bay has made headlines was when Newsday listed it as one of the top ten places to live, if you’re an alcoholic. But I’m not sure we’re all drunks. I think our headlining has to do with the churches we’ve forgotten, the gods we’ve lost, the lives we’ve taken for granted, and the way we’ve given up on love.
© 2016 by K.J. Stevens