By S. I. Wells
Senior Columnist

I spent a week at the end of July 2018 in an upstate Michigan waterfront town and watched the world spin off the rails. I did not go to Detroit or to Flint, where the populations are diverse and the challenges real and in the open. My goal was to see America through the eyes of a small town enjoying the middle days of summer. What I didn’t expect was for history to intervene.

Harbor Springs Chamber of Commerce

Harbor Springs was founded in 1880 and has the deepest natural harbor on all of the Great Lakes where a narrow spit of land juts out into Lake Michigan and curls around to form calm waters. As far as town itself, there is a Main Street, a Bay Street, Second, Third and Fourth streets and a few more that serve the year-round population of about 1,200. In fact, on a Sunday evening in mid-July, you can lie down in the middle of Main Street and not fear being run over for a pretty long time.

During the week I did my exploring, bigger differences came into sharp focus, but not the ones I expected to see. In fact, that week saw President Donald Trump stand in Helsinki, Finland, and participate in a news conference with Vladimir Putin after their “Summit” meeting.

If you were alive and aware in 1963, you remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard that President Kennedy was shot. If you were alive and aware in 1969, you probably remember where you were when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. You might also remember where you were when Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. Or, when President George Bush ordered the “shock and awe” bombing of Baghdad.

Extraordinary moments in history stop us in our tracks. They are burned into our brains as we try to process the traumatic, the great and the bizarre. Sitting in a rented condominium that overlooked the beautiful, natural harbor of Harbor Springs while watching the President of the United States wither next to the leader of Russia was a gut-wrenching experience. Never have I witnessed or seen the leader of the free world cower, appease, mollify and praise a cold-blooded international criminal in the way Donald Trump did.

Turkey's Cafe & Pizzeria

So there I was, safe and sound in the arms of a serene small town in middle America, with two ice cream shops just steps away from my front door, with a restaurant named “Turkey’s” that cooked an untold number of fresh turkeys every day to make the best turkey sandwich in the entire universe, just down the street from a family-owned cafĂ© and bakery called “Sam’s Graces,” named for his daughters, that served a country breakfast that made my top five list, two blocks away from where the local farmers held their open-air market twice a week and were anxious to tell you about their freshly picked cherries and just-out-of-the oven scones, with interruptions about their families and their lives, and across the street from the local pharmacy that seemed to sell everything one might need to conduct one’s life in sickness or in health, at work or at home or at play.

State and Main, Harbor Springs

Standing at the corner of State and Main, looking down Main Street, past the local community bank, past the statue of Ernest Hemingway, who spent his early summers with his parents on Walloon Lake not far from Harbor Springs, past the Library that was built

Hemingway statue, Library & fudge shop, United Methodist Church and Railroad Depot sign

in 1908 and houses a fudge shop, past the United Methodist Church that was established in 1876 before Harbor Springs was officially organized as a village, and past the Railroad Depot where early Harbor Springs was linked by rail to the rest of the world in 1882, there was that surreal moment in Helsinki when the prestige of America, when the hard-fought global gains of the past 70 years following World War II, when the brave men and women who died for the ideals of this country and when the futures of young children who have yet to fulfill their destinies disappeared as the President of the United States just gave it all away.

The America that I saw in this quaint Norman Rockwell Michigan town, with visitors and tourists coming and going, during one week in July of 2018, did not exhibit divisions, did not exhibit violence, did not pit people against each other regardless of their economic or social positions. There was no resentment and no ill will, only carefree living during seven days of the most perfect summer weather in the nation. It was a place that reflected our values and our collective souls. It was a place that America’s better angels would be proud of. 

S. I. Wells


S. I. Wells has worked in foreign diplomacy, public broadcasting, the Federal court system and public health during his career. He is a senior columnist for Stay Thirsty Magazine and writes on topics that range from the economy to social policy to politics. He is also the author of two recent books, 30 Words - That Will Change Your Life and 21 Big Ideas: From Recessions to Russians.

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.