Now before I get too far into this, I want to say that I’m not really sure if this is a good use of taxpayer money or not. Our tax dollars go towards lots of programs and I don’t necessarily think that every one has to appeal to every taxpayer because in a country of 300 million people, that’s simply not realistic!

Still I thought this was interesting simply because until five minutes ago I had no idea that such a program even existed…

The program that I speak of is called Essential Air Service and it’s run by the US Dept. of Transportation to help support air travel in rural areas that otherwise couldn’t commercially support it. The way that I discovered it was through a random news article shared on Facebook about a local airport back home in Northern Michigan adding direct service to Dallas for a limited time this summer, with a single line catching my eye…

“It costs more than a million dollars to add this service, but the United States Department of Transportation provided a $750,000 grant.”

I found this interesting because apparently a total of 8 small town airports around Michigan collect some $18 million in federal tax dollars each year through Essential Air Service, out of a larger $300 million nationwide.

Now Michigan is very bottom heavy with regards to its population distribution, in that the big cities across the bottom of the state – Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Detroit – have by far the most, and the further north you go, the fewer people you’ll find until you eventually get into the Upper Peninsula where you tend to encounter more deer than actual human beings. 😉

The problem is, deer don’t fly commercial flights, so if you want to travel anywhere you pretty much have to drive downstate in order to catch a plane, with Detroit Metro being the largest airport in the state. Though many smaller communities scattered throughout the state have airports of their own, they’re mostly limited to small planes and in most cases, they’re just puddle jumpers that connect you through Detroit to continue on to your destination anyways…

I’ve never actually flown into one of the smaller airports myself, mostly because they’re typically a lot more expensive. For example, several years ago I remember pricing out tickets to visit during the summer and while two round-trip tickets from Tampa to Detroit were around $200 each, tickets from Tampa to Pellston – a small town much closer to home – were closer to $750 each!

For reference, flying into Detroit leaves you with another 4 hour car ride to get up to my hometown, whereas flying into Pellston is maybe an hour’s drive at best.

So a few thoughts here:

  • How does the airline justify charging 3x the ticket prices when they’re also getting excess of a million dollars a year in taxpayer subsidizes just to operate out of that small town airport?!
  • Is this a good use of taxpayer funds, particularly with a sizable national debt?
  • Who really benefits from these subsidizes?

I’m kind of torn on this because up until reading this article, I assumed that the higher ticket prices in these smaller airports were what the airlines needed to charge to justify doing business in those regions … but to hear that they’re also getting taxpayer funding on top of those high ticket prices??? Sure, it’s the same thing that we did with telephone surcharges and now do with cable and broadband taxes in order to require those companies to service rural areas, but at the end of the day does it all just come at the fault of our country being way too spread out in the first place?

I’m not sure if there’s much argument for transportation access for locals simply because – granted, depending on the area and the carrier – it’s hard for me to imagine most small town residents being able to afford those rates to fly local anyways! I know that whenever we flew and even now, we’d fly into the larger airport farther away purely because the time cost was easier to justify than the ticket cost.

Still, it makes it easier for travelers to come and visit these areas, and I’m ok with tax dollars going to support tourism … though I might suggest that the local states would be better off funding this reason than federal dollars.

There are jobs created – both direct and indirect – that the locals can enjoy, but again, I’m not crazy about taxes funding job creation if the markets can’t support them on their own … at least with regards to for-profit entities, for the most part.

So at the end of the day, is this just a $300 million Christmas present to an industry that’s kind of struggling, but let’s not kid ourselves when they still clear $16 billion a year in profits???

I’d be curious to know how much taxpayer funding it costs us as a nation – between transportation, telecommunications, and whatever other subsidizes like this are out there – simply to support everyone living so far apart. You’ve got to figure it also costs more in roads and bridges, there are probably expenses related to energy and other resources … what else?

And don’t get me wrong, there are certainly plenty of beautiful, natural areas around the USA that I wouldn’t exactly call for scrapping, even if the most utopian configuration called for populations in dense towers all crunched into a state the size of Texas!

Still, it’s interesting to discover a nearly unknown program that realistically affects a pretty small segment of our population, and to try and better understand the justifications for why it exists in the first place.

The Dream

May 26, 2015 12:35pm
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Ever since I moved to Florida back in 2003, I occasionally have this dream where inexplicably everything is reversed and I’m back in my job at the warehouse in Michigan where I worked for six years before moving away.

Last night I had the same dream again.

What was strange is that it wasn’t as panicky as it normally is … when I first moved, it was honestly more of a nightmare where I was back up north pulling orders for auto parts and when the thought of Florida would come up, someone would explain that it just didn’t work out and I was back now, and that was it.

But this time it was almost more of a temporary visit, and things were different from how I remember them in reality. We had just gotten bought by our competitor – which did happen in reality – and a bunch of new employees had been brought in from another branch who were presumably going to be replacing many of us who already worked there … something that also happened, but not nearly to the extent that it did in my dream.

And so what was different this time was that abruptly I just made the decision that I was going to quit and go back to Florida – that was going to be my last day – and I told my friends and my boss, and everyone understood.

I don’t know what made things different that time, and it was hard to piece together within the dream what/where/who I had memories of that I was going back to, but unlike most of the other times I’ve had this dream as a nightmare indicative of failure where the one thing I had wanted so much for years had fallen through my fingers and was just gone, this time I suddenly had some control of my own and it was no longer an absolute that I just had to accept.

An interesting evolution after 12 years of living in Florida, indeed, though it does beg one other question – will I ever find myself at a point where I don’t have the dream at all anymore???

Or then again, if I finally do have some control into my own fate, maybe having this dream just isn’t such a nightmare anymore after all…

So I was riding around the state on my … wait for it … motorcycle?!

It was hard to tell whether I was in Florida or Michigan – it might’ve been Michigan in the summertime, though, because it was really nice out. I think it was a holiday weekend because lots of people were around and about, and I was getting frustrated with all of the traffic trying to get where I needed to go so I decided to take a detour off the highway through some little resort town.

The town was on the waterfront and had the most bizarre bridge imaginable, in that now that I’m trying to describe it in reality there’s no way that it would actually work! After sitting at a light on top of a giant hill, I rode down onto one end of the bridge while instantly opened up into like six or eight lanes all going in the same direction. It was a drawbridge, but they didn’t seem to stop traffic before the bridge started moving, so it was on the drivers on the bridge to slow down and wait until the gap was closed … or if it was close, they could just try to jump it! 😯

Anyways, that wasn’t even the weird part…

The weird part was that this particular bridge actually went in two different directions at the same time! It was shaped kind of like a sideways T, in that I came down off the hill and then could either drive straight (which bypassed the town) or turn right (which went into the heart of town).

Clearly it was very confusing to everyone because you had a lot of people driving diagonally across multiple lanes to get where they were trying to go, and then you also had the jumpers who made a game out of not waiting for the drawbridge to drop back down on the one side!

Also, did I mention that there were walkers in addition to vehicular traffic on this bridge?!

So I ended up taking the more scenic route and decided to ride by the bay. On my way off the bridge, I ran into a guy and his family who I used to work at scout camp with … noted by him wearing one of the boisterous pink camp staff shirts that we used to wear way back in the day! They were very tired from all of the walking and were jealous of my wheels, but I slowed down and rode along with them to a small picnic area where we stopped and ate and talked about going swimming.

Never did find out where I was actually supposed to be going, or why I was riding a motorcycle to get there, but at least it was a nice day! 😉

Bye, Grandpa…

January 11, 2014 2:52am
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Today was my Grandpa’s funeral.

It’s kind of weird to look back and think that only six months ago we were all gathered here to celebrate his 90th birthday, and everybody remarked at what great health he was in and that for all we knew, he might have lived another 10 years without blinking an eye. I guess that makes me feel all the more glad that we made the trip up last summer to see him one last time…

After I heard about his death last Friday and before I actually got here, I found myself admittedly feeling a little jealous of the other people who had gotten to know my Grandpa better than I did. When you live within a 45 minute’s drive at best, you tend to see people more often for Christmas and birthdays and even just on random whims, whereas since I moved to Florida, I’ve probably been back home maybe half a dozen times at best over the last 10 years.

For what it’s worth, though, I do think that we stopped to see Grandpa every single time.

But then I spent a lot of time talking with my family and especially my cousins today, and also with my Dad over the last couple of days, and when I got home tonight I went through about half a dozen photo albums, too, and I knew my Grandpa even if it might not always feel that way when living so far away. Sometimes the details don’t always stand out to you right away when certain people have been such a constant in your life – I may not have gotten to see him as much, but he was always there.

Family Christmases, despite me and my cousins spending a good chunk of our time playing Nintendo in the back bedroom…

Going fishing with him and my Dad…

Countless birthdays when all of our family would come to the house for hamburgers and hot dogs and cake and ice cream…

More recently, I remember getting random messages on our answering machine when they’d have heard on the news that a tornado had touched down somewhere near us or that a hurricane was brewing out in the Gulf, and he just wanted to call to make sure that we were ok.

When I first moved to Florida, he gave me a loan for some money to help me get into my first apartment, which I paid back a year later with interest, along with what I like to remember was a pretty heartfelt letter about how I couldn’t have done it without them.

It’s strange to think about the one house other than my parents’ growing up where I’ve never had to knock on the door first before coming in – that it won’t be the same soon anymore. All of those memories on the walls, and from the fancy rug on the floor, and in that back bedroom, it’s time to pack them up and take those with us now to wherever we go next…

And yet in seeing the makings of our next generation run around that living room and chatting about old times with my cousins and even now seeing my sister’s daughter calling my Dad Grandpa, somehow I guess I see a little bit of both my Grandpa and Grandma in all of that kind of stuff because if there’s one thing they both seemed to love more than anything else, it was having family around.

It didn’t matter what we were doing or what the argument discussion topic of the day was … you could tell just by watching them watch everyone else around them that they were proud parents, and proud grandparents, and proud great grandparents … they were just happy to have a house full of people that they loved, all under the same roof.

At the end of the day, nothing else mattered except for family and both of my grandparents soaked up every last drop of it that they could – everything else would work itself out in due time…

Maybe they were on to something after all. 😉

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Ok, so admittedly this is actually kind of neat…

“The water temperature on the Lake Michigan is just a little bit below freezing, so you get a small piece of ice that forms in the water and as waves move back and forth it adds additional water and freezes in layers. It gets bigger and bigger, and eventually you get big balls of ice, that are pushed to the shore by the wind.”

(video via Boing Boing, description via The Atlantic Cities)

It seemed like I should probably post at least a couple of non-Madelyn, non-cake-pop-related photos from this weekend’s trip, considering that the entire point of venturing up north was in celebration of my Grandpa’s 90th birthday in the first place!

Lunch was at Stafford’s – I’d never been, but the food was pretty good and the building was all historic and it had some nice views of Little Traverse Bay (Lake Michigan) in the background.

I think I enjoyed just lounging around on the porch afterwards the most … it was one of those relaxed afternoons that made me miss the part of living up north that I actually miss, having no particular place to go and nothing to do but enjoy the scenery and occasionally engage with people who are one way or another related to you!

In short, isolated bursts, it can actually be quite tolerable… 😛

Anywho, here’s a small collection of mementos to remember that afternoon by when I turn 90 myself.

I hope as many people will come to my birthday party as did for Grandpa… 😉

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Grandpa with his grandkids (featuring me!)

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Grandpa with my Aunt, Uncles, and Dad … you have no idea how hard it was to get them to all look up at the same time…

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Grandpa with his great grandkids … I’m honestly not even sure if this photo ever fully happened because, well, kids…

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Eventually we snuck down to the lakeshore to enjoy a bit of that majestic Lake Michigan charm that you’re always hearing so much about…

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…giant, majestic rock pile and all…

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There was also a pretty, little memorial garden nearby that we walked through…

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Proof that we got to see the rock pile … sorry, but I’ve honestly never tried to take “a selfie” with my iPhone before and the other two turned out even worse than this! At least Sara looks pretty…

I Don’t Wanna Grow Up, I’m a Toys ‘R Us Kid…

September 10, 2012 11:35am
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So yesterday my sister and I took a trip down to Detroit to take Sara to the airport, as she’s flying out to Seattle for work while I stay in Michigan for another week. On our way back, we stopped off in Saginaw and ended up killing a few hours at Toys ‘R Us.

I love Toys ‘R Us because even though the prices are typically a bit higher than anywhere else these days, it’s still a nice reminder of back in the days when they were the only place that a kid could get toys – long before the days of Walmart and the Internet. Mind you, this particular store was extra special to my sister and I because it’s where we’d get to go pick out a toy after enduring school shopping each year!

Seriously, I’d guess 95% of my NES games came from this place, so in a way it was kind of like returning to Never Never Land for a kid who grew up on Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda.

We wandered around this place seemingly for quite a while, and along the way, I took a few photos for later commentary like this post… 😉

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Isn’t that about when garage door openers first came out, when they were “the next big thing”?

I came across this press release when I was working on an upcoming article and despite the fact that it’s technically a year old, it still frightens me just how behind in the times they are…

Mackinac Bridge Authority rolls out new “push-button” technology to further streamline commuter crossings

Basically, they’ve developed a transponder with a button like a garage-door opener to trigger and open the toll gates after crossing the bridge. Concept is – you pull up to the gates, press your new Mackinac Bridge garage door opener, and the gates open after the toll is subtracted from your account.

Call me crazy, but why go through all of the hassles of transponders if you’re just going to cut technology off at the pass at the last minute?! We have them all over the place down here – toll roads, apartment complexes, and even the parking garage at work opens off of a transponder that hangs from my rear-view mirror. If this is supposed to speed things up for commuters, why not remove the gates altogether and work them like SunPass works for us down here? You have cameras setup for those who choose to whip through without paying, and this way people can continue their 35 mph from the bridge right on through the toll plaza and back to I-75.

Or you could just give everybody garage door openers…whatever works for you!

Frightening…

September 30, 2003 2:04am
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I came across this page on the Michigan DNR site while I was researching a column for next week’s paper – am I the only one who is a bit concerned about sending a blind man out into the woods with a gun?!

Laser-Sighted Devices for the Visually Impaired
http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-10363_10913-31956–,00.html

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