Posted by: bkivey | 4 October 2016

2016 Vacation: Observations and Conclusions

I had a good time. It was a successful vacation in that I got to do things I wanted to do in places I hadn’t been. There were a fair amount of moving parts that had to work smoothly, and they did. The only thing that could be considered a problem was I had to put some air in the tire of the car in Buffalo. That was it. Compared to last year, the fact there weren’t any problems was a vacation in itself.

This year was the HOMES tour and I got to all of the Great Lakes. I’ve wanted to see that part of the country for a long time, and very happy I got to do so.

A few things I noticed:

Western New York:

Lots of agriculture, mostly corn and apples.

Nice parks.

Very few Democratic candidate campaign materials. Nearly all the political signs were for the Republicans. I noticed the same thing in rural Michigan.

Lots of American flags. Also the same in Michigan.

Small towns full of very nice Victorian houses. I still wouldn’t want to have to heat them.

A surprising number of Confederate flags, which is to say, any at all. I saw a few in western New York and a couple in Michigan.


A lot of people paint Michigan with the Detroit/Ann Arbor brush, and I was just as guilty as anyone else. Like Washington and Oregon, the state’s largest urban area isn’t representative of the state. I was half-expecting the Detroit metro area to look like Kandahar after the Marines got through with it and running gun battles at night. While there are areas that lean toward that description, everywhere I was looked pretty normal.

The most baffling traffic sign I’ve seen in a while:


The signs are illuminated, so I wondered if I had to wait until the sign lit. For a few days I treated the signals like normal left turn signals because I couldn’t figure out what the ‘Left’ sign was for. I finally asked a police officer, and at first he didn’t think I knew how left turn signals worked. No, I get that, what’s the sign for? Apparently drivers in the State of Michigan require that left turn signals be signed. I asked the cop why a dedicated left turn lane and a left-facing green arrow weren’t enough. His response was ‘You’d be surprised’. Color me astounded. On reflection I can maybe see having lighted left-turn signs as an aid in low-visibility conditions.

When people found out I wasn’t a resident, they asked about my experience with the ‘Michigan Left’. Not a reference to a political view, the Michigan Left is a way to make a left turn from a divided highway. There are places to make u-turns close to intersections so to make a left turn you go to the next u-turn spot, turn left so you’re headed the opposite way, then make a right turn onto the road you originally wanted. This was easier for me to figure out than the New Jersey ‘jug handle’ which accomplishes the same thing.

Every highway worker in Michigan knows exactly what their life is worth:


These signs are at every highway construction site, of which there were many. Some, I assume older, signs raise the legal bar slightly by requiring a motorist to ‘maim/kill’ rather than merely ‘injure’. I flashed on a highway worker trying to get a life insurance policy: ‘Sorry, we can’t write you a half-million policy. The state says you’re only worth $7500.”

I was surprised at how low the tax burden is in the state. Michigan has income and sales taxes, but the bite is fairly small. The highest marginal income tax rate is lower than Oregon’s lowest. Sales tax is 6%, and state law prevents municipalities from adding their own sales taxes. I don’t believe there’s an intangibles tax. It may be that I’d have a lower tax burden in Michigan than I do in Oregon.

You Say It’s Your Birthday

On my birthday Google’s home page wished me Happy Birthday by name. That’s creepy.

Going through security at DTW a TSA agent wished me Happy Birthday. I live in a world where an oppressive Federal bureaucracy is friendlier than an internet search engine.

2016 probably ranks second after 2014 and ahead of 2012 of my favorite vacations. Like Star Trek movies, it seems the best times occur with even numbers. Maybe I’ll stay home next year.


  1. Blair–
    random babble—

    -no intangibles tax in Michigan, but our property taxes are relatively high. I pay almost 40 mils/year [$2,200] to live in my paid-for house. (depends on location.) It is somewhat cheaper if you live in an unincorporated area, but school-taxes are unavoidable.
    (and you want to be in an area that effectively bans Mobile Homes. Its illegal to target Mobile Homes, but you get around that by “Zoning” & specifying the slope of a house-roof can’t be flat.)

    You are correct– Detroit/Ann Arbor don’t really represent “Michigan” as such
    The 3 biggest Counties by population are all in the metro Detroit zone.
    Lansing/East Lansing are dominated by the Capital & a University, Ann Arbor is extremely lefty (another University), and you need to get to Grand Rapids before things start getting “normal,” although there is a distinct Progressive strain running in GR.
    (Amway is headquartered outside of GR.)

    G.R. btw– first city in the USA to put fluoride in the drinking water. (something like 1949…if I recall correctly)

    Oh– btw– fatso Michael Moore never lived in Flint– he’s from Davisson, an up-scale, white-bread bedroom community. (Sorta like Tigard in PDX.) & he has a $1 million house on Torch Lake, north of Traverse City.)

    Detroit area– everyone who could, fled to the suburbs, a long time ago.
    (mid 1970’s devastated the entire State.)

    We do have “right on red,” that is, you can make a right turn at an intersection, if you come to a complete stop at the light. (we also have “rolling rights,” & “Michigan Stops,” that-is, “sliding around corners without actually stopping.” Those will cost you $70 if you get caught.

    again– good stuff!

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