New in City: In the driver’s seat at last | News

I was in the south of town last month doing a series of errands when something new happened.

I got in my car and unlocked my phone to look up directions. Then I paused, grinned, and hung up the phone. Even though I was in a place I had never been and didn’t return on the way, I didn’t need google. I had a card in my head.

At that moment I thought of the first time I was alone in New York, with pre-smartphones, and wondered how people knew where all the subway stations were. I didn’t know, after years of living and working there, I wouldn’t think about which trains to take or where to change – I would just know.

Now I felt that way again here in northern Michigan.

It took me a long time to get here. In 15 years of my visits to Traverse City, I’ve always been in the passenger seat to drive to the next beautiful place. It was only last year when my husband and I decided to move here that it suddenly became important to develop our own spatial relationship. I wanted to be the driver.

My first act was to sign up for the Traverse City Track Club’s Summer Series. Last summer, my husband and I drove a virtual race through the city on predetermined routes every week. I ran up and over the Old Mission Peninsula, past the beautiful barn on the Leelanau Trail north of Cherry Bend and along the densely wooded canyons of the VASA Loop. I ran through the fields at Rasho Farm while locusts jumped with me and, frankly, overtook me, and on a sultry July evening, I lost my laps on the Traverse City Central track.

I drove to and from every trip, learning with every turn, and my husband gave me gentle guidance from the passenger seat, along with his childhood memories. I made my card while I was learning his.

After the summer series, I expanded the boundaries of my mental map through the region. When the whims of the summer homes took us temporarily north to Boyne City, my husband and I drove down the Little Traverse Wheelway to Harbor Springs. With a gifted set of discs, we drove to East Jordan, Hickory Hills, Kingsley and Kalkaska and tried to play every local disc golf course. We’ve also expanded our post-golf brewery menu, enjoyed a wheat beer at the Strawball at Stone Hound, and a season on the hill at the Farm Club.

With every outing, I knew more of what holds northern Michigans together.

Learning a new place is not just about knowing where I am or how to get there. It’s about understanding a shared experience, the physical fabric that connects people.

There were always others on the disc golf course, even when the fairways were covered with snow. In the breweries, families chatted over picnic tables and cheerful swarms of bikers cycled up the driveways. I cheered on runners I met last summer. And in some of these encounters, I made friends.

Last week I met a new friend in town. We walked the TART Trail along West Bay and I was amazed at the murky blue water framed under the Parkway Bridge. Then we strolled over the graceful lawn and the old trees of the F&M Park, a place that I loved at first sight.

When my boyfriend and I said goodbye, I threw my cell phone in the passenger seat, turned on the car, and gestured it was my turn.

I knew how to get home.

Kelly Richardson is new to northern Michigan. She is currently writing a book about driving a car in America. You can reach her at [email protected]

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