Last week I drove across much of Michigan's vast Upper Peninsula, from St. Ignace to the Soo and west to Marquette.
I finally ended up in Michigan's northernmost point, Copper Harbor on the Lake Superior shore, more than six hundred miles from Detroit. In some ways, the UP is a parallel, if much smaller, Michigan universe from the ones we trolls inhabit.
By the way, they call us trolls, in case you hadn't heard, because we live "under the bridge." If there still are any trolls who think of the UP as a place where men with ugly hats eat pasties throughout an eternal winter, they are badly mistaken. The UP is incredibly diverse. In place of beautiful gentrified towns like Birmingham, they have Marquette, with the added beauty of Lake Superior and the harbor. There are blue-collar cities like the Soo, with neighborhoods that have seen better days.
Calumet evokes Detroit, in a way. It has vast and imposing buildings that rose in the era of the lumber and mining booms, when the city had far more people. Today, some are deserted; others house antique dealerships or art galleries in a fraction of their space.
To most Yoopers, the state's population centers are light-years away. One young woman told me she didn't much care for our big cities. Turned out she had once visited friends in Grand Rapids.
But while the Upper Peninsula may seem like another country, it's anything but. They have the same governor, the same court system, the same laws as we "trolls." They suffer from the same dysfunctional legislature and have nearly as high a jobless rate.
They are also getting ready to vote in next week's primary election. Indeed, I saw a forest of yard signs for local candidates.
Yet there seems to be little interest in the governor's race. Someone planted a bunch of Rick Snyder signs along the major roads, and I think I saw one for Pete Hoekstra. But other than that, the primacy contest was off the radar screen.
Some of that may be because Lansing is seen as being a galaxy away, and Yoopers know their votes are unlikely to affect the outcome. After all, the entire top half of Michigan contains barely three percent of the population, maybe 300,000 people.
But there is also a feeling, maybe even stronger than in the Lower Peninsula, that none of these candidates are likely to make much difference. Democrats are especially disillusioned.
Mark Dobias, a colorful lawyer based in the Soo, characterized things this way: "It's like being lost deep in a cold cedar swamp in November with a wet matchbook.
"Survival until the next morning is seriously in question." Even if the matches work, and we get a little fire going, he added that "more nights are ahead, and no rescue is in sight."
None, that is, except for the one we decide to make ourselves. The hope is to find the candidate most likely to help us do that. Yoopers are ahead of the rest of us in a sense: They've survived the collapse of two major industries, and then figured out a way to reinvent themselves, survive and in some cases prosper.
Like it or not, that‘s what all Michigan now needs to do.