That One Time I Almost Beat Up Marine City

Confrontations with security guards. Bull testicles and blood sausages for dinner. Barely sleeping.

Sometimes, blogging gets real.

And sometimes, even, you have to beat up entire cities. Or, at least, you get close to that point.

The setting for our story is Marine City, Michigan, an old shipping city in “the Thumb”, a peninsula within a peninsula. The Thumb juts out into Lake Huron, and is called the thumb because, well… it looks the thumb part of hand going in for a massive, epic high-five.

Yes, Michigan’s lower peninsula is really the earth giving the universe a really rad ’90s high-five. You heard it here first.


Marine City in the good ol’ days. Photo by Wystan.

Marine City is near the bottom of the Thumb, along the St. Clair River, which connects Lake Huron to Lake St. Clair. The community was established as a village in 1865, and was a burgeoning city by the 1880s. Today, there’s a quaint downtown with a river park, and opulent Victorian mansions speak of a time when the lumber and shipping industries brought tremendous wealth to scores of coastal Great Lake cities.

Even though Marine City isn’t that far from the Detroit suburbs – it takes a little over a half-hour to drive there from Hall Road, one of the big suburban commercial strips – it feels remote. People know each other, and high school football is still a big deal.

If a Detroiter drives up to the Thumb, they’re usually either heading to the bigger city of Port Huron, or the tourist town of Lexington. The truly adventurous might kayak around Turnip Rock, a strange turnip-shaped rock that juts out of Lake Huron.

There’s no overly compelling reason to make a special trip to Marine City, though, unless you’re weird like me and like to explore simply for the sake of it.


Photo by Wystan.

I visited with my wife on an otherwise mundane day off. We had a pleasant evening strolling through town. We gawked at the antique shops and drank some coffee. A ship passed by on the river. It was fun.

We decide, eventually, to get a beer.

We enter a random bar and everyone instantly puts out their cigarettes. I’m serious. This was right after Michigan passed a law making smoking illegal, and they must’ve figured we were with the FBI or something. The bartender concocts some bizarre story about the bar being closed, but then says she’d stay open a few more hours after all.

I contemplate going to a different bar, but this was getting interesting. She checks our IDs.

“You’re from Warren? That’s funny, I’m from (a different Detroit suburb). What brings you guys up here?”

“I don’t know. Just checking out the river, I guess.”

“Shouldn’t you be at the Packard doing graffiti?” A man sitting at the bar chimes in.

The Packard Automotive Plant is a huge, infamous abandoned factory in Detroit. He’d hit me right in the rib cage.

We go back and forth for a minute, and I say “You know, I’m from Detroit…” in sarcastic, tough guy tone of voice, playfully insinuating that he should strongly reconsider his insults.

That doesn’t go over well.

“You think you can walk in here and own this bar, Detroit?”

I’m balling up my fists, ready to beat up all of Marine City if I have to.

“Hey, hey… chill, man. I’m sorry, my buddy here is wasted.”

“Man, I’m OK. Forget about it.”

They leave 5 minutes later, saving Marine City from a harrowing display of fisticuffs. People start smoking cigarettes again, assured that I’m not a FBI employee.

Now the point of this story isn’t to imply that the Thumb is a land of uncouth brawlers or something. Definitely not. It’s just a good story, that’s all. Most of the people there are as friendly as anywhere else.

Like that stranger I met in Port Huron.

I was walking along the St. Clair River on a bitterly cold day, for no reason really. I see an older gentleman approaching from the opposite direction and wave. He asks how I’m doing, sparking up a conversation.

I tell him how I like Port Huron’s downtown, how historic it feels.

“Are you kidding me, George? There’s nothing there!”

What do you mean? There’s that cool coffee shop, some bars, and shops.

“Everything went out to the mall. I remember when you could do all your shopping downtown. It was packed with cars. Now? Nothing. Maybe you’re a bit too young to understand how things used to be.”

And he was right.

I have no clue.



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