Chris’s job one summer was helping people off the ferry, and he says that every so often, tourists would clamber off the boat with five suitcases and then have no idea what to do. Many are from Detroit, and when you’re from the Motor City, life without cars is madness. Some experience actual panic attacks. “I know it sounds like something that shouldn’t happen,” says Chris, “but it does.”
One couple angrily asked him where the car rental office was, and when he told them the town had no cars of any kind, they didn’t believe him until a bunch of other people backed him up. They then asked him where to catch the bus, and Chris had to say there was no bus either. “I can call you a taxi, sir,” he offered. “Fine!” said the husband. But then he learned the taxis are horse-drawn carriages. “No, we won’t do horses,” he said. “Can the ambulance take us there?”
It couldn’t, and there was no more Chris could do for them. In the end, that couple lingered for four hours at the dock before finally relenting and leaving in a horse cab. Others like them offered Chris bribes in exchange for one of the “hidden cars you only get by asking” (no such cars exist). “A few even say they wouldn’t be caught dead in a horse carriage,” according to Chris. It turns out rich people don’t always like horse-drawn carriages. So that’s one more thing Disney lied to us about.
Every New Machine Leads To Fights And Hand-Wringing
A ban on vehicles is based on more than keeping the streets clear. It’s about preserving an old way of life, which means banning a bunch of non-car stuff as well. When a business wanted to get some landscaping done on a lot that hadn’t been touched in 30 years, they needed a vehicle permit for a stationary wood chipper, even though we weren’t totally aware that those wood chippers count as vehicles. Another time, Chris made the mistake of attending a city council meeting, where he got to witness an angry debate over whether to let a concrete mixer come to Mackinac temporarily, with talk of whether or not it would ruin the island.
“Our job is not to make it easier for them,” said a council member at yet another meeting over the deeply controversial issue of construction permits. A hotel ordered an excavator for a project connecting two buildings, and when the council pulled the permit, the contractor had to get down and dig up the ground by hand.
If this is all sounding kind of Amish to you, then you’re on to something. Island residents work closely with the Amish to train the horses and craft buggies. But with Mackinac having no religious or formal cultural reason for hating tech, well …
It Can Feel Like A Cult
So more vehicles could improve safety, move goods faster, not freeze you in the winter, and generally catch everyone up to the modern world. But Mackinac’s not letting any in. And the reasoning for that really boils down to: We like it this way and it’s unique, so why change? “I worked there for years,” says Chris, “and I still struggle to comprehend that mindset.”
He clearly is approaching it from an outsider’s point of view. When he first came to the island, he’d recently read the short story “The Lottery.” Even if you haven’t read it yourself (it’s online, 3,000 words), you’ve definitely seen it parodied or copied in various stories about small towns with sinister secrets. The residents of Mackinac sounded eerily to Chris like the townsfolk from that tale. “It’s how we like things here,” one mother might recite as a mantra as she pays $100 for a family carriage tour. “It’s our way of life,” some smiling man would say, pulling his foot from one pile of horse poop and landing in another.
Chris isn’t saying people there are stoned to death or anything. But now that we think about it, when was the last time anyone checked in on golf cart guy? Because the dark spirit Mackinac abhors motor vehicles. And Mackinac must be appeased.
Or maybe we’re the weird ones for being unable to imagine the world any other way. Maybe a generation from now, we’ll have the one eccentric village that doesn’t allow cybernetically engineered telekinesis. “But how can you be expected to shop if you can’t float the items into your cart using the nanobots in your bloodstream? You know that the omniscient AI that rules the Earth has declared such behavior to be unacceptable.” Maybe we always need a place like that, to remind us what things were once like, for better and worse.