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Michigan: Thanks for the memories, potholes - Joel Hall

For the last three years, Michigan has been my unofficial home away from home that is not my home town. During that time, I've traveled back and forth to the state -- amid rain, snow and sunshine -- to see my girlfriend, who has been attending law school there.

This weekend, my girlfriend graduated. After three years of trials and tears, we are both finally able to return to Georgia soil, her with her juris doctorate and myself with the woman I've fought to be with for so long.

In the course of making my relationship work, I've experienced Michigan at its best and worst -- its best being a wonderful land of lakes with mild summers and its worst being a slushy, frozen nether region with potholes large enough to swallow cars whole.

Realizing it might be a while before I visit the state of Michigan again, there are several things I am going to miss about this place:

* The "Hand": Michigan is one of the few states with the good fortune of being shaped like something familiar, other than a rectangle. The state is shaped like a hand, albeit a gnarled hand with short, stubby fingers, but a hand nonetheless. For traveling purposes, it's quite convenient. When getting directions from people, they can just open their palm and show you where to go.

You can't really do that with the state of Georgia. It's not shaped like a hand, a rectangle, or really anything, for that matter. Drawing a lopsided pentagon and telling people where to go isn't quite as easy.

* The fauna: Some parts of Michigan can make you feel like one of the original settlers due to all of the wildlife that comes out. Deer seem to outnumber the people there. While you occasionally run into a pair of deer grazing by the side of the highway in Georgia, deer in Michigan roam the streets like gangs patrolling their turf. They're not little "namby-Bambi" pushovers either. Instead of moving when they see your car, they'll just stare at you with a look of general disgust.

In my travels here, I've encountered rabbits, raccoons, and all sorts of woodland creatures, but never a wolverine. I guess I'll have to come back for that.

* The flora: Not that it's a good thing, but Michigan has a high concentration of poisonous plants and is one of the few places in the country where hemlock grows naturally. How Shakespearean is that? Not that I desire to secretly poison my enemies, but I think it's interesting that Michigan is abundant in a plant usually reserved for Medieval lore. It's like stumbling into a lute, or a broadsword. You don't find those every day.

Also, in the spring time, you are confronted by massive clouds of what I only know how to describe as "air cotton." I have no idea what it's called, but every spring, clumps of the cotton-like substance fly around, catching onto hair, clothing, and anything else it can attach to. It's annoying, but pretty to look at.

* Good sushi: Living in Japan for two years made me into kind of a sushi snob. With all of Japan being no more than three hours from a coastline, I can now tell the difference between fresh sushi and flash-frozen fish that has been trucked up from the Gulf Coast. Michigan, however, has a number of great sushi restaurants that use fresh ingredients and can translate the ambiance of a Japanese dining establishment, without being stuffy and unapproachable.

Two great restaurants in the Lansing area that I've patronized a lot over the last three years are A1 Fusion Sushi & Grill and Ukai Japanese Steak House. While both restaurants have California rolls and other Americanized sushi, they also have the finest cuts of ebi (shrimp), toro (tuna belly), hotate (scallop), saba (mackerel), and maguro (tuna), an assortment of Japanese beers on tap, and a fun and friendly atmosphere.

I will not miss the snow, Bishop International Airport, the bumpy highway system, or the potholes that bottom out somewhere in China, but I will definitely miss the memories I have made in Michigan.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.