Friday, April 1, 2011

A Story of No Place

The town of Dishwater, Michigan, is unique only in the sense that it’s the most ordinary place anyone has ever seen. And not very many people have actually seen it. Who would bother to come see a place so ordinary?

History? There literally is no history here. Even the Native Americans considered the site that later became Dishwater to be so ordinary as to not warrant visiting. They didn’t even bother to give it a name. Not even ‘The Place That’s So Ordinary We Didn’t Bother Naming It.’ The few white settlers that took up farming here all had hoped to establish farms elsewhere but they ended up in Dishwater instead. Then most left due to sheer boredom. No one bothered to write down any stories of the early white settlement days because it was just all so boring. The settlers weren’t even from any colorful ethnic group. No special foods or customs or fun holidays or anything like that.

In the 1950s a company got cheap land from the county and set up a factory to make dishwashing soap. The company thought it’d make for clever advertising, playing off the town’s name. It didn’t. The factory was closed, the equipment taken elsewhere, the buildings dismantled. You can hardly tell the factory was there.

There’s not even an amusing story about how the town got its name. It’s just what popped into someone’s mind at the railroad as a place name on the line.

Natural features? There aren’t any. No streams. Nothing special about the woods. Just plain old woods with some farm fields. There’s nothing here to attract any special wildlife species. Even the soils are just plain dirt. In fact the soil series name is Dishwater Dirt. There’s no environmental problems because, aside from the soap factory, no one’s done anything to harm the environment. No one’s done anything.

Culture? Nope. No one does anything artistic. None of the architecture is special in any way. The buildings look just like any other building in any of countless other towns.

Third Places? The town has a coffee shop/diner but they only sell prepared foods from a restaurant supply company. No one really hangs out at the diner. Most of the orders are to-go.

Somebody recently had the idea to hold a Dishwater Ordinariness Festival. But nobody was interested.

You know what it’s like to live in Dishwater, Michigan? Of course not, nobody does. There’s no place that ordinary. Every place can engender a sense of place, some more than others and for more people than others. While you can’t create a sense of place in people, you can help keep places special and you can help people see what’s special about a place.

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