Daniel Calvin was looking for a summer job when he landed on Mackinac Island in Lake Huron in Michigan 13 years ago.
A 1996 Wadsworth High School graduate, Calvin worked summers for three years and attended classes in the time between at the University of Akron before deciding in 2003 to stay for good. He lives on the island with about 500 year-round residents, 4,000 summer residents and the thousands upon thousands more who visit each day in the travel season.
In his spare time, Calvin, 34, webcasts the radio show Make and Break Radio — at www.makebreakshow.com — on Radiomackinac.org, a station the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau operates. He also skis and works on model trains.
Calvin, the son of Marian Calvin of Hudson and Peter Calvin of Wadsworth, said winters can be desolate and storms in the summer can be dramatic.
Q: How did you land on the island?
A: I was looking for something to do for a summer while I waited for the fall 2000 semester to begin at the University of Akron. I had sent a resume of sorts to Mertaugh Boat Works in Hessel, Mich., and had not received a response to my vague offer to scrape crawfish exoskeletons from the docks. With the prospects of living in a van that I still had not, or could not, yet purchase looming and no offer reciprocated, I began to get curious to see what else in the area would be suitable for my intentions. I researched Mackinac Island on the Internet and wound up accepting a job at a [gift] store as a night manager. That job could not supply me with housing, and the owner suggested I find another job to work part time that could assist me with a place to crash. That’s how I landed the job maintaining the Iroquois Hotel. After a few days of work, I learned that the Iroquois was too demanding of my time and energy and I never did take that job at the gift store. I’m still on the island, and now supervise the maintenance of all Iroquois Hotel properties.
Q: Was it always your plan to stay there so long?
A: Not at all. My original intention was to leave the week before Labor Day of 2000. The hotel had experienced a small fire in July that resulted in massive amounts of water damage, making an enormous mess and forcing the closure of half of the guest rooms. As August waned, I was asked to stay, and I concluded that I could not leave my new boss, maintenance manager Loren Horn, in such a pickle.
Q : Winters must be interesting.
A: They truly are. Those that stay, stay. Those that can’t handle it, leave. Without so many tourists around, some things relating to life and work can be more easily accomplished. This includes the type of work that I undertake during the off-season. With the hotel closed, I have fewer people to manage (from six in the summer to none) and fewer maintenance tasks and more rebuilding/remodeling-type work. Rooms get revamped and furniture gets refinished. The solitude and emptiness created by the void left by fewer visitors is a slow process that begins in early October and wraps up in November. It is not an abrupt change. The reverse is true in the spring. One’s perception of an empty Mackinac is, in my opinion, by one’s own mood. There are always good people, good sights and good things around. You just make the best of what you have and not spend time dwelling on inane things like trips to the mall or that girl who is now 1,500 miles away.
Watching the island freeze up is kind of cool. November and December can be pretty dark, cold, wet and gray. This time passes and reveals a usually cold, bright, snowy, icy January and February. March is great, too, but sometimes March’s lovely snow rots into a period called mud season. Then the transition into spring begins.
Q: What is your best winter storm story?
A: Loren and I watched the barometer fall all day at work while we anticipated a storm that had been predicted for a few days. That afternoon, the snow started to fall and the wind began to build. This one was blowing in from the East — a rare direction for winter. By the time we were stomping our feet in the entrance to The Village Inn for a few beers after work, about 4 inches had fallen. We sat in one of the front windows watching the evening accumulations while we took full advantage of happy hour pricing. We decided to take a trip to the Mustang Lounge, not so much for more booze, but rather to survey the storm’s progress through town. We climbed onto the snowmobile and headed toward Main Street, where we found a drift across the main drag easily 4 feet tall and 15 feet wide out in front of the open lot across from McNally Cottage. ... The snow was sideways for hours, and in the morning we learned that winds higher than 90 mph were recorded at the Mackinac Bridge. We did lose a window. Easily dealt with.
Q: What about summer storms?
A: These can be a bit more bothersome. You can’t hole up in an indoor project while you’re still accommodating the comfort of guests. Some visitors eat it up, others can be quite upset by the weather or inconveniences caused by it. Wet luggage, closed docks, howling windows, etc.
Q: I have a vision that living on a small island is sort of like living in a small Alaskan town like the TV show “Northern Exposure.” Am I wrong?
A: Not at all. There are many similarities as well as some profound differences, but for the most part Mackinac Island in winter is very much like any remote small town in the world. Put 500 people in the area of a small township and, voila! Instead of being 50 miles from the next decent-sized town, we’re only three miles away. Just a whole lot a water in between. The gossip is the same. The VFW and bingo is the same. Girl Scouts come into the (restaurants) to sell cookies.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at email@example.com.