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Caffeine, Crossroads, and Coworking

As seems to be the case more and more often recently, some of the best days begin in the dark with a gas station coffee.

I know. Gas station coffee hardly evokes romantic imagery and I’ll admit the fluorescent lights of the “Route 59” service center can be harsh on the eyes in the early morning hours.

However, there’s a simplicity to the routine that is soothing and navigating the empty roads pre-commute time allows the chance to appreciate the evolution from interstate to state highway to county road and eventually Main Street.

Most recently, the destination was Butler, Indiana. But as they say… well they say something about the journey that I can’t remember, and in this instance, a later than usual meeting time allowed for just that.

US Route 12 is a 2500 mile long highway that runs from the Pacific Ocean in the state of Washington to Detroit, Michigan. For a US Highway route that I imagine most people never think about, it has a pretty remarkable history.

Sections of US 12 follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, while another section, built in the 1960s, is notable as the last constructed US Highway.

In Michigan, Route 12 is the only remaining US Highway servicing Detroit, and parts of the highway follow along the St Joseph Trail - a highly traveled Native American footpath already well established by the time European explorers documented its existence in the 1680s.

As the sky brightens in the rearview, I find myself graduating from watered-down coffee and fluorescents to tin ceilings, spindly wooden chairs, and a perfectly brewed 20 ounce black coffee at Four Corners Coffee. Located in what once served as the Somerset General Store, Four Corners is exactly why you leave the interstate.

Whether it’s in Somerset or Cement City (or maybe Somerset is Cement City?) I don’t really know. But I do know that it’s businesses like these that are the beating heart of small towns across the Midwest. Whether they willingly embrace it or begrudgingly accept it, they often serve as a cultural center, business incubator, think tank, meeting space, and of course, an intrepid traveler’s very welcome caffeine provider.

Traveling west, Route 12 winds through Moscow, Jonesville, Allen, and Quincy before intersecting with I-69 in Coldwater. Each town, little known to those who prefer to travel further north on I-94, is somehow stereotypically Midwest while maintaining an intriguing small town uniqueness.

Morning shadows reveal the beauty in old buildings which - in full daylight - remains hidden beneath layers of peeling paint and crumbling staircases. The shells of Victorian mansions still guard the edges of town and slowly give way to barns, farmhouses, and fields as you move further from the city center.

Southern Michigan is filled with these towns. Almost as soon as you enter one, you’ve exited, and a few minutes later you wonder if you should have taken the time to stop. Who knows the next time you’ll drive through Reading with a little time to spare? Through Camden? Who knows who and what will still be there when you do?

These towns, collectively and individually, quietly tell quite a tale.

Some people are inspired. In their minds, they see the lives of pioneers and explorers bravely settling unknown lands not long after the Treaty of Ghent ended the last war with Britain.

Others find grave warnings in the history of these towns. In the abandoned grain mills and factories, they see people who clung to old ways too long. They see people who ignored progress and innovation and in the boarded buildings and shuttered houses, they see what happens when a place can no longer attract young families and successful businesses.

Still, others find hope and opportunity. As the American middle class continues to shrink and a comfortable house for a family of four with a yard to play in and a school within walking distance becomes harder and harder to find and harder yet to afford, small town America silently waits with a solution.

Hope and opportunity may be hidden behind overgrown vines and sunken porches, but it waits nonetheless.

Ok, where were we going?

Butler, Indiana.

The visit to Butler went well - you will definitely hear more about Butler from me in the near future. It did last longer than expected though, so on the way home I took I-69.

For almost 3 hours, I passed through no cities or towns. I stopped at two rest stops, mostly to check emails, but I couldn’t tell you where they were. I filled up at a gas station and the questionable coffee just didn’t have the same allure, so I grabbed a 32-ounce Monster.

Ultimately, it was a great day. After dinner, I excitedly showed my wife pictures of Four Corners, the cool park in downtown Hillsdale, Farmhouse Kitchen & Ale in Camden, an out-the-window video of the sun coming up over some fields, and an amazing farmhouse and barn somewhere near the Indiana border. It wasn’t until the next day that we remembered to talk about the project in Butler.

It’s not that I’m not excited about the prospect of this new project - I’m thrilled. It’s a big step forward towards our ultimate goal of helping people build better lives. But in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson (yes, I Googled it), “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey” and as this journey weaves through the people and places of small town America, I can honestly say that as excited as I am to reach our destination, I’m more excited to see what is just around the next corner.

If you or anyone you know is thinking about launching a coworking space in a small town, please feel free to reach out to schedule a no cost, no obligation discovery call. We are here and happy to help!


Apr 28

There's something about working in small towns and passing through many other small towns to get there that makes you contemplate the journey and appreciate it.

Integrated Life
Integrated Life
May 17
Replying to

Agreed! Looking forward to taking that journey a little further west into Illinois soon hopefully!

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