2017-07-06 / Views

Lessons on driving in Leelanau County

A column by Jay Bushen

“Cover your ears.”

“What?” I asked.

“Cover your ears.”


No matter how awake you think you are, no amount of caffeine can prepare you for the sight, sound and surprise of seeing a sheriff’s deputy point a pistol and put a 10-point buck out of its misery at 6:30 a.m.

The experience, which took place in November 2015 on M-22 near the Whaleback Natural Area in Leland, was episode two in the ongoing “Jay Learns to Drive in Leelanau” odyssey.

To be honest, I was late to Fridaymorning basketball and driving faster than I should have been when I rounded a corner and saw the trophy buck innocently standing there. At that point, all I could do was slam and my brakes and scream “no!” It was too late, and what was worse is that the beast was still alive — and I was ill-equipped at the time to finish him off with my own hands. I’ll never forget the look he gave me as he lay on the concrete, gasping for air. My heartfelt apology fell on uncomprehending ears.

I should have known.

About four months prior, a doe leaped out in front of me less than one mile away on M-204. The experience wasn’t nearly as dramatic because the doe died on impact and gave me no chance to stop — but I was driving a touch over 55 mph.

For most, the “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” adage applies to driving, but it appears I’m a bit slow in that regard. I hit a bobcat on M-22 near Cedar on my way back from a basketball game about three months later. I was speeding.

“Fortunate” isn’t a word I’d use to describe any of the three experiences but, in hindsight, I do feel a bit lucky.

See, I moved up here from Grand Rapids in the summer of 2015 with little understanding of how people should drive here, but I’m getting the hang of it now. “Looky Lous” on M-22 used to drive me nuts, for example, but I’m past that stage. They’re on vacation and staring at the lake — I get it (or at least I’m getting better at getting it). Most motorists up here do, but I’ve been a bit concerned with some of the behavior I’ve been seeing on the road and the comments I’ve been reading online.

I relate to “hates bikers” guy every now and then when a cyclist takes up an entire lane on his way up a hill, but I think we get over-dramatic sometimes. Honestly, 99 percent of the bikers I encounter are awesome — hand signals, line awareness and two hands on the handlebars. For every “bad apple” of a biker, there’s a “bad apple” driver.

Leland Township Supervisor Susan Och gave me a great quote about this last week: “If you’re in a hurry, you didn’t leave early enough.”

Drivers really ought to expect the unexpected on Leelanau County motorways in the summer, stay off their phones and be mature enough to tap their brakes. It’s not like we deal with this type of traffic all year.

Furthermore, a happy-go-lucky sober — or even slightly intoxicated — pedestrian doesn’t deserve to lose their life because they’re in vacation mode. Blast-my-horn guy can cool it, in my opinion.

On the flip side, I wonder if we could do more to educate our pedestrians.

Many tourists probably assume the Traverse City right-of-way rules apply here on the peninsula and, in many places downstate, pedestrians pretty much reign supreme. That may explain why the Leelanau County Sheriff’s Office has received an increasing number of complaints about pedestrians walking out into traffic.

I’m not saying that’s OK, by any means, but I am saying it’s probably going to keep happening.

My point is this: Motorists should expect the unexpected and slow down. I understand the need for speed, but it’s not worth killing a pedestrian — or even a deer or bobcat, for that matter.

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