Each Christmas, we return to the Midwest to visit family. Some years, it's Wisconsin, and we spend time hitting the cheese factories and scoring the fresh cheese curds "that squeak when ya eat 'em."
On alternate years, we visit my wife Janine's family in the college town of Ann Arbor.
This year, we tried to get a little more ambitious, staying at the Palmer House in Chicago, and taking a train to Michigan.
The lobby of the Palmer House, a magnificent old world hotel, all dolled up for the holidays.
We thought it would be romantic to travel in such anachronistic fashion. Sure enough, as we were boarding the train there was a scene straight out of the steam punk movie – a guy surrounded by a cloud of live steam, working on the railroad cars
But outside of the city, the trip turned disturbingly grim.
Mile after mile of rusting, abandoned factories.
Parking lots that are not only overgrown with weeds, but that actually have full size trees growing in the middle of them because it's been decades since anyone parked in them.
Mile after mile of towns where the buildings are slowly rotting.
After a while it all starts to blur together. Maybe it's the winter, but something about what passes by your window as you make this trip, on the rails that used to carry steel and coal and automobiles ... numbness eventually gives way to just a general feeling of sadness bordering on despair.
This is the view the journalists do not get from planes or campaign buses.
This is the part of America that long ago reached the end of its rope and no just dangles, slowly twisting in the cold wind.