Michigan Street NE doesn’t sleep anymore. The people and the traffic of Medical Mile keep it awake from College to Division avenues. A full mile that slumbers but never snores. It is the insomniac of Grand Rapids.

Ambulances scream up and down Michigan Street’s spine at all hours, while Aero Med helicopters fly over its head, bringing patients, doctors and organs for transplant to Spectrum-Butterworth Hospital.

The flow of people running across Michigan Street’s shoulders never stops. Doctors, nurses, technicians; white, black, brown, red and yellow people all in scrubs, some flowered, some plain, some blue, arriving for work, leaving for home every eight, ten or 12 hours.

They never stop crossing from the multi-story parking garages that were built on the northern shoulders of the Mile to the huge, blue Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital building that was added on to the colossus of Grand Rapids health care, Spectrum-Butterworth hospital.

Parents are inside DeVos Children’s and Spectrum-Butterworth hospitals at all hours of the day and night praying that their children’s hearts will continue beating just as this heart of the Medical Mile keeps ticking away, a silent metronome that keeps Michigan Street NE from closing its eyes.

Doctors and nurses race across the spine of the Mile before the lights change. Some of them run into Meijer Heart Center. This is where old hearts are exchanged for new, where lives begin again, where families grieve, where families celebrate. It is the building of second chances. It is yet another reason that Michigan Street NE can’t sleep anymore. The Mile won’t let it even doze.

When another day does dawn, Michigan Street can’t even lay down beside the exhausted third-shift that will soon be home, or sit beside the thirsty third-shift toasting the end of a long night in bars promising them the happiest hours of the day from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., or at least the best prices.

Michigan Street NE has no time to rest. The first shift is arriving for work, parking on the northern shoulders of this concrete animal, walking down its spine to work on the southern shoulders of this Mile that brought new life and new dreams to Grand Rapids, the second-largest Michigan community, a community that no longer feels intimidated by Detroit.

Michigan Street is speeding up as the sun rises in the east, so bright that drivers are forced to slow to a crawl as they drive into the burning orb that is too low for their visors and too bright to see the car ahead. Traffic nearly stops in the eastbound lanes of I-196, the Gerald R. Ford Freeway, named for the city’s favorite son, Michigan’s only entry into the Oval Office in Washington D.C.

This is the artery that pumps life from the east into the heart of the Medical Mile and gives electricity to the nerve endings that make Michigan Street NE live as no other concrete animal in Grand Rapids. It not only brings scrubs-wearing healthcare professionals, it carries Grand Valley State University students on RAPID buses from their Allendale campus to West Michigan’s mecca of medical education.

The founders of Medical Mile set the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and the GVSU school of Allied Health Professions on Michigan Street’s powerful northern shoulders. They don’t compete. They cooperate. Yet, there is never any rest for Michigan Street NE.

This is an excerpt from the first chapter of Last Chance Mile: The Reinvention of an American Community, a book that tells the story of how the people of Grand Rapids changed the way the world sees their community and the way they see the world.

Last Chance Mile: The Reinvention of an American Community is available wherever books are sold.

You can read the first three chapters at no charge by downloading Rod Kackley’s free app, available now through iTunes and Google Play.


Rod Kackley is a journalist who has written for Crain’s Michigan Business, MiBiz and The Detroit News. He is also a former news director of WOOD-AM/FM and has written the book, Last Chance Mile: The Reinvention of an American Community.

For more information, please to go www.rodkackley.com

© 2012 Lyons Circle Publishing Inc.

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