Even after Jefferson becomes Lakeshore Road, meanders through the Pointes and becomes Jefferson again when it touches more blue-collar climes, the waterfront along Lake St. Clair remains decidedly upscale. But up in Harrison Township just past Shook Road, near Eddie’s Drive-in (where the shakes are made with real ice cream and waitresses on skates hang burger-filled trays on car windows) is a hidden enclave that offers lakeside living just about anyone can afford.
Look behind what used to be the KK Party Shoppe, a two-story wood and cracked stucco structure with boarded-up windows and a padlocked front door. Then turn down the gravel drive, past a sign that says “No Dogs Allowed” and you will find about 40 well-worn trailers, their aluminum skins faded dusty dull.
Vehicles, nearly all of which have seen better days, are parked alongside neatly mowed lawns.
Judging from the reactions of most residents when a reporter knocks, it isn’t a place much visited by strangers.
“I can’t talk to you, I got a medical condition,” says a middle-aged gent who answers the door in his bathrobe, holding a tissue to his swollen, oozing, blood-red eye.
“We don’t want to get involved with nothing like that,” explain a husband and wife, their front door wide-open, kids scurrying in and out. “You might try that trailer over there. He’s always in everyone’s business.”
He’s kicked back in a recliner, blue work shirt unbuttoned, cartoons on the TV, a fifth of Jack Daniel’s nearby. “I don’t feel like talkin’,” he says. “I’m busy right now.”
“No thanks,” says a woman who comes to the door in a lacy blue slip. “Try again later,” says another woman, “when the man of the house is at home.”
Finally, Dave DuFort comes to the door, shirtless, tattooed and smiling, on one of this spring’s first warm evenings.
He and wife Nicki, both 33, have lived in the park for about two years. Dave’s a diesel mechanic; Nicki stays home caring for 10-month-old David Jr. They and daughter Crystal, 7, occupy the two-bedroom, 70-foot trailer that rents for $550 a month.
“I could be renting a three-bedroom house in Warren for what this costs me, but I wouldn’t have the lake right here,” says Dave. They’re saving to buy a house, but until then the trailer suits them fine.
But it could be better. Just over a little grassy knoll is the shoreline, lined with broken chunks of concrete.
“We tried getting a few people around the park here to clean things up, but nobody wants to,” says Dave. “A lot of people here keep pretty much to themselves.”
A few like Jack, who lives a couple trailers over right on the lake, have been here for years. Most don’t stay long, so it’s hard to form any sort of tight-knit community.
And sometimes — “like everywhere else you can live,” says Nicki — there are problems. Several drunks moved in last year, but the owner ran them off pretty quick, including one guy who “would walk around shit-faced and getting all belligerent with people,” says Dave. “But when you get enough neighbors complainin’, they get people like that out of here right away.”
And there was that drainage problem last winter, with sewage backing up into a couple yards.
In winter, it can get cold when the wind comes whipping off the lake. “You really need to make sure you winterize the place with plastic,” says Nicki.
Even in the summer, when a big thunderstorm rolls in, “You can feel the trailer shimmy a little,” Dave says.
But there are lots of pluses. The L’Anse Creuse schools for Crystal are good. And, says Nicki, “Mount Clemens has a real lot of night life for when we get a sitter for the kids.”
Mostly, though, there’s the lake. Especially on July Fourth, when you can see fireworks shooting off from towns up and down the shore. But every day here is kind of special.
“I get up early lots of mornings, make myself a cup of coffee and walk down to the water, and it’s all hazy, and then the sun starts coming up with all its colors. It can be pretty cool,” says Dave. Even in the winter, adds Nicki, when the water is frozen over and covered white with snow, it’s a beautiful sight.
Rumor has it that a Red Wings star has built a mansion just south of them. “You can see it from our beach here,” says Nicki.
“We’ve been told by quite a few people that there’s some houses around here that sold for almost $2 million, and here we are living in the same neighborhood as them, with the same view. No one owns the lake.”