Today’s interview subject, Mike Shecket, has the distinction, I believe, of being the first person to leave Ypsilanti as a direct result of Obamacare. It sounds like bullshit, I know, but it’s actually true. So, if you were looking for one more reason to either love or hate the President, now you’ve got it…. Here’s Mike’s official exit interview. Enjoy.
MARK: When did you move to Ypsi and what brought you here?
MIKE: I moved to Ypsi in 2009. The story of how I ended up here is very politically timely and very long, but I’ll try to give you the medium-length and mostly nonpartisan version.
When I got back to Columbus, Ohio in August 2008 after spending a year teaching English in China, I tried to buy health insurance to replace the individual policy that I had cancelled when I left the country. No dice. Because of my weight and because, on medical advice, I had started on blood pressure medication before my China experience, I had become effectively uninsurable in the state of Ohio.
My plan had been to come back to the U.S. and go into business for myself as a test preparation tutor. I really didn’t want to have to give that up and work for someone else, and the economy was so bad that I didn’t have much choice in the matter anyway.
The solution I came up with after weighing several options was to move to Michigan because, uniquely, I could purchase guaranteed issue individual health insurance through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM). By law, BCBSM is non-profit and an “insurer of last resort”. While some other states had high-risk pools that could essentially accomplish the same purpose, Michigan was the closest state to home.
I had never set foot in Ypsi or Ann Arbor until 2008, but I have cousins who went to the University of Michigan, and Ann Arbor sounded like the kind of place I’d like to live and do business. I got Ann Arbor sticker shock, though. I looked at a few sublets there and found that I could live in someone’s spare room, three or four miles from downtown Ann Arbor, for like $600 a month. Then I looked at a sublet in Ypsi, on Congress near Family’s Fried Chicken, that was $425 a month for a whole apartment, and I got an Ypsi crush. Just after I signed the sublease, the woman who I was subletting from casually said, “I’ve only been mugged once in Ypsi, and that was on the south side.” That was the first time it occurred to me that Ypsilanti was the kind of place where that kind of thing could happen.
MARK: Are there places where that doesn’t happen? I know what you’re saying about the reality of crime in Ypsi, but I’ve known plenty of people who have been victims of crime in Ann Arbor… At any rate, though, as long as we’re on the subject of crime, what’s your experience been this past four years in Ypsi? Have you found yourself the victim of crime?
MIKE: I had like three or four dumb things happen to me… When I first bought my house on Perrin Street, but before I moved in, I bought a basket of hanging flowers and hung them on the side porch so people would know that there was going to be somebody living there. The next time I came over, the flowers were gone. Not knocked onto the ground – gone entirely. It was around Mother’s Day that year, so maybe that’s why.
A second dumb thing… I once left my car unlocked for like four days, and, no surprise really, somebody rifled through it and took my iPod and GPS. That’ll happen anywhere, though.
The other things are really too dumb to mention and/or remember.
MARK: We should put out an Ypsi crime bulletin. A photo of some flowers with a note from the Police Chief saying something like, “Don’t leave your flowers out before Mothers Day. If there’s one thing our criminals love more than stealing, it’s their mamas.”
MARK: As for the move back to Ohio, would I be right to assume that it’s at least in part motivated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the fact that you can now purchase insurance regardless of preexisting condition?
MIKE: Precisely. I ended up in Michigan somewhat against my will, and so once the ACA made it through its various political and legal challenges (the Supreme Court case, the 2012 presidential election), moving back to Ohio to be near my family and long-time friends became a serious consideration.
MARK: I know it’s a bit of a tangent, but I’m curious to know what your personal experience has been with the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Have you been able to purchase insurance through one of the online marketplaces?
MIKE: I eagerly got on the site at midnight on October 1st and found that it wouldn’t take me to a login screen despite repeated page reloads. I figured that maybe it wouldn’t go live until it was October 1st in Hawaii or something. So the next morning I got on the site and tried to make an account. I either got error messages, or I was told that I’d be sent a confirmation email with a link that I’d have to click, but then I the email never came. And, when it did eventually come, I’d follow the link and receive a message that I’d clicked it too late. Eventually, I gave up on the first account and tried to make a new one. With that one, plus some fiddling with which browser to use, I got as far as having a button to click that said “enroll.” It was supposed to enroll me in a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan that, after the subsidy, would have had $0 premiums for me, but nothing happened when I clicked. I went on to make a third account and mess around with it until I gave up and just called the 800 number.
So that leads to right now: I’m sitting here waiting for them to call me so I can delete all of those past accounts and applications, and start over from scratch. They’re going to call sometime between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. If I miss the call, I have to schedule it all over again.
My expectation is that, hopefully, I’ll be able to purchase a marketplace plan for Ohio that will be effective January 1st, or that (pending litigation by right-wingers in Ohio) I’ll be eligible for Medicaid in Ohio, and I’ll get going with that.
MARK: Are you afraid that, when you go back to Ohio, you’ll find your city gone… no train station… no downtown? I hear that’s been known to happen.
MIKE: I’ve been down there and checked. It’s all there, except we’ve never had a train station for as long as I can remember. My sentiments are perhaps best reflected by Miss Doris Day.
MARK: I know that you spent quite a bit of time, during your tenure in Ypsilanti, at the Dreamland Theater. How did you happen to stumble onto Dreamland? And what role did it fill in your life?
MIKE: I think I literally just walked past it one day and saw a sign in the window asking for volunteers. The biggest surprise for me was that I was never really taught how to work the puppets properly, and yet I was entrusted with a significant amount of puppeteering. My favorite part of the shows that I worked on, though, was doing silly voices. Oh, and announcing “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to the world famous Dreamland Theater in Ypsilanti, Michigan”.
I had hoped it would fill more of a social role than it did, but wouldn’t you know it? There aren’t a whole lot of single women interested in puppets.
MARK: So, what are single women interested in? After four years in Ypsi, do you have any insight into what the women of Michigan are looking for in a man?
MIKE: I dunno… a young, tall, dark, handsome, thin, vegan, pot-smoking, independently wealthy communist with good hair.
MARK: What are you going to be doing in Ohio? Will you still be doing test prep, or has the economy improved to the point where you’re considering other options?
MIKE: Same thing as here. I haven’t really contemplated working for anybody else (AKA getting a “real” job) in some time. I haven’t had a full-time, salaried job in over ten years, so I don’t know if I have any real chance of ever getting back into the mainstream economy. Maybe when more Baby Boomers retire they’ll need people to do stuff again.
MARK: I received an interesting note from you a few months ago. You wanted to know if you could do an exit interview, if you should decide to leave Michigan. I responded with an, “Of course.” And, you, if I’m not mistaken, said that this would factor into your decision as to whether or not you would move. I’m curious to know, if I’d said that you couldn’t do an exit interview, if you would have stayed in Michigan.
MIKE: I suppose that, if a few other things had broken the other way… socially, business-wise, politically (see below)… maybe it could have been the straw that kept the camel from getting its back broke. To my mind, I was joking that if I had to get exit-interviewed by you, that I might not go. But, in truth, it was a plus, and I’m enjoying it.
MARK: Why is it important to you that you should have an opportunity to make a public statement upon leaving? What is it that you most want people to know?
MIKE: As shy as I am, I also crave attention. And as much as I assume that nobody cares what I think, if I have the reasonable expectation that somebody’s going to listen to me, I’ll spew forth on any number of topics, as you can see.
MARK: Right now, if I asked to to spew forth on a topic of your choice, what would the topic be?
MIKE: Oh wow…don’t tempt me! Uhhh…I’ve got this whole thing about The Jetsons and the economy…
MARK: OK, you’ve got 150 words. Commence spewing!
MIKE: Right! So you know how, on The Jetsons, George Jetson’s job was to push a button, and he only worked like three hours a week? Why isn’t real life like that yet? Let’s say you went back in time 200 years and told people that less than one percent of the population could grow all the food for everybody – over 300 million people! And that less than 10% of the population would need to work in manufacturing in order to have all the stuff we need and more (since we’re rich enough to import much of it)? Don’t you think they’d assume that none of us would have to work very hard? So, why do we still work so hard? How much of what anybody does for a living anymore is actually socially necessary work?
MARK: I guess I’d argue that there’s work enough to be done. We haven’t cured cancer yet, or put an astronaut on Mars. Or rebuilt our rail infrastructure. And there’s a shit ton of garbage along Michigan Avenue that needs picking up. And we could double the number of teachers, and bring class sizes down from 30 to 15. And our old houses could all be weatherized, which would save energy and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. And those huge gains you reference with regard to the industrialization of agriculture have all been made possible due to cheap oil, and we’ll eventually have to transition back to more local, sustainable methods. So there are jobs there that need doing. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So, I’d argue that, no, now’s not the time for 90% of us to go on the dole, put up hammocks, and take it easy. We just need to refocus on what’s important, and invest.
MIKE: So… government intervention in the economy? Agreed, there should be a little more.
MARK: What, if anything, will you miss about Michigan? Ann Arbor? Ypsilanti?
MIKE: I’ll miss my next-door neighbors… when I moved in, they had two kids, and one was just a baby. Now they have three, and the youngest is, I think, two. It’s been fun getting to know them and watch them grow up. My former neighbor, Jen Whaley, from the Ypsi Food Co-op, was keeping chickens in my yard until just this last weekend, when she moved to her new house. I’ll miss the chickens, and, of course, Jen and her son Rylan.
Other stuff I’ll miss: Pita Pita, Michigan Radio – in particular the dulcet tones of Mr. Mike Perini… Oh, and the Diane Rehm Show (which doesn’t air in Columbus)… Living within 40 minutes of an international border – I didn’t actually go to Windsor that often, but it’s comforting to know that I could leave the country relatively quickly if I wanted to… Michigan lefts (which are pretty smart)… Also, driving-wise, being able to turn left on red from a two-way street onto a one-way street (I think that’s illegal in Ohio)… Predictable weather patterns (everything seems to start at Lake Michigan and crosses the state pretty uniformly)… I’ll miss living in a town where the mayor knows my name… Oh! and I just realized that Detroit actually has a real channel 62 on broadcast television, just like in the Weird Al movie UHF! AND… how could I forget? …I’ll miss living less than half an hour from IKEA.
MARK: Back to the subject of test prep, what’s the secret? As I believe you’ve shared with me in the past, you have an incredible track record when it comes to standardized tests. Clearly a big part of that is just knowing the material and having an incredible memory, but, I suspect that there’s a significant element of gamesmanship as well, right? With that said, what’s one thing that everyone should know when it comes to taking standardized tests?
MIKE: Standardized tests, by virtue of being standardized, have to ask about the same things in the same way over and over again. Every test has patterns that you can learn to recognize and then use to increase your speed and accuracy answering the questions. Thus, I always strongly urge people to practice with previously released tests from the test-makers whenever possible. You can get a zillion test prep books with a zillion practice tests that are written by Kaplan, Princeton Review, Barron’s, McGraw Hill and on and on, but all of their material is essentially fake. Most of the major tests (a major exception being the LSAT) don’t license out their old test questions, so these test prep companies and publishers have to make up knockoff questions. When you use their material, it’s like preparing for a marathon by swimming laps. It’ll help in some general way, but there are important skills involved in running a marathon that you can only develop by, well, running.
And by the way, just because I like my work and I’m glad it’s something I can do for money, I don’t necessarily believe that standardized tests are a Wonderful or Important Thing In Life or (apropos of the Jetsons thing above) that the work I do is real work.
MARK: I’m curious to know what you made of local politics, here in Ypsi.
MIKE: Ugggghhh… Well, first off, I have a lot of respect for the Mayor and everyone on City Council. They’re doing their best with a rotten situation (which I would identify as the long term problems of de-industrialization combined with the housing crisis and perverse consequences of Prop A), and I think they’re all honest and decent people. Admittedly, I was in the bag for Mayor Schreiber as soon as I found out that he was the dad of the Booty Song guy.
On the other hand, you’ve got your anti-tax crazies and most of the landlords. I was the president of the Midtown Neighborhood Association for a while. I would hold meetings and nobody would show up for them. When the people who used to run the neighborhood association – but no longer bothered to contribute – put their time and money into the anti-income tax campaign, I just abandoned the whole thing. Kind of juvenile and petty (as is calling them out in a public forum like this), but I figure I act mature and boring enough of the time to let myself go once in a while.
When the two tax issues went down to defeat last year, I was pretty ticked. I thought that, on the facts of the situation, they were both slam-dunk “yes” votes. Apathy and misinformation won the day, in my estimation.
On the other other hand, helping you to moderate the mayoral debate in 2010 at Dreamland made me feel like a big shot. And being on the Zoning Board of Appeals has been interesting… Amanda Edmonds from Growing Hope, by the way, seems like a great candidate for mayor.
MARK: Assuming you read this website now, do you anticipate continuing once you’ve left Ypsi?
MIKE: I wish I could say yes, but based on experience from moving here from Columbus, my Ypsi-related media consumption will probably trail off over the next year or so. If you get an exclusive interview with a certain amateur professional wrestler once he gets out of prison, I’d read that.
MARK: Better than an interview, maybe I’ll send him to Columbus.
MIKE: Well, at least he won’t know where I live anymore. Before he got arrested, he once appeared at my front door with a little plastic container with some kind of magic rejuvenating lotion that he’d concocted. I never opened it. It might’ve been drugs. I ended up throwing it out. I mean, he was always nice to me, but I found his chatter about hurting people’s cats upsetting. That and the domestic violence. So thanks for introducing me to him, Mark!
MARK: Columbus isn’t terribly far away. Do you anticipate ever coming back to visit? If so, what is it that will bring you back? What in Ypsi, in your opinion, would justify a trip?
MIKE: I suppose if somebody’s willing to offer me a place to crash in the future, and if people wanted to hang out with me, then I might pop in from time to time. I wouldn’t really see myself visiting as a pure tourist, though. But, then again, I haven’t visited anywhere as a pure tourist in the last few years. I like to go where there’s people I know who I haven’t seen for a while.
MARK: Looking over your 8th grade goal setting worksheet, I see that you felt as though you needed to be “more social.” You said, at the time, that you could achieve this “soon.” As someone who struggles with social anxiety, I’m curious if you were, in fact, able to accomplish this. And, if so, how?
MIKE: Nah, I still suck at socializing. It’s been difficult to live in Ypsilanti as a single guy who doesn’t have a conventional workplace, isn’t in school, and doesn’t smoke weed or cigarettes. I spend most of my time at home with my cats. I hope that’ll change somewhat in Columbus, where there are dozens of people whom I’ve known since high school or earlier.
MARK: I saw on Facebook, I think, that you once promoted a show at Dreamland for a band that you love, and that no one showed up. If I’m not mistaken, you drew a conclusion from that about how you weren’t well enough integrated into the community. Am I mistaken about that?
MIKE: Yeah, partly that, but also partly that I just did a crappy job of promoting the show. M.O.T.O. is the band. They’re about to do a tour of Japan, and also toured China recently, so it’s not as though there isn’t a fanbase. It ended up being Paul Caporino (the main M.O.T.O. guy) playing guitar and singing, me playing drums, the Las Drogas guys (who are also the Devil Elvis guys) as the opening band, and Andy Mitchell working the door. And literally no one else. I guess I felt that I’d been supportive of other people’s projects and hoped they’d be supportive of mine… I do appreciate you posting something about the show, though.
MIKE: Meh, nothing major. I guess I wish I had gone a little slower on putting down roots, since it turned out that the social base I did develop is primarily Detroit-centric, rather than Ypsi/Arbor-centric. Also, when I picked my house, I was super into Walk Score, but then I ended up driving almost everywhere anyway. So I wish I’d either done more walking, or lived somewhere cheaper from which to drive to places all the time.
MARK: What are you most looking forward to about being back in Columbus, aside from the proximity to friends and family?
MIKE: Let’s see… availability of Skyline Chili, more potential students within a 30-minute drive, getting to start my business over with a new name… Huge Head seemed funny at first, but it didn’t wear well… and living in a city that votes for taxes and thus actually has – among other things – a decently funded Parks and Rec Department.
MARK: Any parting words for the people of Ypsilanti?
MIKE: Smell ya later, fools! …No wait, I just remembered that I want to plug my SoundCloud. Some of the songs on there are fairly funny, I think, and, if nothing else, some of them are definitely short.
[note: I hope Mike doesn’t take offense, but I just discovered that I have a “things from Ohio that are tolerable” tag that I rarely use and decided to employ it here. Also, if you enjoyed this interview, you should check out the Exit Interview Archive. Or, better yet, read interviews with people moving to Ypsilanti.]