LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
The first 100 days of any presidency are important. And with the recession getting worse by the day, the stakes for the Obama administration could not be higher. To mark this crucial period, NPR is launching its own 100 days project. Our reporter David Greene is on a road trip across the nation. The goal is simple - to hear from you about the economy and the financial crisis and how you and your communities are faring. David begins his travels with a trip down I-75 starting in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
(Soundbite of song "The Snowmobile Song")
Mr. TOM CONNORS: (Singing) It's wintertime and the weather's fine, The snow on the woods and fields when I reveal... My snowmobile...
DAVID GREENE: That's Canadian folk singer Tom Connors, and his song captures the way many snowmobilers feel about their sport. Up here it's more like a way of life. Restaurant signs say "Snowmobiles Welcome." At gas stations you see more snowmobiles filling up than cars. A few days ago I'm driving into the little town of Paradise, Michigan, for what's supposed to be a big day of snowmobiling. It begins with the annual pancake breakfast. The breakfast in the community center is where I meet Joanne Cook.
Ms. JOANNE COOK (Grocery Store Proprietor): Normally, we are really busy with the breakfasts here, and it's way down right now. So I think it's the economy. Nobody knows if they've got a job or not.
GREENE: Paradise is a snow-pummeled community on Lake Superior. Six hundred people, a smattering of hotels, and miles of snowmobile trails. Most years, by late morning tourists are buzzing around everywhere.
Ms. COOK: Oh, it would be all snowmobiles. It would be like bumblebees going by.
GREENE: But when times are uncertain, Joanne says, people don't travel to a place like Paradise for their snowmobiling. They stick closer to home. And Joanne has felt the effect of that. She runs a grocery store here.
Ms. COOK: I used to have to stay open from 9 to 9. Now I'm down to 9 to 6, Monday through Saturday. I'm closed on Sundays because there's nobody around.
GREENE: But Joanne is putting her best face on because this is an important day. It's the annual snowmobile blessing.
Ms. COOK: OK, I got to head down and start the fire for the blessing.
GREENE: Oh, cool. Can I go with you? Is that OK to see how that's set up?
Ms. COOK: Yeah, that's fine. We don't have...
Unidentified Man #1: Are you sure you know what you're getting yourself into?
GREENE: I know what I'm getting myself into.
(Soundbite of engines revving)
GREENE: Finally, there's that sound people in Paradise love to hear. Maybe you're not seeing snowmobilers darting around town like normal years, but here on this snowy field on the edge of town, the diehards have come. Looking like astronauts in their thick snowsuits and helmets, they're gathered around a fire. For them, snowmobiling's almost a religion.
Reverend EDSON FORRESTER: Creator of the heavens and the Earth, give blessing to these snowmobilers...
GREENE: Meet Edson Forrester. He's the ordained minister in charge of the annual blessing. He says he's just trying to keep everyone safe.
Reverend FORRESTER: God, we ask for your guiding light when the blizzards leave us blind, when accidents leave us alone in the dark...
Mr. CARL HARM (Mechanical Contractor): We're going to probably run through here. It looks like she wants us to lead the pack.
GREENE: Carl Harm is one of the diehards. He drove to Paradise from Traverse City, 170 miles on his snowmobile. Carl's a mechanical contractor back home. The tight housing market has hurt him.
Mr. HARM: I - usually I do, you know, eight, 10, 12 houses a year. I'm a small contractor. But, you know, in the last year, I did one. This year, I've got one going.
GREENE: And maybe Carl's had to tighten his budget, but he's not giving up his snowmobiling. He and his buddy Rick Drewyour ride together. It's not a cheap sport. Carl and Rick are each outfitted in a thousand dollars' worth of gear, including helmets installed with voice-activated walkie-talkies.
Mr. RICK DREWYOUR: Carl is usually in the lead. He can inform me of any other sleds that are - you know, coming toward me. Or if I have a problem, I can tell him that, you know, hey, I need to stop and take a potty break, or my sled's making a funny noise, or whatever. So it makes riding a little more enjoyable.
GREENE: Before this group heads out for an afternoon of racing, the minister holds smoking bunches of cedar and tobacco up to each snowmobile. Tobacco, the minister says, is known to carry prayers up to God.
Reverend FORRESTER: Creator, protect this snowmobile on its travels. Give it safe passage on its way home.
Unidentified Man #2: Be safe out there. Let's have fun. I'm excited.
GREENE: At this year's blessing, the people of Paradise say they're adding an extra prayer — for next winter to be a little more crowded. I'm David Greene, NPR News.
(Soundbite of song "The Snowmobile Song")
Mr. TOM CONNORS: (Singing) Through the golden glow on powdered snow, When the moon comes rolling along...
WERTHEIMER: As David roams the country for the next 100 days reporting on the recession, he's looking for your help. You can suggest ideas and follow David as he blogs his way across the U.S. at npr.org.
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