Does anybody remember the classic American small town? Anybody? I grew up in such a place–so small, the population numbered under a thousand and there was only one traffic light (and it was the flashing, blinky-red kind) as you drove through.
This weekend, my son picked Exit 59 off Highway 96 heading eastbound, toward Lansing, Michigan, as his road trip du jour. We’d taken this route a few times before, but never got past a quick, farm-glutted glance at Clarksville and a Where-The-Hell-Are-We-Now? tour of Saranac, Michigan.*
This time would be different!
“Okay honey. We’re at Exit 59. Which way now?” I call from the front seat.
My child, who has been grinning the entire way, begins barking commands:
Eventually we ended up at a most-delightful destination: Lake Jordan in Odessa, Michigan.
We dined at the under-construction, but-still-popular Buddy’s on the Beach. Even with half the building covered with rough-edged plywood, the place was hopping. I only saw two servers working the floor and they never stopped moving.
Tequila–I’m not making this up–was our waitress and, even though the meal took a while to arrive, due to the popularity of the joint, she stopped frequently to check to make sure we were okay. She recognized Little Man’s quirky behavior right away and gently made sure he was doing okay, even though she had to be off-her-feet, worn-out catering to so many.
The food definitely falls into the standard diner fare–burger, fries, pizza–category. Hearty and hot and big enough for leftovers to go home. I would say, the pizza definitely looks like the star of the establishment. They were flinging pies and burgers left and right. I had ordered a wet burrito and it was huge. I had to double-check to make sure I hadn’t inadvertently ordered the ‘Grande’ size which claimed to be a pound and a half.
“Nope, ” says Tequila, “If no one asks, we always serve the smaller size. The Grande is huge.”
She holds her hands out like she’s carrying a football…or a ten-pound baby.
Little Man, of course, went with his favorite: Bacon and Pepperoni Pizza.
The food was good, solid fare. I suspect ordering a burrito at a place that specializes in hamburgers and pizza was probably an oversight on my part. But it was good-n-plenty enough. The French fries that floated past me looked to die for.
The place is family friendly, even with a smallish bar on site.
I suspect the beer-on-tap is intended for the thirsty ten-pin aficionados in the adjoining bowling alley.
If you travel with a special needs child, this might be a chancy place. It was a little dark, and crammed with families and the neighboring bowling alley added a certain level of excitement. That said, the wait staff was superlative. The management even schlepped orders when necessary.
The outside park with a clean, if unsupervised, swimming area, was inviting and the small-town atmosphere couldn’t be matched by any five-star establishment, no matter how nice the décor.
You could tell Buddy’s has higher aspirations by the in-laid flooring and outer-space, motion-sensor sink and hand dryer in the women’s restroom:
Flooring not pictured because guests were using the facilities, but trust me, Buddy’s is going places. Although…for the men…the trip requires a detour:
We dined and dashed, but I was able to see that a special event was taking place in the bowling area. Tables had been set up and crafts like crocheted blankets and other miscellany were on display. A quick inquiry turned up that it was a local fundraiser for the “Richards Family.” I was assured it was referenced on Facebook, but a later search turned up unsuccessful.
I kick myself now for not being more diligent. This is the kind of effort that deserves recognition. It is representative of the kindness of small towns that doesn’t tend to hit the big-time news.
Calling Buddy’s the next day didn’t clear things up. The manager I spoke with hadn’t been there Saturday. He thought it might be a softball fundraiser for the local Lakewood Girls’ Fastpitch Softball team and recommended I check out the school’s website. I uncovered zilch! Another no-go for my investigative reporting.
I can recommend the Annual Lakewood Area Lion’s Club Chicken Bar-B-Q, however. It smelled fantastic as they were setting up. And if my kid would have hung around for its start time four hours later, I’d be reporting the quality as well. A picture will have to suffice:
Sadly, the event happens only once a year. So, set your calendars for a nice weekend in May 2018 and check back. I certainly plan to.
From the winding, lonesome roads of Michigan. Peace out!
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*Not to diss Saranac but even the people who are born there probably wonder how the hell that happened! According to Wikipedia, the claim to fame of the 1.15 square mile village is the ‘world-renowned’ geologist J. Harlen Bretz.
They say you can never go home again. What they fail to tell you is, really, you can never go back to any place you’ve ever been…and sometimes, you’re lucky not to get a restraining order enforcing it.
Sushi may be a finger food–it’s small, compact and easily consumed coming as it does in bite-sized portions–this does not, however, make it an appropriate fast food for road trips. Let me explain.
Driving to Chicago Friday, we get a late enough start to greet not only the oncoming rush-hour traffic but this also forces us to face the blizzardous conditions which everyone and their mother knows is heading this-a-ways.* Not to mention, I manage to miss lunch in favor of haphazard packing and random dithering. This is why, when I make a final stop at the Meijer store to pick up the kid’s medication, I grab an impulse carton of veggie sushi to nosh on while motoring. This will prove to be the most ill-advised snack choice ever.***
I am smart enough to set up my sushi before putting the car in gear. (What kind of idiot would want to open a soy sauce packet with one hand, after all? Ha ha ha.) So, the giant rectangular clamshell lays spread-open next to me–half filled with happy little California sushi rolls, the other half swimming with a brown pool of Kikkoman joy. Child in tow, snack in hand, we set off.
The car slithers out of the parking lot. I snack and squint trying to see where I’m going between the swirling snowflakes that take up 90% of the visual spectrum.
As I tentatively nose out into traffic, I’m dipping a roll into the soy juice as a car going at least 60 mph in the parking lot tries to barrel past us. I slam on the brakes. And even though I am going turtle speeds, the flotsam and jetsam clogging the front seat undulates forward in a sluggish lurch. Most of it is stopped by all of the other stuff packed there. Yay. Not, however, the sushi.
Fun Fact: Do you want to know the Number TwoReasonwhy sushi isn’t a travel-approved snack food? It is round. Round = bad!
My sushi flies, joyful little bobbles, skittering all over the seat. Fortunately the soy sauce only threatens to overturn onto my purse where it has fallen to the floor. I’m madly scooping the runaway snack food while I simultaneously managed to avoid the collision and get into a lane. I do not whip the other driver the bird, but only because I don’t have a free hand. I do curse them soundly. My son is learning many important life lessons, no doubt; I’m just not sure what they are.
After this I keep a fixed eye on the windscreen, inching our way to the interstate. The sushi will have to wait. My stomach growls its disapproval.
My hockey puck of a car joins the highway and I sigh with relief. Settling in, I crank up the book on CD. We have four hours of cautious, but ultimately safe, driving ahead. From here on out, it should be smooth sailing. (Cue ominous music.)
I reach for a congratulatory, slightly smooshed, ball of rice and vegetables. Here I discover the Number One Reasonsushi is not recommended as a mobile food source. I blindly grab a roll, dunk it with my growing expertise into the soy sauce, and pop it in my mouth.
It is right at this moment, I am reminded what else they put in the standard sushi setup. If you don’t know, grocery stores pack this Japanese delicacy with tiny accompaniments of everything you could want: twelve decorative food objects come with soy sauce and a tiny plastic fence blockading a swirl of pickled ginger and a daub of mushy green stuff. I had forgotten about the mushy green stuff. You should never, EVERforget about the mushy green stuff. The fence is the guard rail of the food tray; it is put there for your safety. The sushi had crossed the fence!
I manage not to steer the car into a ditch while scrambling to suck down the entire 24 ounces of mixed regular and diet cherry Coke I had lugged from the same store as the sushi. Fire appeased, victory is mine. Sort of.
I survive Driving With Sushi with a greater appreciation for ginormous beverages and an improbable will to live despite eating an entire glop of the dangerous green paste. Learn from me, children: Do not eat wasabi while driving. Wasabi is the killer food equivalent of texting. Perhaps sushi in cars should be avoided altogether. It appears I am not alone in this opinion!
On the upside, my mouth stayed warm all the way to Chicago.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*My mother in particular. She made a point of warning me to beat the storm. I suspect latent childish resistance to following her advice correlates to our delayed departure.**
**This is where I find out if my mother actually reads my blog. Don’t feel the need to tell her.
***Most people would say I was mistaken to purchase supermarket sushi just because it was SUPERMARKET SUSHI. Congratulations. You were proved right. Happy?
Saturday, I fulfilled a long-awaited, death-defying pleasure—learning The Way of Tea (Chadō) at the Meijer Gardens’ Japanese Tea House in Grand Rapids, MI. Allow me to take you on the journey…
[Insert wavy time machine effect here.]
The day has a mugginess to it that only people of equatorial descent can appreciate. Occasional breezes cause drops in temperature that turn skin from sweaty to clammy in a soggy instant. The air practically vibrates with thermal shifts.
Ten or so participants mill around a bench at the matchiai—the waiting area outside the tea house. Fellow guests discuss the progress of the formation of the Japanese Garden—opened just last year—as well as the availability of tea houses in the surrounding area.*
The Meijer Gardens’ tea house is surrounded by lush greenery and the walkway leading to the building is paved with irregular stones. Discrete signs warn visitors to watch their step. A guide explains the unevenness of the path is intentional—so that you pay attention to where you walk in a thoughtful manner.** She also warns us to ‘bow low’ as we cross the threshold—both to humble ourselves in preparation and to prevent head injury in the taller guests.
Our hostess appears, a slender woman in a yellow kimono, beckoning us with a soft voice to follow her.
We duck under the low gate between the matchiai and the cha-shitsu—or tea house proper. Near the entrance, a wash basin gurgles. We are told it is intended for guests to purify and refresh themselves before entering—though we are asked to admire it from afar. We remove our shoes before slipping into the small building.
The tea house was built in Japan, disassembled, shipped here, and reassembled on site. It is modeled on Japanese specifications—with some allowances for Western comforts. The floor is not entirely made of tatami—and we are not required to scoot in on our knees as proper guests would expect to do. Once seated on square, silken cushions on benches along the wall, we meet our hostess, Yumiko Narita and her assistants: Tomoyo Koehler, who plays the role of ‘guest’ in the demonstration and Miyuki Muramoto, who afterward helps to serve the visitors.
Anita Savio, the Public Affairs Director from the Consulate General of Japan in Detroit, narrates for us throughout the chanoyu (tea service). She says that, typically, the exchange is presented in silence with rare scripted exchanges between the hostess and her primary guest.
Acceptable questions the guest may ask include the origin of the bowl that is central to the ceremony. The chawan at this service, we learn, comes from the Shiga Prefecture—which in Japan is the sister state to Michigan. The bowls and utensils were commissioned there specifically for this reason. Much admiring of the bowl is required before, during, and after the tea is presented and drunk. Additionally, the guest might comment on the weather…this would have been helpful in the hours to come…had we actually discussed this.
Names and steps for the tea service whip past in swift progression. I do my best to follow each detail, but at one point I decide it is easier—and more in keeping with the spirit—to witness rather than try to capture the experience in my cramped notes.
Anita Savio describes the honors of being a guest—approaching on one’s knees to kneel and offer respect to the scroll which has been chosen particularly for this occasion. Later, Miyuki copies the artistic Japanese swoops into my notes. She explains the sentiment “Ichi-go, Ichi-Ay means “One Time, One Meeting.” This seems like an appropriate statement for the rare pleasure of watching a centuries old art form. Or you could say:
“One only has the present moment—the future is not a promise.”
(How do you like that foreshadowing?)
We learn that the outside world rank does not signify—that all are equal inside the tea house. Thus it is very bad manners to wear jewelry or other signs of wealth. (I surreptitiously sneak my necklace into my bag upon hearing this.) No doubt we are breaking many rules but, as foreigners to the art, we are forgiven our ignorance.
A red silk cloth is used to purify already clean utensils. We learn that the scoop used for pouring the water is called a kagami—the same word the Japanese use for ‘mirror.’ The hostess holds the kagami up and looks into it before using it, as if to measure her soul for readiness for the ordeal ahead. (Although there may be poetic license in this interpretation—everywhere I have since looked online the scoop is called a hishaku—though there are various schools of chanoyu.)
About half-way through the ceremony, rain begins to fall. Each plink of water hitting the tile roof accompanies the delicacy of movement as first the bowl is tempered with hot water and the whisk is similarly primed to make it flexible.
I watch the graceful movements between the hostess and her guest—every bow, shuffle, gesture and placement of utensils marks appreciation for the craft and respect for all in attendance. The bowl for serving tea is rotated clockwise in several stages. It like a ballet for a beverage. As you watch, you realize this is an act of love; for no other reason fully explains why anyone would devote this much time and effort to perfecting an ancient tradition.
We are given a round, pink sweet that is served before we drink. It is completely unforgivable to add sugar or honey to the tea, but the sweet—or wagashi—serves the function of balancing the bitter. Made of azuki bean paste, it is an unfamiliar taste though not entirely unpleasant and similar in texture to marzipan. It is beautifully shaped to mimic a ‘botan’ or peony flower.
Nature suffuses the tea service. There are special teas held at different times of the year. A garden surrounds the tea house where guests may take their repose before or sometimes during the services at a longer ceremony. It is carried into the space in the art of chabana—the flower arrangement that is crafted to complement this day. It is in the errant wind that blows through open windows.
After the ceremony, we visitors are given our own bowl with a unique design. Of note, the bowl is turned until the ‘best side’ faces the guest. Bows are exchanged and before the guest can taste the tea, the bowl must be admired. In the ceremony, there are multiple stages of sitting the bowl on the tatami and admiring it and asking questions of its heritage before the bowl could be returned—beautiful side facing out. Fortunately, as witnesses, we are not required to be so precise—a simple bow suffices both in receiving and returning the treasured tea bowl.***
As the tea ends we are free to ask questions.
We learn that both the hostess and first guest are wearing the kimono of married women—long sleeves are reserved for maidens for the length is better for flirting. The kimono has no buttons, zippers, or pockets. This raises the question ‘where do you put things?’
Tomoyo Koehler demonstrates the usefulness of sleeve folds where she stashes her fukusa—or silk napkin. For larger items, she shows us a rectangular fabric purse that she turns and slips into the drum-style obi she wears at her back. The greatest decoration can be found on the obi. Some ways of tying the material can be very elaborate in shapes like fans, bows, and butterflies.
The tea we attended is only the smallest portion of a full-length ceremony. A full-blown service might take four hours or longer and involve a first tea—a thicker Matcha tea—and a meal of sumptuous cuisine (Kaiseki-ryori) in bite-sized portions. We are offered the lighter, final tea. In truth, what we were given seems thick enough. I thought it looked a bit like blended wheat grass and tasted like an herbal remedy rather than the clear green tea I am familiar with.
We also learn that the fan that is brought by the guest is strictly ceremonial and is never opened. It represents the weapons that Samurai warriors would leave outside the tea house—eschewing violence in favor of humble accord with all guests. The small fan is presented on the tatami, the guest bows to the scroll and, once seated, the fan is placed behind the guest the entire time.
The chado—the art of tea—stems from a tradition brought back by a monk who visited China. At the time, tea was considered medicinal and served a holy function to help the monks stay awake during meditation. When the expensive habit was adopted by the aristocracy and then later was taken on by the Samurai class, the formality of tea preparation and service ascended to a cultural tradition which lasts to this day. It is an art which takes a lifetime to master.
“One must first study to be a guest before one can learn to serve.” Anita Savio.
There is no way to truly convey the gravity and generosity of these women in inviting us to this experience. Yes, we paid a fee to attend, but the intent when participating in the tea is that one is personally invited to a sacred space. And by the end of the chadoyu, you certainly feel honored.
My first epiphany of the day is—one can either experience or observe—you cannot do both.
My later epiphanies will blow you away. But that will have to wait for the next installment entitled “Tea with Tornados.”
We cross Lake Michigan from Ludington, MI and discover exactly how big the ‘Great Waters’ really are. Overly excited child keeps a thrilled eye on the cars and even boats being loaded onto the S.S. Badger. The ferry has a proud history serving transit needs of travelers on the lake. I’d tell you all about it, but people took up the space in the history lounge sleeping on every surface, making it hard to take notes. This is our first non-vomitous boat ride (for child and, by extension, me). Hurray for Bonine and sea bands.
Deposited in Manitowoc around noon (we crossed a date line so I’m can’t remember if it was Michigan or Wisconsin noon) we head to a park recommended by a fellow blogger!* Fritse Park is well worth the bizarre detour from the highway—I think I took seven turns in about two miles. The playground is impressive, though my twelve-year-old apparently had reservations about the incredibly long slide built into a hill. We walked the bridge that spans two cities and enjoyed the view and the stern breeze which threatened to swallow my hat until I just clutched it there and back. I’m just glad I hadn’t read this article before visiting.
It was a brief stop on our journey to Wautoma where we traveled the back roads to find relatives who live so far off the grid, the GPS tracker wished us good luck and shut itself off. A home-cooked meal of cheese sandwiches and salad and a nice long conversation about mutual relatives and photo admiration capped the day. On the way to our cheap-but-clean accommodations at Motel 8 a giant rainbow spanned the sky as if welcoming us to a brighter, more beautiful journey than the one we set out on the day before.
Day 3: I see dead people. Lots of dead people.
Two cemeteries and about three photo albums worth of ancient German heritage abounds in Merrill, Wisconsin. A lie on Ancestry is revealed and I am scandalized that someone co-opted the wrong grave markers to claim a heritage that isn’t ours. Either that, or my distant cousin, Lee, is wrong. But with his facility at naming generations of Krueger/Latzig family members, I doubt it. That he visits the graves weekly and tends their flowers suggests he had more vested in the memorial than just capturing a photo, like I have. (See photos below of the true headstones.)
We visit a former convent/girls school to reminisce with one of the last matriarchs of my father’s generation—Joan. She is 87 and, despite admitting she has memory loss, seems pretty sharp and witty during our visit. She even tolerated my giant twelve-year-old sprawling on the tiny floor of her assisted-living quarters. She shows off the photo albums she compiled. In them, pages and pages of documents identify the family tree. I see pictures of my father in his infancy and grandfather dressed for hard work, welding pipeline in unidentified states. I meet new relatives in grainy black and white and faded Kodachrome color. The photo album’s shiny pages make for poor copying, but I do my best to snap pictures on my cell phone. There is a comforting sameness to the faces—sturdy, kind, loving. Family.
Day 4: Get up and enjoy continental breakfast at Quality Inn & Suites, Menominee, WI. Son insists he wants to swim, so we wait the half-hour for it to open and he dips in it for about 5 minutes before saying, “All Done.”
I review our options and consider a nature walk, until I step out and see the rainy weather. Oh well, we did make a stop at a really good gas station.** If you haven’t heard of these, Kwik Trip was just about the best gas station I’ve had the pleasure to stop. So, here are pictures of its glorious selection. May you all be so lucky in your travels.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*I will happily give credit to said blogger, just as soon as I figure out who it was.
**You may take pictures of your cultural landmarks and famous fountains. Me? I’m impressed with a gas stop that has fresh produce and every recharger you could hope to find in stock!
Sometimes, you just need a little encouragement. Welcome to a journey I’m calling “The unintended road trip on the serendipitous path of lung-wrenching discovery.”
It is the Fourth of July and the crabby son needs quelling; so into the car we hop. My child barks directions: “left,” “straight,” “more” from the back seat. We drive south along Highway 196 headed nowhere in particular–when someone suggests ice cream.*
We brave the lovely town of Saugatuck packed to the gills with red-white-and-blue spangled holiday goers. Quirky shops nestle along the Kalamazoo River. While the pre-teen scarfs gelato as if I hadn’t fed him in weeks, I manage a quick interlude at the Saugatuck Tea Company. Decorative teapots and art-inspired mugs lure shoppers in. A huge Russian Samovar painted in bright, enameled colors squats in a corner behind a room divider–the space manages to be bright and airy despite its modest dimensions.
In addition to tea paraphernalia, one entire wall offers loose-leafed teas with elaborate names like ‘Dragon Tears’ and ‘White Monkey Paw.’ I exchange words with the proprietress. She waves me to the wall of glass jars and lets me sniff the various contents. When I mention a favorite tea I purchase from a rival gang Teavana and how expensive it is, she suggests I get the list of ingredients next time I’m there and she can try to reproduce the results.
After smuggling my score out of the store in an attention-getting paisley bag, my child and I meander. With no great plans, we are unbound by expectation. It is very carefree and relaxing. I suspect this is what leads to the eventual cacophony epiphany to come.
We pass the gazebo in Wick’s Park and I can’t help myself, I have to stop and photograph the beautifully painted cinder block building that houses the public restroom. Who wouldn’t want to pee here?
Then, it is along the water to the nearby point of local interest–the chain link ferry. I brought my son here many years ago, when he was just a little guy. In a fit of nostalgia, I drag him to recreate the experience.
College students busk for tips, joke with passengers, and lure small children into photo ops turning the hand crank that churns the small boat across the river on a rickety chain. It is a swift journey and we are deposited on the other side to seek the experience that will make our day: the climb to Mount Baldhead.
As we leave the small boat, the crew encourages us to: “Be careful as we disembark.” And in passing, they say, “Oh, enjoy the 302 steps up! Don’t worry, it doesn’t get hard until the last two!”
Join me in the ascent. And like the experience itself, I will let the view speak for me…mostly because I am wheezing and turning magenta as I make my way up the vertiginous climb.
My son quickly leaves me in the dust. He prances ahead a spastic, loping blur of red–I am struck by the fanciful notion that for once, the sun/son rises in the West. Hypoxia sets in very quickly it seems.
As if climbing a sheer-faced cliff, the higher up I get, the less oxygen there seems to be–despite the valiant effort my lungs make imitating a wounded bellows. I get dizzy by the fourth flight and feel as though the signposts are talking to me***:
Cautionary warnings mark the trail, if only you know where to look:
I pause frequently to admire the view/find peace with the inevitability of death.
Before long, the signs of the prophets speak their words of wisdom–no subway walls required:
Many have come before us…
Some found love to hold and keep them strong–quite recently it seems:
Some return with their love to mark the passage and constancy of their union:
Some are a bit defiant about it:
Step-by-gasping-step, life lessons are revealed…though the truth is somewhat debatable:
Some who wander the path share their pain with the world:
She has a lot in common with a fellow traveler:
And then, there is the impetuous voice of youth speaking to the ages:
The stair treads pass slowly. I pause more frequently and try not to feel as if one quick shove would send me over the edge. The signs urge me on….
I reach the top victorious where my son hands me his lemonade to open. I stagger over to admire the view which is truly spectacular–if somewhat buried in the surrounding trees.
I get mere minutes to enjoy the splendid view before my child hares back down the path as if gravity has no greater significance than a propellant to urge him onward. I am more cautious–and cognizant of how difficult it would be to get a gurney up to retrieve my broken ass if I fell.
There you have it. Wooden aphorisms mark a trail for the intrepid explorer to follow. You can be your own Magellan–circling the world to find answers to life questions. You can take the wisdom of others–picking and choosing to see what fits.
You can wear your epiphanies on your chest–much like my son’s perspicacious porcine persuasion.
Or you can wander off the path to make new discoveries and record them in out-of-the-way places to be discovered or not as the universe sees fit.
As for me, I follow the signs that speak to my heart:
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*It might have been me.
**I now have ‘connections’–so, if you need some prime, illicit loose leaf, you know who to call.
***Actually, I did not see most of these signs until I was making my way back down. Call it ironic hindsight.
Saturday, we over-nighted in Bear Lake – a tiny town 22 miles south of Frankfort, Michigan—the place my son randomly picked on the map that, surprisingly, did not have any hotel rooms available the night before a three-day holiday weekend.* Some people might thrive on the uncertainty of housing and the joi de vivre of impromptu journeys–it gives me hives. Fortunately, we found succor at the Bella Vista Inn. As it turns out, the relief of making the 2 ½ hour journey was to be compounded by Fate wagging a playful finger in our direction.**
Bear Lake is a blip of a town, but that is part of its appeal; it isn’t intended as a huge tourism destination. The lake is placid and shallow fairly far out. Kiddos can splash in the water by sandy beaches. Gnarled trees of indeterminate species grow along the lake’s edge. The trunks dip and bend toward the water as the earth crumbles away in gradual increments.
We’d navigated our way to the tiny motel and decided to walk across US 31 to admire the lake. Our access beach was a sliver of sand in a small crescent carved out from the neighboring trees. But it was sufficient for a quick dip. I opted to stand and watch while my son dabbled in the water. Now that he is older and can swim a bit, I’m less afraid of imaginary undertow currents taking him to Davy Jones’s locker.*** I snap a few quick pics with my phone and upload a selfie-free greeting to all my peeps on Facebook. My son scampers around in the water, barely bothered by his mom’s admonition to “Pull up your shorts, your butt is showing!” (Time for a new swimsuit, I guess the elastic is blown in this one.) We stop at the gas station/store/pizza joint on the way back to our hotel to grab some dinner. I’m standing in line waiting for a sub sandwich when I get a phone call:
Vacation Reenactment Players present:
Peculiar Coincidence or Celestial Serendipity?
*BrrrrrrrRing* (Honestly I don’t know what noise my phone made, my son changes the ringtone daily.)
Caller: “K…where are you?” (Names abbreviated to protect the clueless who think this will keep serial killers away.)
Me: “M? We’re at Bear Lake.”
Caller: “I know. I saw your picture on Facebook. We’re at Bear Lake. Where are you exactly?”
Me: “Uh…” (I stop to look around for the name of the gas station.) “We’re at a BP across from the Belle Vista Inn. The kid is getting some pizza and I’m waiting in line to get some dinner.”
Caller: “We’re down the road at a campground. We’re grilling hot dogs. C’mon over.”
Turns out it was walking distance from us. This is the kind of adventure you can’t plan. (Okay, maybe you could plan it, but it would then lack romance—or whatever the parenting equivalent is!)
Pizza and sugary drinks in hand, we followed her directions to what had to be the smallest campground I have ever seen. It was a slice of beach carved out behind the town, lined with camper trailers and crawling with dogs and children. Friend M was corralling her herd—she has three, which is enough for a herd in my opinion—with equal parts humor and no-nonsense parenting. She could write a book about it if she wasn’t so busy. We exchanged chit chat and delighted in the coincidence that brought us together.
“I grew up here. My grandfather planted trees along this lake.” She stops, looks around and points to a nearby tree. “He planted that one.”
There is pride in her voice. You can tell she is happy to be from a small town and has pleasant memories. I’ve often wondered what that felt like.
She offers us canvas chairs at her parent’s trailer. It is a cozy niche just down the road a ways from her childhood home. There, the grandparents are doting on a precious little girl who has decided to wear a batman mask, it slips off repeatedly as she toddles around. It is a bit incongruous with the pigtails poking out on either side of her head. Everyone is laughing or joking about Bat Girl. I have a feeling I’ve accidentally wandered into a Norman Rockwell life tableau, except that M’s husband is on the road and she isn’t sure when his hectic schedule will bring him back into the family orbit. I comment on the peacefulness of location and she nods. “This is my oasis—I can relax here.” She hands me a cream-flavored, alcoholic ginger ale. “I could stay here all the time.” Taking a sip of mellow intoxicant, I’m finding myself in agreement.
During the visit, her children are in constant motion—her son is off at the little playground beside the beach. Her daughters are crawling in and out underfoot. M is the serene center of a frenetic buzz of activity. We stay as long as my son will tolerate and M hands me a plate of potato salad for the road. We hug before parting and I thank her for a wonderful time. She smiles and says, “We’ll be coming up for a long week around the 4th of July, if you want, you could rent a tent space and join us.”
I’m touched. It is a generous offer to be included in a family trip. (With a special needs child, it is especially nice to be invited anywhere.) I may question my sanity when I take trips with my son so far from home, but it is moments like these that make it worth the effort.
The rest of our weekend is a blur of touristy moments:
Frankfort has a beautiful grassy park and nearby playground for kids to run around on. My son looked especially appropriate in his yellow slicker standing on the mock prow of the playground ship.
In town, many shops devoted to the American spirit for shopping and dining abound. The Crescent Bakery & Cafe served about the best pesto/giant mushroom panini I’ve ever eaten. If I hadn’t forgotten my purse and had to schlep all the way back to our car, we might have avoided a major meltdown moment! One caveat if you dine here—it’s a popular place and the service can be slow, which is a bad combination if your son is starving to death before your very eyes. (Cell phones pay the price for such inconsideration.)
The death of his favorite entertainment hits my son hard…even though he was the one to throw it in a fit of hunger-induced rage. After lunch, we mourn with ice cream served up at the ever-so-festive The Scoop—a local joint that serves up Moomers Ice Cream.
We are surrounded by candy and sugar on all sides—it is very cathartic. It is also just about the best ice cream I’ve ever had.
We drive to Ludington to spend the night at a Best Western. Despite being tired from the day, I decide to take the internet’s advice and hit the popular local restaurant: The Old Hamlin.
Above the door as you walk in, the sign says “Family Restaurant Since 1926.” They must be doing something right because the place was doing pretty good business despite the later hour. The décor suggested its roots might be as a Greek diner—the dusty murals and ancient faux wood roof tiles suggested a warmer climate. Old Formica tables and naugahyde padded seats welcomed weary travelers; the furnishings’ sturdy qualities matched its customers perfectly. The food was the standard eclectic American Diner fare—good and plentiful. And as a local had suggested, the homemade bread made it worth the trip.
Stuffed to the gills, my son and I walked to visit the beautiful nearby Lake Michigan shoreline and enjoy Stearns Park where my son dragged his paper and crayons to every single piece of playground equipment to write numbers in a new, exciting location while his mother climbed sand dunes to get a picture of the lighthouse against the backdrop of the sparkling waves. It was reassuring to learn I wasn’t too old to enjoy a good sunset. (Although I wisely refrained from investigating the skater’s park nearby—one hip replacement is enough for now.)
We walked a bit and discovered another sandy pleasure—beachside cuisine. At The Sunset Side Concessions, I was momentarily tempted to order Deep Fried Oreos, when my better senses prevailed.
Despite having eaten enough pancakes and bacon to sink a battleship, my son happily gorged on yet another scoop of ice cream (What is a holiday without overindulgence and stomach aches?) before returning to the Best Western, splashing in the pool, and then conking out for the night. (If you are tired out reading this, imagine how exhausting it was to cram all this into a weekend!)
Sunday heralded the end of our vacation. After barely making it under the wire for breakfast, we packed and visited the lake shore one last time before heading home.
I managed to lure my child to visit the light-not-a-house via a long walk down the concrete breakwall to the Ludington North Breakwater Light. It was tricky going as he desperately wanted to fling himself down the slanting embankment to investigate the giant, no-doubt-slippery rocks framing the walkway. At the lighthouse–sorry, I can’t break the habit–I was dismayed to discover that, this far north, The Square™ is a tricky device that doesn’t always work if the wireless connection is iffy. I’d spent the last of my cash leaving a tip for the hotel staff—and on the electric massage chair in the lobby. (The only way to travel.) The volunteers graciously let my son pell-mell his way up the stairs to take in the view. Since they couldn’t get the credit card taker to work, they handed me an envelope trusting in the honor system to see payment received by check later that week. What a gift that was to a weary mom and an overly excited child.
We snapped a few pictures—my son insisted on photographing the graffiti—enjoying the sun and the boat wakes creating liquid contrails and a mock surf at the water’s edge. All in all, it has been a postcard-picture perfect visit. As the tourism ads voiced by Tim Allen would say, “It’s Pure Michigan.”
Don’t you wonder if Missy & Bob are still together? I like to think they are!
So that was our Memorial Day Extravaganza. Mostly unplanned and as spontaneous as I can ever get with my oh-so-special life. I hope you enjoyed tagging along; you’re welcome anytime.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*Did you catch the sarcasm in that one?
**Not THAT finger, thank you very much.
***One flavor of paranoia—imagined parental fears.
Wandering Highway 31, driving north along the Lake Michigan shore is equal parts mind-numbing, tree-infested sameness interspersed with glimpses of magnificence and moments to marvel.*
One of our first stops was a total accident.
We had been looking for the Riverflats Coffee & Tea cafe the highway exit had assured us was only 500 feet ahead, when we missed it and drove until another sign lured us to a quintessential part of American family entertainment–the well crafted Ye Olde Tourist Trap. Fortunately, this is exactly the kind of fun and surprises I had been hoping to run across.
The White Pines Village in Ludington, MI is of the Potemkin variety. Buildings were collected from various locations to recreate a fake experience of life at the turn of the century in rural Michigan. (In other words, there is a great emphasis on farming and self-sufficiency.)
I love old homes and poking my head into a modern facsimile of the past. It’s convenient and tactile visual exploration that beats a book hands down.**
I had a great time. My son, on the other hand, delighted in trying to escape the experience as fast as humanly possible. So, while I am quite overwhelmed with lovely photos, I am not quite as educated as I might be.
Enjoy the images and just imagine the rich, educational experience to be had. Just, not by any child living today who has access to a digital device instead.
After our brief sojourn in the bygone era, we gratefully climbed into our air-conditioned car and drove onward to Bear Lake…where amazing adventures awaited us.
You will have to imagine those adventures, as my son is demanding time on the laptop to play Where’s My Water…at top volume might I add. (Perhaps the Amish aren’t entirely wrong about eschewing technology.)
Oh, and we did finally locate the cafe…where we had lunch with a stuffed squirrel.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*Warning: travel brings on alliteration–as well as gas.
**Sorry, books. You just can’t compete with the awe-inspiring site of a fiberglass cow milking demonstration.
***And this is why it is a good thing the Amish do not use the internet.