Monday, June 24, 2013

Mackinac Island by way of Milwaukee, Lake Michigan, Waukegan, Mackinaw City

We left Chicago and took the scenic route up the north shore of Lake Michigan along Sheridan Road, the famous route taken by Chicagoans when they sought weekend diversions and desired to sightsee the houses of the ½ of 1% of the uber-rich of the city.


It’s a twisty road with every style of architecture imaginable, some of which only folks with lots of money and very little taste could conjure up.
 Around every corner we would exclaim, “Look at that!” or “Holy Cow, did you see that one?”


The lakeshore properties had the best views and the most real estate value with a front door mostly facing the stunningly verdant green parkway lined with oaks, and the back door facing directly on the lake and private docks. Terminating our tour near the Wisconsin, Illinois, state line, we booked it to downtown Milwaukee, another old city on the lake front. As we drove along, Ruth mentioned that the neighborhoods didn't look the same as Chicago. I told her in fact that if you closed your eyes and were transported to most neighborhoods in Chicago it would look exactly the same, that we were just previously in an upscale youth-oriented entertainment area of the city. Much of inner city, middle-class Milwaukee has either the classic brown stone fa├žade or older (and more fire-endangered) two- and three-story wooden frame and face buildings.

Our destination was downtown, in the midst of urban renewal, to the Mariner Building, a former Art Deco period office turned National Register Hotel, and a class act.



Our room had high ceilings remaining from the original office construction with living room suite separated from the bedroom, and a bath as big as our living room at home, by a partition wall. All the sofas and chairs were Deco period originals 


it seemed, and the hotel and room appointments were first class throughout. Our only entertainment this night was a long, slow, delicious, dinner, and an all-night lightning and thunder storm.

Before we left Milwaukee we had to stop at the European Homemade Sausage Shop


which had been at that location since 1973 in a building built for similar production in 1905, to get some Polish sausage and bratwurst for our camping dinner that night, across the lake in Michigan, at a campground with mostly large families and even larger, voraciously large, mosquitoes. That night, a night of the fullest and brightest moon of the year, and the Solstice, we sat at our picnic bench as darkness fell at 10:30 pm and watched the fireflies send signals of enticement to each other. Ruth went tentward to get away from the bloodsuckers and read, and I stayed by the fire to sit in the smoke and escape the mosquitos for a bit until I noticed a change in the smell of the air, to a sweet wetness. Looking up, I saw a line of clouds closing in on the super bright moonlight and realized that rain was imminent. Feeling the possibility, I had previously put up the rain fly over the tent. Sure enough, around midnight, we were wakened by drops of rain lightly tapping the tent top, building into a staccato, then joined by bright flashes of lightning, thunder, and a continuous waterfall of rain which serenaded us all night.

During the past year, while planning for our trip, I mentioned that I had never been to Mackinac Island. (pronounced Mackinaw and if this doesn’t make sense to you, go talk to the Indians who made up the word, which probably means “place of future flies,” or chat with the French who heard the word, wrote and spoke it as they thought they heard and as we don’t see today. I’ve never seen a Cadillaw but I've seen a Cadillac.) If you’ve ever studied French you will know that they are famous for throwing letters into words that don’t belong and have no consistent pronunciation.

We decided to take the car ferry across Lake Michigan to cut several hours off our driving time and mix in more adventure



As I am somewhat bound by the nature of this blog to describe portions of our musical entertainment, I will mention that we were held captive by the sing-song loud voice of Mr. Cell Phone Man, who drove everyone around him nuts with boring personal news, repeated more than once, until his phone lost reception suddenly and blessed silence ensued.  The deep thrum of monster diesel engines thrust us forward, leaving a mile wake behind us in a 360-degree panorama of only water.

Dang, these sucker lakes were carved out by glaciers 10,000 years ago and left a stunning amount of precious water behind for our sustenance and boating and fishing pleasure. Also an interesting YouTube video on how the lakes were formed.


Much of the real music, and blues of a northern sort, centered around the historical wrecks that occurred in these lakes from unexpected monster storms that arose. Here is a link to Gordon Lightfoot's famous song about the Edmund Fitzgerald. I pondered the possible eventuality of this happening while ferrying on the water, much like a claustrophobic person attempts to wish forward the light at the end of a long tunnel.

Getting over to Mackinac Island, which has no vehicle transportation except bike and horse as I mentioned, is a wonder of modern logistics. You get your hotel in advance by the way. Make your reservations on the ferry in advance (and if you don’t print out your e-ticket the system crashes -- um, e-ticket?). You meet a man who directs you to another man who finds out your hotel, takes your luggage from you, and tells you under his foreign-accented breath that your bags will be ready for you when you get to the island. He takes away your car, you wait in line, get on, and ride the ferry for 20 minutes, then hop off into controlled chaos. You walk, unless you are staying at the super-expensive Grand Hotel, which has a shuttle (and which charges $10 just to see the lobby), to your hotel. To be fair, the entire “public” area of the island is concentrated in one tiny approximate two-block area right on the lake front, and our walk took a little less than 10 minutes. Oh, and the luggage? You get to the hotel and tell the desk people and within minutes, a guy magically shows up at your door with your bags…whew! It all seems to work after over 100+ years and millions of tourists.

The walk to our hotel kept us chuckling and chortling like barnyard chickens as we passed the ubiquitous T-shirt, fudge, tchotchkes, resort wear, restaurants, buggy ride kiosks, and stores, packed into a two-block concentration. No cars…now, I gotta tell ya, if I moved here and had to work, I would run, not walk, to the town horse-shit sweeping office, because this is the best game in town. It’s everywhere, friends, and wherever it is, there are flies. Now, wherever there are flies, the horses are really cranky and when they get cranky, they crap on the street, so working in this field of endeavor is self-perpetuating and in demand!

After a grand night at the best restaurant we could find, where we bought a “found” bottle of Napa cabernet, we closed our evening off at Horn’s Pub, where the barman congratulated us for being "old people with cool meaningful tattoos" (WTF!). We were entertained by a lone guitarist who used his iPad to provide voice accompaniment (how the heck does he do it?) and played decent folk, rock, and blues. Our barmaid recommended that we go to Marquette, Michigan, next because it’s such a cool place…and by golly, we are going there next!

Did we break down and ride the buggy? Ruth will tell the story.


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