Sunday, August 7, 2022

Random Roundup: Michigan Edition

Because we're at the cabin again this morning (with no Internet), and driving back to metro Detroit this afternoon, I prepared this post ahead of time rounding up some odds and ends from our trip that I haven't yet been able to blog. It will post automatically and I'll be back again live tomorrow, when I once again have Internet access.

First, a gigantic metal flag near the entrance to a car wash in Onaway. You gotta appreciate a car wash called "Larry's Git 'Er Clean."

This dog sticker caught my eye in the Target parking lot near Dave's parents' house. I think we need an Olga version! (Or we would, if we had a car.)

This is a metal plate on the walk-in cooler at his sister's restaurant. I thought it had a pretty cool retro look, but I'm not sure how old it is. It could have been made last year for all I know.

There were some interesting old signs in Sault Ste. Marie...

...including this one, which was a bit of a mystery. The "Edmund Fitzgerald" we all know, but the other two freighters in this mural I wasn't familiar with. Turns out they're legendary large ships from the Great Lakes, but as far as I can tell they didn't meet any sort of tragic end. I guess the theme here is simply "big."

But when it comes to innovative signage, nothing beats Wienerlicious, in Mackinaw City! Yes, that's a big ol' 3-D hot dog on the roof.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Soo Locks

Yesterday we made a trip from Mackinaw City up to Sault Ste. Marie, on the northern edge of the Upper Peninsula, next to Canada. We thought we'd check out the Soo Locks, the engineering marvel that allows shipping between Lake Superior and Lake Huron (and the rest of the St. Lawrence Seaway).

Sault Ste. Marie is about 50 miles north of Mackinaw City. We got there and headed straight for the tour boat docks, next to this big rambling mansion. This house seems like it must have some historical significance.

Once aboard our boat, we started our tour by crossing the river and cruising along the shore of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, which is a much larger city than its Michigan counterpart. We then lingered near the locks with other similar tour boats (above) until we could enter the first lock at left, named after General Douglas MacArthur. (Multiple small boats can use a single lock simultaneously.)

In the second lock from the left, above, you can see a freighter called the American Integrity going through.

The locks look like this. There are four of them, varying in size.

Boats going upriver to Lake Superior enter and tie up to the support walls...

...the massive metal gates close behind them...

...and about 10 million gallons of water flow into the lock, lifting the boat 21 feet until it's level with Lake Superior. The doors at the other end of the lock then open and the vessel continues on its way.

The same thing happens in the opposite direction except that instead of adding water to lift the boat, the lock releases it to lower the boat to the level of the St. Mary's River and Lake Huron. All the filling and emptying of the locks is done by gravity; there's no pumping necessary. It takes 16 minutes to fill the lock and eight to empty it, because fewer channels are used for filling.

Before the locks were built, the river fell 21 feet through a series of rapids, some of which are still visible. Boats and/or cargo were carried overland to get around the rapids, a slow, laborious process. So you can see how the locks changed everything.

After we went through the locks, we went under the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge, which carries traffic from Michigan into Ontario. From this angle you can barely tell, but there's a massive backup on the bridge. (The darker span in the background is a rail crossing.)

From there we cruised over to the north shore (still about 14 miles from Lake Superior proper). There are steelworks along the shoreline, including these piles of taconite iron pellets.

We had some interesting characters on our boat.

Finally we turned and went back through the locks and headed back to port. All told our tour took about three hours, but I found it very interesting. I liked it more than the farting horse tour on Mackinac Island.

We took a quick spin through town before heading back to Mackinaw City. I also got to travel (twice!) over the Mackinac Bridge. The first time I recorded the experience from the back seat...

...and the second time I drove it myself!

Today we're headed back down to the deer-hunting cabin owned by Dave's family. We'll spend one more night there before driving back to the Detroit area with his parents. Dave's sister went home before our Soo Locks trip, so she will no longer be able to provide us with an Internet "hotspot" -- which means I'll be offline until late Sunday. (Dave and I don't even have functioning cell phones at the deer-hunting cabin.)

No Internet?! It's so 1992!

Friday, August 5, 2022

Mackinac Island

Yesterday we spent the whole day on Mackinac Island, where the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan meet near the junction of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. It's a popular holiday spot, particularly in the summer, and the only way to get to the island is by ferry. (Well, there is a small airport, but I think it's for private planes and we are not those people.) Cars are prohibited, so everyone on the island travels by foot, on a bicycle or by horse-drawn wagon. It all feels very Gilded Age.

The hotel in the photo above is where my in-laws spent their honeymoon. Yesterday was their 60th wedding anniversary, so they posed on the steps for a commemorative photo. You can see them raising their hands in victory beyond all the two-wheeled traffic in the street.

We aren't staying on Mackinac, though -- we're in nearby Mackinaw City. We took the ferry over for the day. (And by the way, even though Mackinac ends in a C, it's also pronounced "Mackinaw," just like the town on the mainland. Apparently the city elders there simply decided to adopt a more phonetic spelling. It's very touristy to pronounce "Mackinac" like it rhymes with "heart attack.")

The island is dominated by the Grand Hotel, seen here from the ferry on Lake Huron. It supposedly has the world's longest front porch. We didn't actually go there. Apparently it's crazy expensive and I was fine seeing it from a distance.

As I said, everything on the island is done by horse-drawn carriage. I saw a horse-drawn rubbish cart, and even the Amazon packages come by equine special delivery!

We walked up and down the main street, popping into little shops and stopping at a restaurant called Millie's (named, apparently, for a dog) for lunch. We had a drink at the Iroquois (top photo) which has a beautiful back patio and dock overlooking the water. I had a variation on a Moscow mule -- vodka, ginger beer and lime.

Then we took a horse-drawn carriage tour, which took us off the main drag and into the forested interior of the island. Apparently it's all a state park. The horses for the first leg of our journey were named Merle and Lady, and although I failed to look at Merle's much-touted mustache I could hear Lady's unladylike legendary flatulence. It was like an episode of Seinfeld.

We eventually wound up at a popular scenic spot called Arch Rock. I don't know anything about the geology of this beyond the guide saying it was caused by erosion. But it was pretty impressive. That's a coastal road way down at the bottom, with Lake Huron in the background.

The carriage dropped us at the top of a steep and winding (but scenic!) path near the Michigan governor's summer home. From here we had a nice view as we walked the short distance down into town.

We had dinner at Mary's Bistro Draught House before catching the second-to-last ferry back to the mainland.

And that's when I got my best view of the famous Mackinac Bridge, connecting the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. We're supposed to travel over that bridge today. Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 4, 2022

George, Gerald and Grosbeak

Yes, that is the father of our country, sternly overlooking the fields and farms around Onaway, which (it turns out) is the nearest town to our cabin. There's a metalworking studio and sculpture park, where several of these large artworks by sculptor Thomas Moran are on display.

Here's Dave with his arm up Gerald Ford's nose.

"I'm giving him a Covid test," Dave explained.

That was our "urban" excursion yesterday, going into town to check out not only the sculptures but to have an ice cream at a place that was once but is no longer a Dairy Queen. I had a mint oreo shake, which was pretty yummy, I must say.

Otherwise, there's been a lot of wildlife-watching.

I haven't seen too many deer -- a few from a distance, including one high-tailing it into the woods as we rounded a corner in the car. Supposedly there are elk and bear around too.

But I've seen some interesting birds. I think this is a cardinal, above; I'm not sure why it looks so scrappy. Maybe it's a young one and its feathers are still coming in.

Here's a flicker (at left) taking flight as a rose-breasted grosbeak sits on a branch nearby.

It's interesting how many animals and plants look similar to what I see in the UK. That could be a Scottish thistle, and I found white campion in the lawn.

Today we're off to Mackinac, where I'll have a real Internet connection. (Once again, this post has been agonizingly slow to write.) I haven't been able to respond to comments but I have been reading them and I appreciate you all tagging along on our Michigan adventure!

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Highways of Memory

Well here I am, somewhere in the wilds of Michigan. For once in my life I have literally no idea of my exact location. We drove and drove yesterday on progressively smaller roads until we were winding through the woods on a graded dirt track, and that's how we got to the deer hunting cabin. There is indeed no Internet here -- at least, not yet. Apparently the infrastructure is in place but the cabin hasn't been hooked up.

My Internet connection is being provided via a "hotspot" through my sister-in-law's phone -- which I think basically means my computer is being channeled through her cell phone connection. I have no idea how these things work. But thank goodness they do!

We spent almost all day yesterday in the car. We left Detroit and headed north, passing near the mythical Saginaw of Simon  & Garfunkel fame, and through Tawas and Oscoda. The funny thing about this trip is that it's a nostalgic blast from the past for me. Back in 1998 I went to Michigan from my then-home in Florida to see some friends I'd known in the Peace Corps, and we spent a long weekend at my friend Natalie's vacation home in Oscoda. Well, yesterday, not only did we drive the same roads I took way back then but we even passed my friend's house! (I don't know if her family still owns it, but still...)

What are the odds of that?!

 Here I am in 1998 with my friend Jeri, in front of Zanner's ice cream in Au Gres, near Tawas.

And here I am yesterday, 24 years later, in exactly the same place.

I just find it so strange. I had only a tenuous connection to this part of the world back then, and I certainly never expected to be back again someday with a husband in tow. You just never know where life is going to take you.

Anyway, the drive up was smooth and we eventually arrived in Lincoln, where my sister-in-law Dawn runs a restaurant called the Backwoods Bistro. We all stopped there for lunch -- a mushroom-swiss burger with sweet potato waffle fries for me -- and caught up with family.

We had a quick tour of the kitchen. There's a tiny sticker of Elvis on the wooden door frame of the walk-in cooler. No one knows why. He's an unofficial mascot.

Then we were all back on the road and headed into the wilderness. I haven't had a chance to look around here too much, partly because I'm wary of getting ticks in the grass and underbrush around the cabin. But today I'll put on some insect repellent and long pants and make a go of it. Life is risk, right?

That tiny sign above the window says "There is no app for a day at the cabin." That is certainly true. I feel like I'm tethered to the World Wide Web (is it still called that?) by only the most tenuous, spider-web-like filament. This post has taken ages to write and frankly I'm amazed it has worked.

Now let's see if there are any deer browsing in the grass out there. (Although this is a deer hunting cabin, it will surprised none of you to know that I'm not hunting anything. Not only is it not season, but the only shots I'm ever likely to take are with my camera!)

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

A Chipmunk, a Bluegill and Lt. Uhura

This is where we sat yesterday morning having our coffee, on the deck of Dave's parents' house in Brownstown, near Detroit. They live in a planned senior community and the whole place looks like this. It's neat and tidy and very beige.

While we were sitting out there, we heard a CLUNK and then a lot of frantic squeaking. We'd seen a chipmunk earlier, and I realized that the lower part of a neighbor's downspout had fallen off and the squeaking was coming from inside. So I went over, thinking the chipmunk might be trapped, but it wasn't in the lower, disconnected part of the downspout. I thought maybe it was stuck up higher.

But then we saw it later -- at least I think it's the same one -- looking quizzically at the spout, which it could no longer reach because that brown part had fallen off.

It seemed concerned so I reattached the brown part, thinking it might have a nest in there. Or maybe it needed to rescue a pal. I'm not sure I did it any favors, and I'm sure the neighbors would rather not have chipmunks in their downspout, but I'll let them sort it out.

Anyway, aside from the chipmunk kerfuffle, it was a pretty quiet day. We did some minor gardening with Dave's dad, dividing and transplanting some decorative grass to a couple of different spots near the house. (Of course in this very beige community there are a lot of rules about what you can plant where.) Dave and I also had some errands to run, picking up a gift for his parents' 60th wedding anniversary in a few days, and mailing his ballot request for November to the local elections office.

In the evening we went to a very casual restaurant at a local golf club, known for its diverse menu of freshwater fish. This prompted a discussion about the difference between a perch and a bluegill. To me, they're basically the same thing -- along with bream and sunfish. When I was a kid everyone used all those names interchangeably for the fish in the lake behind our house in Florida, relatively round and flat stripey things.

According to Wikipedia, though -- and it's ALWAYS right (ha!) -- the bluegill is a specific species, whereas bream and sunfish are more general terms encompassing a range of fishes in different genuses. (A bluegill is in fact a type of sunfish and often called "bream.") And the perch, though somewhat similar in its stripey coloring, is really a whole 'nother type of fish, not even really the same shape.

So, yeah, glad I could iron that out for you.

I had bluegill at the restaurant. Of course it was fried, like everything else I've consumed over the past 48 hours.

When we got home I took a long walk around the very beige neighborhood just to get some exercise and work off some of those battered and breaded calories. And then I came back to the house and had cherry pie.

Today we're driving up north to Dave's parents' deer-hunting cabin, which is in the middle of nowhere in northern Michigan (but still in the Lower Peninsula). We're not sure we'll have Internet access there. Just in case, I've prepared a couple of short posts to publish automatically tomorrow and Thursday -- if I can write fresh ones of course I will, but if not, the automatic ones will appear and believe me, you'll be able to tell. (I must keep up my unbroken record of daily blogging!)

On another topic entirely, as a dedicated "Star Trek" fan, I was sad to read about the death of Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura. She was always one of my favorite characters and "The Changeling," in which she features prominently because an interstellar probe called Nomad erases her memory, is one of my favorite episodes.

I saw Nichols in person in January 2011 at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. She appeared on a panel called "Pioneer Women of Television" with Angie Dickinson, Stefanie Powers and Linda Evans. At the time I was in a very brief period of neither blogging nor keeping a journal, so I don't have much record of what I thought about the evening, except that I e-mailed a friend the next day and said: "Stefanie and Angie were awesome, Linda was too quiet, and Nichelle talked too much."

Which sounds a little harsh. Oh well -- I still loved seeing her. Here's a clip of the event, perhaps the part that left me with that impression!

Monday, August 1, 2022


Well, here I am in the Motor City! 

Dave and I arrived yesterday evening around 5 p.m. local time. The flight was smooth enough, but getting out of London was crazy. Our plane was scheduled to depart just before 1 p.m. GMT, and there have been news stories recently about backed-up queues at Heathrow because of staffing issues. So we knew to give ourselves extra time. We left home at 8:30 a.m., got to the airport at about 9 a.m., and used every second of those next four hours to get through check-in and security. I have never seen lines like that.

We did dare to check our bags, even though there have also been stories about baggage being stranded at Heathrow. (I figured if worse came to worst and my bag got left behind I could just go to Target once I got to Michigan. I carried my camera and computer onboard.) Fortunately, we got lucky and our bags arrived too.

The guy who sat next to me -- a college kid named Michael who was coming back from a study-abroad experience at the Courtauld Gallery -- barely made the plane. I thought the seat next to me was going to be empty but he and several others got pulled through the queues by airport staff at the last second so they weren't left behind. He said he'd arrived at Heathrow three hours early, as Delta recommended, but that evidently wasn't enough time.

Anyway, once we were all onboard and in the air it was smooth sailing. I spent the whole flight reading most of Rick Bragg's "All Over But the Shoutin'," a memoir of his childhood in Alabama and his ascension in the newspaper industry that I've been meaning to read for decades. He worked at the St. Petersburg (now Tampa Bay) Times and The New York Times, where I've also worked, and though I didn't know him in either place it was interesting to read about his experiences with people and newsrooms I know well.

Here's what it looked like as we flew over Lake Erie. That's Canada directly below us. I also got a pretty good view of Montreal and thought about how I'd visited there so many years ago.

It's funny how we fly now, isn't it? Airplanes used to be much more social spaces before the advent of the seat-back television. People moved around and talked to each other, and the cabins were bright, with all the windows open. Now everyone is just in their own little world, plugged into their entertainment system, and the airplane's windows are all closed so we're huddled in a dark tube. If you've been reading here for any length of time you'll know I'm normally loath to converse with strangers on long flights, because it can feel a bit claustrophobic. But I wound up chatting with Michael partly because neither one of us watched the TV -- I was reading and he was mostly writing in his travel journal, which I admired, being a compulsive journal-writer myself!

Dave's parents picked us up at the airport and we headed straight for Dearborn to go to dinner at a place called Ford's Garage, which is in the heart of Ford-land.

Here's my pulled-pork sandwich, complete with a bun branded like a steer.

And this was our tower of onion rings, served atop an oil funnel. (Presumably a fresh one!) The bathroom sinks were made of car tires. Dave's parents had been telling us about how fun and quirky this restaurant was so I'm glad we finally got to see it first-hand. My sandwich was good but thank God I got the broccoli as a side dish because otherwise that place was hardly serving health food.

And now it's almost 5 a.m. and I am wide awake. Ah, jet lag!