I traced a big circle by car. I began by driving to Sarnia and crossing into Michigan. West to Flint, and on the I-75, straight north up the Lower Peninsula to the Mackinac (that’s Mackinaw) bridge and Upper Michigan. On the UP, I made a small circle (on other trips to the UP I ventured further west than this time around) – West on 2, along the north shore of Lake Michigan to Manistique, then back east a little and up the 77 to Seney, east on the 28 until it runs into the 75 near the Soo, and across the bridge to Canada. East on the 17, the 69 and south as it becomes the 400. When I was a kid, the main chunk of the 400 ended at Barrie, followed by a 2-laner my dad used to call The Big 400. Now of course the 400, 69 and 17 are one seamless line of highway.
Within the small circle within the big circle, I drove over many county roads and many more roads so small I can only call them two-tracks. In Upper Michigan, many of these two-tracks, roads so small tree-branches scrape the sides of the car, roads so small, you might reconsider driving them without 4-wheel drive, many of these tiny roads have signs where you turn onto them, identifying them by number. They are serious about their roads in Upper Michigan. Twice while I fished the Driggs river, a truck drove along the two-track that followed the stream, grading it. This road may have seen two or three cars on each of the days I was on it. Upper Michigan has dozens and dozens of these tiny roads. Most of them go to hunt or fish camps or along rivers and creeks or they dead end at some little swampy lake in the middle of the middle. I’m convinced some others go nowhere, but are just remnants of the logging and the mining that exploited the UP along the way.
I had forgotten all about party stores and when I arrived on the UP and started seeing them, my first thought was party store, why would they have a store that sells party supplies way up here in the middle of the middle? And then I realized that that party stores on the UP sold a different kind of party supplies….the name simply meant “buy your booze here”. Of course at the Seney Party Store, you could also buy pelts.
And everywhere I was reminded I was in America.
Welcome bikers. Welcome fishermen. The Flag. In Gemfask, there was even a tank and a memorial. The red and white oil drum in the photo is there for you to drop in any American flags in need of replacement. The sign on the drum reads, “flags for burning only”. Even some restaurant menus contained memorials. The closest thing I can think of to this in Canada is the Highway of Heroes stretch of the 401, the road taken by vehicles bringing back fallen Canadian soldiers who died in the line of duty. The restaurant pictured above, Tovey’s Jolly Inn, the home of the Jolly Burger, served a mighty fine breakfast. I knew it would be good because it was at the top of the list on their sign, above BBQ Ribs, Fish Fry, Pasties and the aforementioned Jolly Burger.
Throughout the UP, there are places that sell Pasties, and often at the same stop, Smoked Fish, or more specifically, Smoked Whitefish. I told myself that this time I was going to try some famous UP pasty action AND some smoked Lake Michigan Whitefish. Unfortunately, it seemed that I usually passed these places in the morning, at which time pasties and smoked whitefish were the furthest things from my mind. So once again, I have missed out. I regret this. I really wanted to try one. Most nights at dinner time, I returned from a day of fishing, and I fired up my portable charcoal bbq and grilled up some meat and veggies for dinner. The idea of driving out to get a pasty just didn’t work for me. Next time, no matter what, I’m having pasties and smoked whitefish. Promise.
One thing the same on both sides of the border within my big circle is that little tourist places are hurting bad. Dead motels. Dead restaurants. A chip truck sign in front of a burned out trailer. Falling apart ramshackle structures that still have the sign up, telling passers by, hey we had better times. How many people opened up along the highway, full of dreams to make a go of it in a tough economy, where the tourist industry is the best thing going when the mines stop operating and the big clear-cuts are done, and there just aren’t enough tourists to go around. It’s especially hard for the independent. I stopped at a Tims for a coffee in a little town around the North Shore of Lake Huron. There were a dozen cars in the parking lot and there was a line-up at the drive-through. Next door was a “Trading Post”. They were trying everything. They had ice cream and frozen yogurt and souvenirs and First Nations crafts. It was clean, independent and looked inviting, but there were no cars in the parking lot next to Timmy’s. I wish I could say I patronized the little guy, but all I wanted was a small, with milk and half a sugar, so I followed the crowd into the “brand” outfit. I wish I had gone into the place next door and bought a pair of moccasins or something, just to support them. I made up for it a little further down the road, when I saw a fellow selling bird houses on the side of the road. I skidded my buggy to a stop and bought two for the yard, a small one with a bark roof and a two-family log unit that will will make some extended bird family very happy I’m sure.
I enjoyed looking at the selection of houses and feeders. It seemed that each one was unique in some way. All were well made and imaginative. These houses are certainly going to attract some excellent dwellers, birds movin’ on up to 27th Street.
At this point, dear readers, I had the clever idea of ending this post with a video of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers performing New Kind of Neighborhood, linking the song up to the new bird houses making a new kind of bird neighbourhood in our yard. So much for being clever, however. The YouTube Machine failed me. I thought it had everything, but no, no, no, I couldn’t find New Kind of Neighborhood anywhere. However, I did find another fun Jonathan Richman song I really like – Dancing in the Lesbian Bar. There is just no way to segue into that song from this post. Still, it’s a fun song and it’s late and I’m ready for bed and I’d like to end this long post with some light-hearted music, so what the heck. Let’s just enjoy the song and pretend it fits in.
G’night all. I have lots on my mind to post, but it can all wait until tomorrow.