SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
I always thought Heaven was a warm place. Lots of sunshine, tropical breezes -- no need for air conditioning, but no heating bills, either. (Hell has lots of ice -- and not in your drink.)
That’s my theory. And yet Heaven for me, this vacation at least, was a cool place called Bellaire, Michigan.
I must start out by apologizing to my five regular readers, who expect a certain amount of mayhem and property damage with my tales. The most remarkable thing about my journey is the unusual lack of dents and/or bruises, so instead here’s something of a travelogue. Some of you might remember the space-busting article I wrote the last time I left Indiana, for a trip to Gettysburg.
I’m still not sure why they printed that one. It was huge. If I keep this one short and still get a paycheck, I’ll be breaking even.
Anyway, it was the typical packing experience, which means either packing exactly what you need and realizing halfway there that you forgot something vital, or not using 90% of what you stuff into the car. I always go for overkill, so the only thing we forgot this time around was my shampoo. On a related note, why do teenagers insist on having shampoo that smells like a produce market? The scent of my hair kept me constantly hungry; I gained five pounds.
But that’s okay, because once I got the fish tank and computer desk secured to the roof we had an easy five hour trip, averaging one construction zone per hour. On a related note, don’t trust GPS mapping systems -- the little computer voice likes to take you onto toll roads that can easily be avoided by driving through scenic Amish country.
How could I afford this trip? Free housing. My ex-father-in-law let his grand kids take their dad up to the family cottage for a weekend. Is that cool, or what? His name is Robert Probst, a retired judge, and he’s quite possibly the single nicest guy I’ve ever met -- which kind of throws all my lawyer jokes out the window. The man’s a saint. Actually, I don’t think Lutherans have saints, but you get the idea.
Indiana judges are among the lowest paid in the country; a man with Judge Probst’s work ethic would be rich if he’d stayed in private practice, but he chose to serve the people before himself. The cottage is the result not of making lots of money, but of the long-lost art of frugality. Is that word even in the dictionary anymore?
Although modest by the standards of northwest lower Michigan, it’s meticulously taken care of and just plain -- cozy. I can’t really describe the feeling of being up there. It’s quiet, comfortable, relaxing -- the dark of night is actually dark, and it’s so quiet at night you sometimes have to snap your fingers to make sure you haven’t gone deaf.
During the day the common sounds are boat motors and small airplane engines. This is a huge tourist area. You could dump all the Noble County lakes into Lake Bellaire, then make your way down Grass River to Torch Lake, which is a million miles long and as wide as Stephen King’s imagination -- then you could go from there onto Lake Michigan, all without leaving your boat.
While the kids and I were sitting out on the Judge’s boat one day (we loved to just sit on the boat at anchor -- I can’t explain it), we watched the Antrim County Sheriff’s Department get into a boat pursuit with a jet ski. The hapless jet skier, like many foolhardy motorcyclists, might have temporarily escaped with a little luck, but had a sudden flash of intelligence and pulled -- um -- “over”.
If that patrol boat had been dropped into Sand Lake at our Chain O’ Lakes State Park it could start at one end, and hit the other bank before getting up to full speed. Still, there are several similarities between northeast Indiana and northwest Lower Michigan, starting with the fact that the two areas share many of the same people. We actually followed someone with an Allen County license plate as we approached the cottage, and the Judge couldn’t go a mile without encountering someone he knew. I guess Antrim County is attractive because it’s a short trip, but a nice getaway.
There are other similarities: Bellaire became county seat because it was in a central location, just like Albion. Originally growth was on one side of Antrim County, but as the population grew the people voted for a place nearer the center, and eventually they changed the name of that new town at the recommendation of one of the town fathers. Those of you familiar with the history of Noble County may now have an eerie feeling of deja vus.
Similarly, the basic design of the Antrim County courthouse has an uncanny resemblance to the Noble County Courthouse. I’m told they were designed by the same man, although I’ve never confirmed that.
Bellaire is one of a chain of lakes often called -- wait for it -- “Chain of Lakes”. The Judge took us to eat at the Dockside Restaurant one day (do I need to mention you can dock your boat right at this eatery?), and as I swung the camera around (I had to buy another memory card -- I’m such a photo-junky), I noticed an ad on a wooden bench across the River: an ad for Chain O’ Lakes Realty. Of course, down here we have Chain O’ Lakes State Park, although tourism in this area has never become the major economic engine that it has up there.
Overall I was happy just to float around, reading and soaking up the sun, although my oldest got a couple of inner tube rides in. On a related note, why does 25 mph on a boat seem so much faster than 25 mph in a car?
There’s also skiing -- water and snow -- and plenty of golf. Apparently the two golf courses I saw, The Legend and The Chief, are quite well known, but I’ve never taken the sport up because I can’t afford the insurance. I had to admire the giant Chief’s head at the entrance of the latter; the older I get, the more I cheer on political uncorrectedness.
Speaking of which, my birthday was on the Saturday of our trip, and the weather was miserable. Cold, rainy, gloomy; I read several chapters of a really good book, ate Mackinaw Island Fudge ice cream, and had a great time.
Not that we didn’t go out -- we walked the shores of Lake Michigan, where huge swells were crashing against the pebbly shore. Well, large by my standards. Despite my hypothermia, I was fascinated by the constant roar of wind and waves, the expanse of water, the rocks, and the general feeling that I was in another world.
See? All went well, right down to two of the most amazing sunsets you can imagine -- I don’t know what it is about the sunsets up there. I read two -- count em, two -- novels, and in the pursuit of someday having my own vacation cottage I completed an outline and prep work for a novel of my own. The only time any real problems resulted was when the kids had to drag me out to the car to go home.
Now, no paper not titled “Mark Times” would think of printing more than a fraction of the pictures I took, so anyone who’s got an internet connection is welcome to check out http://s25.photobucket.com/albums/c97/ozma914/, go to “Michigan Trip 07”, and be bored to tears. There will be no blackmail material, sorry.
And for those of you looking forward to my regular writing, don’t worry -- I’m sure something will go horribly wrong soon.
Oh, and sometimes you see the neatest things along the roadway ...