Sunday, August 17, 2014

Bad postcard of the week: Insensitive Hiawatha and the Upper Peninsula bucket list

Postcards of large plywood paintings could be their own special genre of bad postcards – especially if the painting is an image offensive to anyone not rooting for Washington football teams.

The back reads: “Hiawatha, located on Hwy. M-28, Munising, Michigan. The spirit of Hiawatha can be found at Hiawatha’s Gift Shop on the shores of “Gitche Gumee,” home of the World’s largest replica of Hiawatha, which stands 36 feet high, and 18 feet wide, towering in the primeval forest, he is a sight to all who are young at heart.”

Having just returned from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and having passed through  Munising on Highway 28, I can say that the giant Hiawatha sign is no more.

I did see a giant plywood Santa Claus and the folks from the “Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe” story.

But more importantly, I explored much of the beautiful U.P. with my bucket list in mind. 
Let’s see how we did:

Upper Peninsula bucket list:

1) Cross the Mackinac Bridge.

Didn’t have much of a choice here. The bridge is beautiful and we’re returning Labor Day to walk across the 5-mile span with many, many others. It’s a tradition.

2) Eat a pasty.

I started seeing pasty places as soon as I crossed the bridge into St. Ignance. 

Many of the stores also has signs advertising smoked fish and jerky.

I decided to wait until it was closer to meal time -- and learned that there are plenty of miles between restaurants of any kind once you get out of town. 

And it's a long way between town.

For a pretty big stretch it seemed like the only places I saw were closed motels that once tried to lure motorists with signs reading "electric heat."

I was getting worried that I missed my opportunity and would leave the U.P. pastiless.

Luckily, on day three of the adventure, I spotted a pasty booth at the U.P. State Fair and the long wait was over.

I ordered a chicken pasty and my roomie for the trip dined on a ham and cheese version.They were filled with out meats of choice plus carrots, potatoes, carrots and peas.

Pretty darn good!

A U.P. native I met told me that her grandfather used to take pasties to work and kept his metal lunchbox hanging over a candle all morning to keep them warm until the noon meal.

I did find a store on the way home that sold frozen pasties so I could bring some home for the whole family.

3) Touch Lake Superior.

Done! My route from Munising to Marquette was along Lake Superior, and I was able to slip into a roadside park and touch the lake, as did the Gnome of Victory and Celebration.

It didn't seem as cold as advertised, but I didn’t exactly go wading, either.

But check this out! Driving along this route, the radio station played “Wreck of the Edmund Fiztgerald,” which is about the freighter that sank in Lake Superior, not far from where I was driving.

This might be a very cool coincidence, or the station has the song in a heavy rotation considering the location.

I’m suspecting the former, because the only song I heard repeated was Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” Not only should that song not be played twice on the same day, it shouldn’t be played at all.   

4) Find something with “Say ya to da U.P.” on it.

This was more difficult than I thought. There are many UP stickers for sale, but I had trouble finding the iconic green “Say Ya” sticker. I saw one in a window of a closed store, but there were none to be found when I returned the next day.

Finally, I found one in a gas station outside Escanaba. Uff da!

5) Cross into Wisconsin!

Got it! We had some events in beautiful Menominee, which I knew was near the border. One of my co-workers accidentally traveled into Wisconsin earlier in the day, and pointed out how to get there. Naturally, there was a store with a giant Cheese Mouse.

6) See a moose.

OK, this one is open to interpretation. There are moose in the UP. The Marquette DNR office provided me with a Michigan Moose viewing brochure. There are many references to moose in the UP on signs, shirts and souvenirs.

I did find not one, but two moose statues outside businesses in St. Ignace and more in Manistique. Of course we took Moose selfies.

Nowhere did we say that we needed to have live moose. I’m calling this one good!

7) Get my National Parks passport stamped at the Pictured Rocks Visitors Center.

This was an easy one. There is a shared visitors center for the Hiawatha National Forest and Pictured Rocks National Park. In fact, there were five stamps available. Passports are awesome!

My friend Tammy Webber suggested several more items.

8) Wade in Lake Michigan.

We've done this before, as Lake Michigan is only a half-hour from Grand Rapids. On this trip we saw the very top of the lake – including Green Bay! I did pull over to a public boat launch area and walked out on a rickety dock that was perilously close to the water. That was our bold act for the day.

9) Wade into Lake Superior without crying.

I can report that the Gnome of Victory and Celebration shed no tears!

10) Drive through the Hiawatha National Forest.

Done! This was my route to Marquette. You know, there would be nothing wrong with adding the occasional Panera Bread in a national forest. It was very big.

11) Climb the stairs to the top of the ski jump at Pine Mountain.

We didn't get that far over. But I did get a call out of the blue two weeks ago from a magazine based in Minnesota that writes about Lake Superior. The writer found one of my MLive bad postcard columns about the Copper Peak ski jump and wanted to use some of the photos.

12) Buy Sayklly’s chocolate.

I thought this might be a stumper. But we were in the Delta County Historical Museum in Escanaba and right there on the counter next to the postcards were packages of Sayklly’s chocolates. My friend Lois behind the counter said the store was actually just a couple blocks away.

We scurried over and snagged several yummy Yooper Bars to bring home to the family.

So I enjoyed my first UP adventure, exploring many interesting places and meeting friendly people. I waited 24 years as a Michigander before making my first trip, but I know we’ll head back again. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Bad postcard of the week: Moose, pasties and other adventures in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Not exactly what you think of when you think fine arts.
Fine arts folks are, by nature, a creative bunch.

They don’t just color outside the lines. They create the lines. They like things bold and different

So I can’t imagine the fine arts faculty and students at Northern Michigan University in Marquette were excited to see this week’s bad postcard.

The Russell Thomas Fine Arts Building is depicted in our ghost town genre of bad postcards, where we find somewhat undistinguished government buildings with nary a soul around. This particular postcard gains bonus points for showing us the main building in the unflattering shade.

Well, there’s a chance I might get to see how this building looks today, as I’m headed for my first-ever adventure in the wilds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

OK, technically I’ve been to the U.P. Like many people here in The Mitten, I’ve driven over the iconic Mackinac Bridge, touching down in St. Ignace. We've stopped at Castle Rock, a touristy place not far from the bridge, bought postcards, checked out the fiber glass Paul Bunyon and Babe, climbed to the top of the rock then scurried back over the bridge.

This is like people who cross from Jersey into Staten Island then declare that they've seen New York.
So this week I’m heading all over the U.P. to see some neat things and meet some nice people. There are a number of things I want to check off the personal U.P. bucket list before heading back.

Upper Peninsula bucket list

1) Cross the Mackinac Bridge

OK, this is an easy one. Unless slipping in from Canada or Wisconsin or arriving by boat, the Mighty Mac is the only way to get there. But it’s a good starting point. And the toll booths are the stars of many bad postcards.

2) Eat a pasty.

A U.P. treat! I hear a pasty is meat and veggies wrapped in dough. So, it sounds like a calzone but without the cheese. Legend has it that pasties were brought over from England when the copper and iron mines were first opened in the 1850s. Miners could take them to work for lunch. 

Pasties seem like they'd be good with gravy, but a co-workers says they're better with ketchup. I think she might be setting me up to be outed as a troll -- someone from below the bridge -- and be laughed out of town. I'll carefully peek at what other diners are doing before making any bold condiment requests.

The top one is a pasty, the bottom is a calzone.

3) Touch Lake Superior.

This will complete my collection of Great Lakes. Note that we’re planning to touch Lake Superior and not swim in Lake Superior. Lake Superior is cold. Really, really cold. There might still be ice on the lake.

4) Find something with “Say ya to da U.P.” on it.

This is the Yooper play on the famous “Say Yes To Michigan” tourism campaign. That campaign has long since been replaced. We’re now “Pure Michigan” and proud of it. But the “Say ya” thing remains in the U.P. as a point of pride.

5) Cross into Wisconsin!

Michigan directly borders on three states, and I’ve already crossed into Ohio and Indiana. Now the goal is to see if Yoopers really do affiliate more closely with the Brewers and Packers.

6) See a moose.

OK, New Yorkers are not acquainted with the ways of the moose.

Our vivid imaginations come up with wild stories of moose packs charging unsuspecting cars, smashing glass with their mighty antlers, sucking people out through the windows and dragging them back to their moose dens, littered with the bones of tourists and tattered North Face fleece.

Co-workers claim that none of this is true, and that moose are actually vegetarians.

We’ll see. The Department of Natural Resources publishes a Moose Country guide for moose viewing and I want to see one. I've dubbed this MooseQuest 14.

And take note: The DNR warns that “Caution must be taken when watching moose. Moose should not be approached. They can be unpredictable and aggressive.”

So, moose have something in common with New Yorkers.

7) Get my National Parks passport stamped at the Pictured Rocks Visitors Center.

The National Parks system years ago published passports that encourage travelers to pull into a park visitors’ center and stamp a page with something that looks like a post office cancellation.

This idea has spread to presidential libraries and, more recently, baseball stadiums.

To no one’s surprise, we've driven miles out of our way on several occasions to get our parks passport stamped. We don’t even have to walk around the part, just the visitor’s center. It’s not like there are rules.
In fact, in Washington D.C., there are some places where you can get whole bunches of stamps in one stop.
Michigan does not have many national parks. But there’s one in the U.P. and I won’t be all that far. Must get the stamp!

OK, Yoopers. What am I missing? Let me know and I’ll try to get there or experience it this week!

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Mets, Yankees and the perils of Pop-Tarts

Pop-Tarts used to be carefree. But now I’m wrestling with big decisions.

The pastries taste good whether you toast them or eat them right out of the package. They’re made by Kellogg, based in Michigan, and made right here in Grand Rapids. How can you not love that?

So I was pretty excited when Kellogg rolled out a special, limited edition Printed Fun Pop-Tart featuring Major League teams.

“Favorite or foe, every team has its own Pop-Tart Toaster Pastry in this MLB Limited Series,” the box reads. “Find all 30, and prove you’re a Crazy Good baseball fan.”

The box even comes with a checklist. I’m in – especially since they were on sale at Meijer. 

There are about a million different Pop-Tart flavors these days, and I’m assuming Kellogg picked strawberry for the MLB edition in reference to Darryl Strawberry, the former Mets slugger.

My first box was uneventful, with the Nationals, Marlins, Dodgers, Blue Jays. Yum. We can reflect on nice times with those teams, visiting ballparks and meeting players.

A few days later I opened the second box. The first package – each sealed bag has two Pop-Tarts – produced a Padres Pop-Tart. The brought swift memories of the disastrous first game at Citi Field and Mike Pelfrey serving up a homer to the first batter he faced.

I put it right in the toaster. No need to dwell on unpleasantness.

The second one in the bag –I saw blue and orange, a familiar skyline—It was the Mets! Yes!

The search was over and the MDP – Most Desired Pastry – was obtained!

But this produced the first dilemma. What can we do with a collectible Pop-Tart? The basement baseball room is the family shrine to all things Mets, and surely there could be a place for the Mets Pop-Tart among the bobble heads, posters and yearbooks.

But how long would it last? None of the other collectibles in the room are edible. It’s not like someone makes a screw-down Pop-Tart plastic protection slab like the ones used for baseball cards.

We considered shadow boxes and those little easels you can use for little picture frames. No decision has been made and we’re open to suggestions.

So the Mets Pop-Tart remains in the bag in the box, safe from danger.

Today I was ready for another Pop-Tart and happily opened a bag, hoping that there could be a second Mets Pop-Tart in one box.

Then it happened. A Pop-Tart with a big NY, but not the one we all love. It was a Yankees Pop-Tart.
I quickly dropped it on the counter.

I suppose that deep down, I knew this could happen. But with 30 teams and only eight Pop-Tarts to a box, I was hoping to be spared.

Shouldn't there be a warning on the box? It does say in big red letters "Due to possible risk of fire, never leave your toasting appliance or microwave unattended."

So why not add: "Warning. This box could contain a Yankee-decorated Pop-Tart. Apologies." 

Even worse, it’s a Yankees Pop-Tart during St. Derek F. Jeter’s final season. 

While this Pop-Tart would have better range at short than Derek, it lacks his intangibles.

If Yankee myths were true, he’d make all the other Pop-Tarts in the box better. I can tell you that is not the case, because I ate the Rockies version that also was in the bag, and it tasted like a regular strawberry Pop-Tart.

So here’s the second dilemma: What am I going to do with this thing?

I’m can’t eat it. I can only imagine what it tastes like – old, broken, over-hyped. Yuck.

It’s not like I can give it to my family. The last thing I want is crying kids. “Daddy, we thought you loved us!”

I could take it to work. At my old job, people would leave things on the kitchen counter and it would be gone in seconds. At one point we realized it was pretty sad that we were pouncing in Panera Bread leftovers from a honcho meeting. It didn't stop us, because we like Panera Bread. But it was still sad.
Not even the squirrels wanted this thing.
I thought maybe I could stick it in the bird feeder and keep the squirrels away.  Maybe the Blue Jays and Cardinals could peck away at it.

No luck. It scared them away, too.

Tomorrow I’m going back to poppy seed bagels. It’s much safer.