In Search of the Northern Summer: Part I

I am not known for being spontaneous. It’s not to say that I enjoy a life devoid of surprises; I’m just uniquely fascinated by the repetition of things that are not painful. When looked at through this lens, there’s a lot about everyday life that is at least good enough if not downright pleasurable enough to be repeated. Sometimes, though, I wonder what it would be like to be spontaneous — devil-may-care, reckless, etc. So, what do I do? I do something spontaneous! I start by planning… oops.

James and I saw a busy summer coming on the horizon, so I decided back in mid-May that it would be a fun idea to hit the road and head for the Leelanau Peninsula in Michigan, stay at a B&B, and laze around for a couple of days, taking in the scenery and serenity of a truly northern summer.

To make what was a fairly short and therefore well-planned vacation at least seem spontaneous, I devised a little scheme of self-deception:

We awoke on a Tuesday morning and did our usual getting ready for work things. Then, on the way to work, I turned to James and said, “You know, you’ve got some vacation time, I’ve got some vacation time… we should just go somewhere and rest for a couple of days, don’t you think?”

He turned to me and said, “That’s probably not a bad idea. Where would we go?”

To make a long story short, I said that we should leave that night for Michigan and see if Nicole could come with us. “Just tell them you’ll be gone for a couple of days, they’ll understand… What’re they going to do? Fire you? You don’t need to give them notice before you leave town for a few days,” I said to Nicole, in my most devil-may-care tone.

And so, according to my make believe, spontaneous fantasy, that’s how we found ourselves hopping into the car after a nice dinner and driving down Lakeshore Drive, past the beautiful skyline of Chicago, headed for Michigan. Really, though, we’d planned weeks ago to drive to St. Joseph and stay at a cheapola hotel for the night and wake up in the morning, bright and early, to finish the journey to Leelanau. But, we at least pretended that we didn’t know where we were going.

The drive to St. Joseph is pretty uneventful. That particular part of Indiana is like an alien landscape of smokestacks, warehouses, abandoned industrial centers, all of them casting a greenish-grey haze with their warning lights and imposing structures set against a fairly desolate backdrop. All this and the occasional casino or strip joint thrown in for flavor and you’ve pretty much got the full picture. We’ve traveled this particular road several times on our various fruit-picking excursions. So, as James passed effortlessly into deep slumber in the backseat, Nicole and I entertained ourselves by playing the Alphabet Game, singing along with the radio, and counting the miles until our exit.

We awoke the next morning to a bright and balmy day. As is our tradition when staying in St. Joseph, we made the 10-minute trek to Stevensville, MI, for a visit to one of our favorite breakfast dives: Bert’s Breakfast Korner (which we fondly call “Bert’s”).

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Bert’s offers your typical, diner-style breakfast, but there’s something just so inexplicably homey about the place that you can’t resist coming back again and again. IMG_0838From the cute wall coverings, the fish trophies scattered about on the walls — you almost feel like you’ve always known this place. It’s funny how a place can work that sort of magic — especially when it’s probably not contrived. Even their restroom has the same effect on me. It reminds me of my grandparent’s bathroom — has the same kind of wall covering. I almost expect to come out and see my grandparent’s living room.

The coffee is some of the best you’ll find in any diner (though I suppose that’s not saying a whole lot), the food is always prepared exactly as you ordered it, and the service is entirely too friendly. No… I’m serious. Your coffee cup will never go empty at Bert’s. In fact, you can hardly finish a sentence without someone passing your table and saying, “More coffee?” James has about one cup of coffee per day and makes no exception at Bert’s, so he has to throw garbage into his empty cup so that he isn’t constantly asked if he needs more coffee!

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On this particular visit to Bert’s I ordered my usual: the McBert (an English muffin sandwich with a fried egg, a sausage patty, and cheddar cheese). But, seeing as how it was vacation and we had a long car ride ahead of us and weren’t planning to eat lunch, I ordered a short stack of their Buttermilk Pancakes with Walnut Halves & Banana Slices. Sweet breakfast heaven, I tell you!

After breakfast, we drove back north to downtown St. Joseph to mill around its picturesque downtown for a few minutes. Downtown St. Joseph is right on the shore of Lake Michigan and offers beautiful views. With the blue water and white sand, you might sometimes forget you’re not at the ocean.

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Full of quaint little shops ideal for shopping or even just window shopping, the downtown area offers a little bit of everything. Nicole loves stopping in at the little artist’s co-op, Chartreuse. There are some particular artists whose jewelry work she’s quite fond of. James and I enjoy browsing some of the unique sculptures and pottery while Nicole does her serious shopping.

My favorite shop is the G&M Variety Five & Dime. It’s such a neat little store — and it has everything you could think of — including things you didn’t know you needed! Just walking in the door takes me back to weekend outings with my paternal grandmother, Maw Maw Patsy, to the little Five & Dime type store (it was called TG&Y). We’d spend what seemed like hours browsing around in TG&Y, soaking in the air conditioning, and just enjoying ourselves. G&M looks and smells just like that store and I can’t quite figure out how. I’ve decided to stop trying to figure it out and just enjoy it.

IMG_0843IMG_0845In here, you can find chotchkies and bumper stickers galore, of course, but also some pretty good deals on kitchen gadgets, socks — so many random things. James and I have, on past trips, loaded up the car with canning jars when we found a sweet deal. It must be what Main Street America was like before Wal-Mart got their greedy hands on it, I think. G&M has been in this same location since 1939 and I hope they’re there forever.

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On our way back to the car to continue our trip north, we stopped in at Forever Books and met the sweetest, most lovable giant dog ever. She was such a sweet and gentle giant — just the kind of dog you’d need for a busy little bookstore mascot. IMG_0851Her fur was indescribably soft. I wanted to take her with us! Alas, the car was already loaded down with luggage and we had plans for a fruit-picking excursion on our way home. So, no room for the giant dog.

We headed north from St. Joseph along the scenic Highway 31 which seldom takes you far from majestic views of Lake Michigan. We made excellent time until we spotted the famed Cherry Hut in Beulah, MI. Can you say cherry pie?! The Cherry Hut has been in business since 1922 and in its current location since 1937. For many vacationers, it’s a must-stop road-trip tradition.

It seemed a tad insane to get a slice of cherry pie (a la mode, even!) when we were only about 30 minutes from our dinner destination, but, it was our vacation, after all! Nicole loved the pie… I thought it was “good”. In my opinion, it was too sweet, but I think I’ve gotten a little used to being in charge of the sugar content of my desserts. The texture was great, needless to say, and — tempered with that scoop of vanilla ice cream — no one could turn down this pie!

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Finally, we hopped in the car to head to our second-to-last destination of the day… but I’ll leave that for the next post. (delicious suspense)

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~ by Jason on July 23, 2010.

6 Responses to “In Search of the Northern Summer: Part I”

  1. So I take it Bert’s is in Michigan?? Sounds deliciously wonderful. I want to go next time!! Instead, I am taking a train to Conn. this evening for a 19 hr ride to see my nephew get married. I am looking forward to it…but it was planned way in advance!!
    Love,Sally

    • Yep, Bert’s is a little south of St. Joseph in a little town called Stevensville. They’re a small place — one of the few places that’s still cash only and has no website to speak of. If you do a search for it, though, on the internet, LOTS of people are talking about it.

      Hope your trip goes well. Have fun!

  2. Spontaneous…indeed! Wish I could have made this trek with you guys! I do miss Bert’s and all the charm of St. Joseph’s. I am trying to plan a vacation for us right now. I am not sure where or when we will be going but your entry here has made for some real food-for-thought!

  3. I love the Cherry Hut. My family has a cottage in Onekama and we often drive up 31 to Platte River and/or Traverse City. I don’t think I’ve ever actually stopped at the Cherry Hut, but it makes me happy that you did! 🙂

    • We’re interested in stopping back in when we’re back in the area, someday. I’d be interested in trying some of their other stuff (and skipping the too sweet pie, of course).

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