The Travel Section of the NYT Got to Us…

As much as I like to adventure and explore, it’s rare when a fleeting idea turns into reality. And this particular adventure happened because of my mom’s voracious appetite for beach-combing in Michigan and kitschy little bookstores. (Although I don’t think I could totally rule out my desire for a short getaway either). In May, I got sucked in to the New York Times travel section online and stumbled across an article that screamed, “YOU MUST TELL MOM!”. The article was called “As American as Cherry Pie”, but pie was mentioned as an added bonus to the article’s centerpiece: the McLean and Eakin Booksellers store tucked away in quiet Petoskey, Michigan. The article’s author, a fiction writer herself, raved about the stores’ employees—women who can pin you with a book recommendation (or several) based on what you’ve read recently and lead you down a path to accumulate as many books as you possibly can, all while having an appetite to actually buy and devour each written word encased in their covers. I immediately posted the article to my mom’s Facebook wall, knowing that she would probably think “oh, wouldn’t that be nice?”. Now, mind you, my family (especially my mom) is known for packing up in record time and headed to some place that’s a few hours drive away just to soak up some new scenery. I guess I didn’t realize the extent of this genealogical effect until my mom commented on my post on her wall with these words: “I love a good bookstore! And I love Michigan! So a good bookstore in a place I love IS heaven! When do you want to go?”. Within a few short hours of me telling her about the article and the cute little bookstore we could peruse, we had decided on a date to take the plunge, to drive up to Petoskey, and spend a relaxing couple of days reading and beach-combing.

The first leg of my trip included a lakeside scenic trip from Chicago to Grand Rapids. Amtrak’s line toward G.R. curves around the lake, and, when the summer sun was setting, I found myself feeling like I wasn’t in the Midwest at all. The lake looked like the Pacific and I was going north along the east coast. …Except I wasn’t going that east and my train stopped smack dab in the center of Michigan. My mom scooped me up & we navigated our ways to our hotel for our one-night stay in Grand Rapids, resting up for a short mid-morning drive to Petoskey.

The drive northward is straight out of a Hemingway novel (or so I’ve been told). The relative flatland of southern Michigan gives way to rolling topography the farther north you get. Case in point: our romp to Deadman’s Hill. After seeing a tiny roadside sign reading “Deadman’s Hill Lookout”, we knew a U-turn was in order. We flipped the car, drove down a well-paved road that transformed itself into a pebble road needing some maintenance, and drove up to the lookout. After walking from the car to the outlook, we came to the sign pictured here, which reads: “The period of early logging in the hills of the Jordan River Valley was marred by several fatal accidents. The last known and best recalled tragedy took the life of 21-year old Stanley (Big Sam) Graczyk, a fun loving lumberjack, soon to be married. He became legend on May 20, 1920 when he was killed while driving a team and big wheels loaded with logs down a steep slope near here. Anthony (Tony) Wojciechowski who was with Big Sam when he died is responsible for the accurate recounting of this legend. This high point, with its commanding view of the valley, has ever since been known as Deadman’s Hill”. From there on out, Sam and Tony were the stewards of our adventure, although our adventure wasn’t quite as adventurous as theirs.

It turns out Hemingway’s influence was not limited to the fact that we were visiting his old stomping grounds. For dinner the first night in Petoskey (which was a Sunday), we went to the City Park Grill. Turns out Hemingway used to sit at the seat second from the end at the bar, scribbling away his novels. The history goes beyond fiction writers and straight to our taste buds from there. As both my Mom and I are always open to trying a new brew, both of us ordered the hoppy Hangin’ Frank from Short’s Brewery in Michigan. Yes, “Hangin’ Frank”. Whatever you’re picturing, it’s correct. The keg pull at the bar immediately caught our eye, probably because of such a literal and straightforward interpretation of the guy after whom it’s named. Turns out Hangin’ Frank is an IPA made exclusively for the City Park Grill and is named after Frank Fochtman, a former owner of the grill and the establishment’s longtime running ghost. Let me tell you, I am not a seasoned “dead-guy-dedicated” beer drinker. In fact, I’ve never had a beer named after a ghost before. But having experienced this “first” in the Grill that Frank actually haunts, I can tell you the beer was even more tasty than if I hadn’t known the story behind the brew.

After dinner, we walked down to the pier and meandered a bit of the lakefront immediately accessible to the central business district of Petoskey. The sun was going down and it was one of those summer nights when you felt like you could take your time doing whatever you were doing, but upon calling it a night you would be totally unable to tell someone exactly what it was that you did. ….Or maybe we had just reached the point of extreme relaxation. The next morning we had planned to go to American Spoon Cafe for breakfast, having passed by it later on Sunday past hours. I literally could have spent the entire afternoon at the cafe reading. And although it wasn’t the sunniest of days, the entire cafe seemed to be flooded with light. The gelato looked enticing but I was in the mood for something hearty and unique. I landed on the Smoked Whitefish Omelette and a cup of fresh Joe. I was NOT disappointed. I can still taste the smoked whitefish in my mouth! If I had already found a tome to devour, I would have been happy at American Spoon for at least 5 hours. But alas, we had not yet visited the Bookstore that had given us an escape route to Michigan.

I know I’ve been leading you on. I know that I have intentionally created hype surrounding the bookstore that was supposed to be the answer to our book-loving and book-buying dreams. Alas, I was not as impressed with the bookstore as the writer of the New York Times article. But that didn’t stop me from buying three books and finishing one in the next day, before arriving back home in Chicago. Every avid book reader I know could probably think of a bookstore that seems to be good lucky for him/her; a place where he or she can always go to find a book, no matter what kind of book they might be in the mood for. I’m not saying “don’t go to McLean and Eakin”. I’m saying “allow the books in their selection to talk to you”…and if you happen to walk out of this treasure with a stack of books you just can’t wait to crack the spines of then please DO write me and give me your take on the store!

Other than great food (that comes with great stories), a recommended bookstore (yes, despite my reservations), and a breath-taking shoreline (literally), Petoskey offers the chance to delve into a dream of being a homebuyer for all those that are not already (or who would love to own a summer home). Driving north of Petoskey’s downtown area, you come across a one-mile stretch of houses that are right out of a summer dreamland–where all the kids are neighborly and nice to one another K-8, and where parents really have not a care in the world. And to be honest, I think I would have no choice but to lead a carefree life if I lived in one of the Bayview Association homes.  I’ll leave with your own dreams……