Friday, July 24, 2009

The Drive: to Michigan

Like the adolescent with a hot date after work, I watch the clock, ready to punch out and fly the minute my shop hours are up. We need to get to Escanaba tonight (five hours due north).

I’m out. Run home, Throw down my black work garb, slip on sneakers, toss pack in car. A short drive to pick up Ed at the farmette – and we’re off.


I’m driving and telling stories from the shop floor. For a man who is no longer employed, Ed completely enjoys listening to my work tales. On some days, I wish our roles were revered.

I’m so engrossed in recounting every embellished, drawn out, dramatized detail, that I am unaware of my surroundings.

Why are we in Lake Mills? – Ed asks. He's been mulling this over quietly for a while now and finally, not coming up with any sensible explanation, he poses the question to me. [For those who don’t know our geography, Lake Mills is east of Madison; we’re supposed to be aiming north -- toward Packer territory.]
Aren’t I on 151?

Twenty miles out of Madison and I never noticed that I took the wrong turn.

I make up for my deficiencies by pledging to do the driving for the rest of the day.

If you ever want to do the “around a Great Lake” trip, Lake Michigan is a wonderful choice. But if you live close to it, like we do, then the first leg of the journey – whether you start by going north, or south – is boring. Heading south, you quickly hit Chicago's urban sprawl. Heading north, you can't avoid the endless small cities, b'gosh, of the Fox River Valley.

The night comes quickly.


We bring out a laptop (the car is too old to have a CD player) and listen to books on tape. Ed falls asleep with the first chapter as I push on. Sheets of mist appear in patches as we come closer to the Great Lake. The air is cool. The drive today is mostly in the dark.

We reach Escanaba after midnight. Oh, I remember this town well. We passed through this way last summer – returning from our Lake Huron kayaking trip. Yes, I remember: we had a slight difference of opinion as to whether we should camp or find a bed and shower for the night. So little has changed.

This time, I’m looking for my hard won spot of luxury – the super cheap Super 8 Motel. I’ve learned to stay firm on long days where nothing about pitching a tent sounds attractive.

I’m looking so hard that I barely notice the cop pulling me over. Sigh. In my mind, I run through all the things I could be doing wrong: eating a dinner of bread and cheese while driving, craning my neck in odd ways to find the motel in the dark, moving from one lane to the next in the hope that this will facilitate the search, keeping the car registration stickers in my purse, rather than on the car plates where they belong -- the list is long.

Can I see your drivers’ license and your registration?

Naturally, I can’t find the car registration. I search. Ed wakes up and pokes around, looking very much like he’s searching.

The cop looks up the car plates. He’s a Michigan guy and so he does not really care that my address on the license has not been updated, nor that this year’s stickers are not where they should be.
Your headlight is burned out.

That’s all? I mean – oh no! We do not intend to drive much tonight. Do you know where the Motel 8 is, btw?

The Super 8. Just up the road. Good night, and safe driving.

Ed, do you think I handled that well enough?
You didn’t get a ticket. Well enough.

The motel is completely full. Civilized people, driving through the UP, liking a shower and a warm room. Fellow travelers, moving between Wisconsin and Michigan. Canada too.

A few hours of sleep and it’s morning. This is the big day. Cross Village and my grandparents’ Polonia House is a mere four hours away.