When I do get around, I write about it. If you want to read exclusively about my visits to United States presidential sites, you can do that over here.
Once upon a time I went to the Motown studio in Detroit. That same trip, I toured Belle Isle, but I lost my wallet there. The trauma was enough that there are no entries below. My visit to Grand Rapids is over at the Gerald Ford page.
July 11, 2007
People are at their most inspiring when they enjoy what they do. It's not a matter of greatness -- even everyday activities can be remarkable when performed with a certain elan. We're drawn to enjoyment.
Lakenland, on MI-28 just east of Marquette, falls somewhere between extraoridnary and everyday. It is definitely inspiring. I drove past it Wednesday afternoon with no warning: there were no signs, it wasn't on any of my maps, I hadn't stumbled across it online. I was just cruising along the Lake Superior coastline at 60 mph when I saw a large metal dinosaur lying on its back about 60 feet off the road. After a minute, I decided to turn around and figure out what the hell I had just seen.
It's a sculpture park -- one owned and operated by an artist who claims never to have seen a sculpture park. Tom Lakeland makes things from junkyard scraps, and starting in 2003 he started displaying his art by the roadside. The collection now includes about 60 works, arranged in a simple loop that can be walked or driven. The road is dirt and it's roughly cut out of the forest. It's free, and it's open 24/7.
The art itself is bizarre -- there are quasi-populist installations (a giant "Enron" pig pooping on the common man) mixed with a lot of weird anthropomorphic wolf people (Tex Avery without the zoot suits). Abstract geometric patterns are a stone's throw from a gigantic marlin. There's an alligator made out of rebar. Some things look like they'd be better off on the lawn of a trailer park, but then again, if they found all this stuff in a storage locker after he died, someone would call him a folk artist and people would get their Ph.D.s debating the existential meaning of "Sheet Metal Lumberjack Np. 2."
Forget the aesthetics, though. What makes Lakenland worthwhile is that it exists at all: a man has dropped a sculpture park in a remote corner of the United States, not for money or fame, but because he enjoys making sculpture. He's probably crazy (almost definitely, judging from the skeleton on the throne), but like I said before, he's inspiring.
St. Ignace Mystery Spot
July 13, 2007
If you're sick of the laws of physics keeping you down, you might want to check out the Mystery Spot in St. Ignace. Things happen there so bizarre, so unexplainable, that there is no other place like it on Earth.
Oh, except for Santa Cruz.
Water runs uphill! Gravity leans to one side! Democrats vote Republican! Dogs and cats lie together as man and wife! $7 disappears from your wallet!
I will not ruin the mysteries for you, but if anyone wants to go halfsies, I'm pretty sure we could make our own totally unique glitch in the universe with about $5,000 in lumber and a small hill. It's a license to print money, and souvenir T-shirts which can be sold for more money.
July 13, 2007
The last time I saw Tahquamenon Falls there was snow on the ground, the river was frozen and all the trails were shut down. I went back today for the summer experience. Regardless of season: 1) the water is yellowish; 2) the water is kind of foamy. It has something to do with the tannin the river absorbs from nearby swamps. The effect is a gigantic waterfall of light beer, and the illusion is helped by the World's Largest Bowl of Pretzels nearby.
While I was there I gave trail running a try. I have worn trail running shoes every day for the last five years, because I am cheap: they look like sneakers and they last about five times as long 'cuz they're made from harder rubber. And do the ladies like them? You know they do.
This was the first time I ever actually ran through a forest, though -- four miles downriver followed by a walk back upriver. I was hoping for something like the end of "The Last of the Mohicans." Mostly, you just get strange looks from people walking the trail with their dogs.
Maybe the assless chaps were a bad idea.
Michigan to Kentucky
July 14, 2007
5 a.m. -- woke up in Manistique, on the shore of Lake Michigan in the U.P.; more specifically, in an Econo Lodge on the shore of Lake Michigan. It was dark, raining buckets, and about 50 degrees. I packed my car and was driving east by 5:10.
Why? Because my Jetta started losing coolant last Wednesday. I don't know why. It might be part of Germany's secret revenge for World War II. It also might be a bad water pump. I'll let you know when I get a definitive answer.
My usual car maintenance trick of ignoring the problem didn't seem to be working, so I needed some new coolant for a temporary fix. The Jetta maintenance manual clearly indicates that if you use anything other than the very expensive coolant (now with Retsyn) they sell at the dealer, your car will burst into flames instantly, a thousand orphans will go hungry for a month and the streets will run red with the blood of the innocent. You know how crotchety people always say, "That's how they get you"? Well, this is how Volkswagen gets you. If you get your car repaired or maintenanced anywhere other than a VW dealer, it actually breaks one of the Seven Seals. Hitler, thankful for all of VW's help with tank building, drew on the power of the Spear of Destiny to summon the Devil and broker this arrangement on VW's behalf.
Anyhow, on Friday night I found a VW dealer on the Internet in Bay City, Michigan (east coast of the lower peninsula) that appeared from the Web to have Saturday hours. I left at 5:15 to get there around 9:30.
6:45ish a.m. -- after passing the Mystery Spot again and shedding a tear for my lost $7, I got on the Mackinac Bridge. It is very big, and 50 years old. I hear it's going to be on an episode of "Dirty Jobs." That Mike Rowe is sooooo dreamy.
7:30 a.m. -- my windshield wipers stop mid-wipe, during a driving rainstorm. I just replaced them, and they have done this about 5 times in the last two weeks (they usually restart after about 10 seconds). My current plan is to ignore the problem and see if it goes away. It's probably my own damn fault for not using VW-approved wiper blades ($350 each).
9:45 a.m. -- I reach the Bay City car dealer.
9:46 a.m. -- I read the door of the dealer to discover that they do not, in fact, have parts or service hours on Saturday. And why would they? Who in their right mind would want to run time-consuming errands on one of the two days a week they actually have time? Chumps, that's who. Chumps who trust the Internet. From now on, the only site I trust is Wikipedia.
9:50 a.m. -- I explain my situation to the guy opening the sales department: I am going to Atlanta, and all I need is a bottle of VW coolant, not actual work done on my car. If I don't get it soon my engine will start to suffer serious damage. I am informed that the coolant is "all locked up" and he "can't even get to it." He then suggests that I put some store-bought non-VW stuff in the car, in flagrant violation of the maintenance manual. After resisting the urge to make him eat the maintenance manual, I drive one block down to an auto parts store, where the clerk indicates that using non-VW coolant would be akin to Indy crossing the seal in "Last Crusade."
9:55 a.m. -- I steal the VW dealer's wireless Internet to locate another VW dealer in Fort Wayne, Indiana (on my route). It's 228 miles away, but on Saturdays their service department closes at 2, and I'm not sure how much coolant I have left in my car. I start driving right away.
10:15ish a.m. -- a new plan forms. I use my cell phone to call home, and my dad picks up the phone. I ask him to use his high-speed Internet connection to search for any other VW dealers that might be along my route -- as I drive the route. Clever, huh? What followed was like the world's worst episode of "24," with my dad at com and me as the field agent. Imagine Jack calling in to demand the schematics of something, and then Chloe spending 20 minutes calling VW.com a piece of s*** while Jack stays on the line. That would be it exactly.
I credit my dad for sticking with it after the early going -- he researched if there were actually acceptable substitute coolants and locations where I could buy them. By coming up with viable alternative solutions to a problem, my dad actually did much, much better than the average CTU worker.
10:45 a.m. -- a call to a VW dealer in Lansing (with no Saturday service hours) gets the same response at the guy from Bay City: just put in anything! I am beginning to wonder if the people who SELL Volkswagens actually know anything at all about Volkswagens. Maybe they do know, and they are trying to get people to ruin their cars, which then must be repaired by the service department. Hmm ...
1:00 p.m. -- to be safe, I pull over to a rest area and pour some spring water in my coolant tank. My care doesn't drink tap water. It's European.
1:35 p.m. -- I roll into the Fort Wayne VW dealer and purchase the coolant within 5 minutes. There is no background check, no lecture on the dangers of the coolant. No one has to retrieve the bottle from a stasis chamber while wearing a level 5 HAZMAT suit. So why couldn't the guy in Bay City have any access to it? Sigh.
1:50 p.m. -- feeling relieved and ready to celebrate, I remember that Fort Wayne has an Abraham Lincoln museum. I'm not sure why they have one, but they do. As it turns out, I'll probably never know, because the signs pointing to the museum somehow turned me around and led me back to I-69. In general, a good policy for living is to avoid Fort Wayne. Plus I was on my way to Elizabethtown, Ky., to see the Lincoln birthplace Sunday morning. You don't want to over-Lincoln a weekend, right?
2:30 p.m. -- I still had the itch to party, though, so I got off I-69 when I saw the sign for the U.S. Vice Presidents Museum. I had lunch at Subway (my first food of the day) and then it was on to the learning ... Guess what? It's also the Dan Quayle museum. It's in Hamilton, Indiana, which is Quayle's hometown. The museum is a converted Christian Science Reading Room -- the bottom floor has profiles on all the veeps and the top floor is just Quayle stuff. More on this next week.
4ish p.m. -- back on the highway! I cleared Indianapolis and then headed for Louisville, thinking I'd stop at a hotel about 30 miles past Louisville. As it turns out, I drove through Louisville at around ...
7:45 p.m. -- from I-65, you can see the Reds minor league stadium in downtown Louisville. It's a really nice looking park, and they were playing a game, so I got off the highway, found street parking and walked in on the fifth inning of the Louisville Bats vs. the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. More on this next week as well, but here's a sneak preview: the world's shortest umpire. Also, a mascot that is a plastic bag. Also also, a foul ball into a baby carriage. You're intrigued, aren't you?
9:30 p.m. -- back to the highway, all the way to Elizabethtown and the Motel 6 where I'm writing this journal. I keep telling myself I'm better than Motel 6, but you know what? It's healthy to stay here. You know the scene in "Gone With the Wind" where she vows never to go hungry again? Every time you stay in a Motel 6, you have one of those moments. It keeps you motivated.
I drove 800 miles today, from U.P. Michigan to Kentucky. I saw two VW dealerships, the country's only vice presidential museum, and a minor league baseball game. I have to say it's a fun life at times.
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