Here's the way the class dynamic works in Michigan: If you're a buff, wine-drinking, white-collar professional type, "up north" means northwest lower Michigan -- Traverse City, the Leelanau Peninsula and other places along the "Gold Coast." If on the other hand you're a blue-collar, beer-drinking, four-wheeling hunter/fisherman type, "up north" means the middle and eastern counties of northern Michigan. Because I suffer from class-confusion issues -- white-collar sensibilities, blue-collar pedigree, living in a town that I don't think has a collar to describe it (dollar-store, made-in-China crew neck?), I tend to travel back and forth between stereotypically tony west and tacky east.
But times change, and the lines are blurring. Today Mom and I took a little day trip up to self-described Victorian West Branch, a charming little town on the I-75 corridor. I was half-aiming for the Kirtland's Warbler Festival next door in Roscommon, but...there's something incongruous to me about thousands of tourists descending upon the jackpines pestering an endangered little bird (even though the promoters keep most of the visitors corraled on the campus of the local community college), and besides, the logistics of schlepping around with a mobility-challenged, hard-of-hearing, wildlife-indifferent octogenarian made my head hurt. So we went to West Branch instead.
It's a fun city to just drive around -- the suburbs are filled with wonderful old restored houses from the town's heyday. There's also a really lovely, picnic-worthy local park, Irons Park, that even has a little trout stream running through it for kiddos to fish in. The stream, and attendant walkway, runs up past the local Episcopal church, which hosts a little farmer's market every Saturday during the harvest season. There are all kinds of quirky, arty little shops tucked here and there in the downtown area.
We stopped at a local greenhouse where I found some interesting heirloom tomato plants destined for my planters, and then went to a wonderful little bakery called Crust and Crumb, tucked into an historic downtown storefront, that sells European-style artisan breads, European pastries and amazing lunches. The daily sandwich menu is truly impressive in scope -- today the list included combos like goat cheese, green olive and thyme; turkey and baby spinach; Traverse City cherry chicken salad; Catalan ham and cheese; cucumber and dill havarti. Their homemade soup is also very good; today it was a garlicky chicken with grated vegetables thin egg noodles. My normally cheerful doctor had gotten all frowny-faced with me this week because my cholesterol level is too high, so I decided to make this weekend my Farewell Tour to food I love; I topped off my repast with a cannoli and a bittersweet sigh.
Driving home I was grooving to "Take Five," our local public radio station's weekend jazz/swing/blues show, hosted by the extremely cool Ray Ford. Ray da man; he is one hep cat, my favorite radio personality ever. (Well -- Terry Gross is my favorite for talkin'; Ray for announcin'; Wolfman Jack for sentimental reasons, because I listened to his show as a 13-year-old transistor sister snuggled with my AM radio under the blankets in the wee hours.) "Take Five" makes for some good windows-down warm-weather cruising music.
Anyhow...if you're ever headed up the mitten on I-75, take a West Branch detour; avoid the big-box, fast-food strip and head downtown. It's pretty cool. At least if you're from Outer Podunk.
Kirtland's Warbler, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service