Big Question Marks

Monday, June 28, 2010

Pure Michigan

This past weekend's jaunt to Dayle's family's boat in Michigan came with a hefty dose of Americana. A few years ago, her family traded in their last Canadian powerboat (after scoring a great deal on a snazzier boat down south) and said goodbye to Georgian Bay after years of boating up north. Gone are the days of anchoring overnight in serene, rocky bays; the Group-of-Seven landscapes, tiny northern towns (with a severe lack of decent restaurants, to Dayle's mom's dismay) and swarms of sunset mosquitoes were a thing of the past. Boating south of the border — actually just across the St. Clair River from Canada — comes with a new type of adventure, more of, cultural kind. Small-town America tends to surprise and thrill in little ways: the joy is in the details. It begins with Jobbie Nooner....

We were at the border crossing sometime after midnight on Thursday night, and with only two lanes open, it was very slow. Great, we've gotten the border guard who asks too many questions, we thought. When it was finally our turn, we were met with the usual "Where are you going?" and "For how long?" and Dayle's dad tells the guard about their boat in Algonac, Michigan, where they visit every weekend. "Ah. You heading to Jobbie Nooner tomorrow?" the guard says with a grin, and waves us through. Jobbie WHAT?? Dayle's parents have a good laugh and explain that Jobbie Nooner is a Michigan tradition, an informal annual holiday invented by auto workers ("jobbies") in the 1980s, who decided to knock off work at noon on a designated Friday and head to Gull Island, in the north part of Lake St. Clair, and get drinking. The tradition caught on and gets bigger and bigger every year, with more drinking and debauchery (ie. plenty of Mardi-Gras-style boob-baring for beads). It's been known to break up marriages and get people arrested, but depending who you talk to, it's one awesome/awful time. Even Kid Rock played an impromptu concert there last year, from a barge. It's 'Pure Michigan', apparently.

Friday morning was beautiful, hot and sunny, but there would be no Jobbie Nooner for us (not really our crowd?). We kicked off the day with a big, bargain American breakfast in one of Algonac's many tiny breakfast diners — something Dayle's parents were really growing to love. Two eggs, bacon, potatoes, toast, and coffee for $3? Yup, and for that price, you get way more food than humanly possible to eat. Charming touches at the diner included many "American" food choices, including "American cheese" (processed orange cheese?), and "American potatoes" (basically hash browns cut up in slices instead of grated). We also enjoyed the duck and deer paintings, the NRA sticker on the front door, and the waitress who told us we say "thank you" too much! But after leaving the wood-paneled diner, we headed out into the hot sun for a lovely afternoon of anchoring out in the lake, swimming, sunbathing (and burning!). Good fun... but as we were all dying of curiosity about Jobbie Nooner, we managed to do a bit of a cruise-by on the way back to port. From our distance (out of vomiting range), we didn't manage to catch much Mardi Gras action, but it was definitely a sight to behold: thousands of boats (more than 4000, said the news later on) anchored around the island, many tied to each other, full of party decorations, pirate flags, beer-drinking, and people. We turned on the radio to the coast guard station and were entertained for quite a while by calls from inebriated "Jobbies" who were reporting fights, border guards getting punched out, all that kind of stuff....

After all that hot sun, the next day we found ourselves craving another American tradition: ice cream. Dairy Queen wasn't far from the marina, but we decided to do as the locals do and drive a few blocks for ice cream. Of course, our "small" Blizzards were impossibly huge to eat, but it seemed appropriate to pig out in the riverbank park, under the shade of some trees by a cute old white clapboard house/local history museum, located between a huge flapping American flag and a war memorial. And we really couldn't resist a cruise through town, taking in excellently-named sights like the Fifth Third Bank, The Shop The Shop, and St. Clair Flats Taxidermy. Unfortunately the taxidermy shop was closed, but we managed to peer in the windows at the walls covered in deer heads, snarling boars, toothy possums, and a group of squirrels playing cards. we even met an old guy waiting in his car in the parking lot to get his ducks "fixed". He had Florida plates on his car, and an interesting sticker on the window showing a green skull and some writing — Adrian asked him about his "interesting sticker" and the man explained to us that he's part of a "Special Ops unit of former soldiers", who go on secret missions or something. Only in America! There are just so opportunities to feel like you're in a Michael Moore movie when you cross the border.

After a beer run/short exploration of the local grocery store (beer is SO cheap in the States!), we realized we'd never seen so many kinds of Pop Tarts in our lives, especially in one aisle (seriously, three shelves??). And not that cotton candy, fireworks, chocolate milk by the gallon, or alien-shaped cereal were on our shopping list.... but if they were, it's good to know we could find them at the grocery store!

But two full days of in-your-face Americana couldn't have prepared ourselves for Saturday evening. After a meat-filled dinner at Outback Steakhouse (but to our delight, Aussie beer like Boag's and Cooper's!!), we met Dayle's parents' boat friends in a roadhouse along the highway. The bar wasn't exactly one any of them would normally frequent, but the Lighthouse Tavern was owned by Diane's sister and well, it was Saturday night. When we pulled into the parking lot around the back of the bar, "Bad to the Bone" must have popped into all of our heads, as well as that scene in Terminator 2 when Arnold walked into the biker bar demanding some clothes, boots, and a motorcycle. It was that kind of place. We walked in slowly and found our friends at a long table in the dimly-lit bar, all looking a little timid. And then we learned it was karaoke night, much to Adrian's delight. He grabbed the thick book of songs from some redneck types at the next table, and made his picks as we all watched other patrons croon country songs next to Cyndi, the emcee with a seriously badass long blonde mullet. There was just so much to gape at: guys in leather vests with devil heads and something like "Hell to Pay" embroidered across the back (Hells Angels maybe???) and confederate-flag bandannas, an old cowboy sitting at the bar in a Stetson and a t-shirt reading 'Boot Hill Saloon' on the back, a polo-shirted jock type who sang some bad 80s song, a raspy guy named "Smokin' Joe" who growled songs onstage like "Turn the Page" (and wore a hilarious t-shirt reading 'On board, Off board, All Aboard, Never Bored"), and lots of bad high-waisted jeans and big hair on the ladies. It was pretty much a scene from a movie. Luckily, Adrian's songs got some good fan appreciation and we were allowed to stay (OK, it really wasn't like that — it was a pretty laid-back place!), but when we finally left out the back door to the bar and found the biker-types outside, we certainly weren't expecting the prim and proper "Good night, ladies" that we got.

And on Sunday morning, we couldn't leave the country without one more gargantuan breakfast feast for the road — and Adrian made sure to help stop terrorism by peeing on Osama bin Laden (we're not joking! The men's room urinals at the diner had Osama's likeness on the urinal mat, which read "Help Fight Terrorism: Support Operation Enduring Freedom") So, what can we say really? Americana...bring it on! Much as we like to poke fun at our gun-toting, flag-waving, highly carnivorous neighbours, they really do know how to have a good time. We're kinda sad we didn't score any Uncle Sam postcards, but well, there's always next time.


jason said...

glad you guys enjoyed the weekend so much, maybee next time we can have some real fun!!! Preacher Jim has his book ready to preform his duties!!!!!

Pops said...

Now you know why we keep going back to Michigan's charm. Glad you enjoyed it!

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