This blog should probably be called Road Trip Therapy Part One since in my last post I never really got around to explaining exactly what Road Trip Therapy actually is because I went on and on about depression and my dog, but since I called my last post Road Trip Therapy Part One, I can’t call this blog that because it would be too confusing to have two posts with the same name. And that my friends, is what your English teacher would call a “run on sentence.” If this post someday becomes part of an audio book, I would breathe at the commas.
If you missed part one, what the hell are you doing? Go back and read it. Here, I’ll help you. Go here.
Since Lupron and Xtandi have effectively crushed my libido, Holly and I have more time for other things. Wow, that sounds like I am some sort of sex God. Like, “Yes, now that we are not spending hours and hours having amazingly hot sex, we have time to do the things we always wanted to do, like writing blogs and going to restaurants and curing cancer.” The last one would come in handy right about now, but I digress.
Actually, Holly and I discovered this a few years ago, before Lupron was in the picture. We figured out that our marriage works a lot better if we take the time to talk to each other. I know, brilliant, right? And we also figured out that we both have a love for the open road, discovering new places, finding interesting places to eat, and checking out the latest brew pubs and distilleries. With everything that we have gone through, be it marriage problems, my cancer, the boys somehow lurching their way through their twenties, the difficulties dealing with aging parents, we have done a lot of talking through these issues while driving. And if we can find a new place to get a good meal and a nice craft beer, all the better. And it’s a lot cheaper than marriage counseling. And a lot more fun.
So, here’s the rules. I’m going to list 5 different aspects of Road Trip Therapy that I will use to write about each place we go to. This particular blog is not about a specific trip, or a specific place, but kind of an overview of the format I will use to describe each Road Trip Therapy Trip. Got it? Ok, here goes.
A short hike off M-22 and you get this. Sleeping Bear Dunes. No wonder M-22 has its own store.
I will start each post with a description of the drive to where we are going. Obviously, if the place is local, I won’t be describing much here. And, since we are located in West Michigan, there are going to be some drives that are downright iconic, such as driving down the coast of Lake Michigan on various roads, like M-22(which is such an awesome road it had its own store) or M-119,aka, the Tunnel of Trees. These roads, along with a few others in the state, deserve description and photos and a lot of carrying on about how beautiful they are. But the funny thing is, we have found some of the coolest places on rather nondescript roads all over the state. One of my favorite restaurants, The Blue Lake Tavern, we discovered totally by accident, when we decided to take a right instead of going straight on a trip back from Mount Pleasant. Located in the Canadian Lakes area, it’s on M-20, an otherwise boring stretch of highway in the middle of Michigan. I will go into why I love that place another time, when I talk about the Canadian Lakes region.
Blue Lake Tavern, Mecosta, Michigan. We were driving and this place just appeared out of nowhere.
Here’s the thing about the drive. It really doesn’t matter how scenic it is, the most important thing is that you are in the car together having a conversation. We love to head down to Kalamazoo, and believe me, there is nothing scenic about U.S 131 between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. (Look, a truck stop! Oooooo!). But it takes about 45 minutes to get there, and that time is a great time to decompress from a crazy week, and to reconnect. That is way more important than great scenery.
I have no idea what this even is, but Holly likes to take pictures of food. Looks interesting, though, doesn’t it? I remember it was delicious and in Kalamazoo. I promise Holly will write about the food. I just eat it.
(A quick veer here. I am notoriously A.D.D. when it comes to talking to Holly and getting distracted. The dog, the TV, a squirrel running up a tree,SQUIRREL! You name it, I’m gone. So it helps if the road is kind of boring. We took a drive to talk about things when we were vacationing in Colorado, and I just kept staring at the mountains, not hearing anything. Luckily, we found a little microbrewery in Buena Vista and had a nice chat. I’m a goner for Colorado.)
Buena Vista, Colorado. I’m always up for adventure beers.
The Ambiance of a restaurant
The ambiance is a fancy way of saying something about how the place looks and feels to us. Sometimes a place can have good food and drink and lose it for me because it is too cold, or too bright, or too dark, or too smelly. Yes, we have been in places that had the kind of smell that made us wonder if the there was a goat that peed somewhere on the premises. Little townie bars sometimes have this issue. I wish I were kidding. Too loud can be a major problem with microbreweries because they tend to be built with a lot of concrete. We will give you our opinion on how we feel about the feel of the place. And yes, I’m aware I just used the word feel twice in one sentence. Ambiance is a feeling more than anything else.
I never considered myself a foodie, and then I got married to one. And then we had two boys that take after their mother. Most of the time, I have no idea what the difference is between a bashemel sauce and a cheese sauce, but I’m getting there. And really, we don’t need someone writing this blog that gets all snooty about the food, like using words like bashemel, which, apparently spell check doesn’t even recognize. So I’m pretty sure it’s not even a real word. Or I’m spelling it so wrong, spell check has no idea what I’m trying to say. Regardless, when we go to restaurants, we try to split stuff and never order the same thing so we can get a feel for the food and what they do well. I promise not to get all snooty about it. Oh, and it’s spelled bechamel. Snooty alert.
Food coma alert! Stuffed peanut butter French toast, at Toast, Ferndale, Michigan
Michigan is 4th in the nation in the number of microbreweries in the state, behind only Oregon, California and Colorado. (Another reason to love Colorado). Most pubs, bars, and restaurants have a generous selection of craft beers. We will let you know what we like, and what we don’t. If you are wondering, how do we drive all over the state and drink all this beer without ending up in a ditch or worse, here’s how we do it. I usually drive, and at most brew pubs or microbreweries they have these things called “flights” which are 4 ounce pours of up to five different beers. Holly and I usually split one. It gives us a taste of what they are trying to do, without actually consuming a lot of alcohol. Sometimes Holly will order a full beer to go with her meal, but, since I’m the driver, I usually switch to water or coffee. This came in really handy when we recently got lost on a backwoods two track, but that is a story for another time.
The bar at Bell’s Eclectic Cafe, Kalamazoo.
Here’s the thing about the people that we meet on our travels around to different places: They can absolutely make or break the way we feel about an establishment. Holly and I like to take the road less traveled when we go on our road trips. We get off the interstate or the expressway and drive down what William Least Heat-Moon calls, “Blue Highways.” These are roads that are represented with blue coloring on the old Rand McNally maps. These roads go straight through little towns instead of around them. Some of our local favorites are the Blue Star Highway and the Red Arrow highway, which both snake along the shore of Lake Michigan heading down towards Michigan City, Indiana. The little towns along the way have a lot of little townie bars and restaurants. If we come in and sit at the bar, and the bartender is friendly and engaging, we get a better feel for the place. If the waitstaff talks about the food, what they do like or don’t like, it makes it easier to order and makes for a better overall experience.
And, if it is a little townie bar, and the other customers in the place are friendly and are willing to talk, that is huge. There are times when we walk in to a little place, and every head turns and looks at us funny, like what the hell are you doing here in our bar? I start making jokes about hearing banjo music, and “You sure have a purdy mouth,” quotes from Deliverance and we are outta there. If the place isn’t friendly, we won’t stay.
One place that is very friendly and we have recently discovered is a little townie bar in Smyrna, Michigan, named appropriately enough, the Smyrna Bar. This place has seen better days. There are old booths with cracked and faded green leather(?) benches, a beat up dance floor and bathrooms that were remodeled sometime in the 50s.
But, the thing is, the people there are awesome. The bartender, Cody, is a young guy, very nice and personable, the cook, Rhonda, was on the premises making corned beef and telling us to get the combination Reuben, and an old Korean War vet, Dave, sat next to me and told me some old war stories. The sandwich was amazing, huge, and only $9. It’s an old, beat up place, but now, because of the people, it’s one of our new favorites.
I told you about the place that smells like a goat peed in the corner. That’s ugly enough.
If you have any suggestions on what restaurants to try and drives to explore, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to check out new places you guys like, and write about them.
Thanks for reading.