Monday, April 11, 2011

Great Lakes (2nd in series)

It was raining and cold when my son-in-law, Jody, and I arrived in Milwaukee, WI.  As the plane landed I looked out the window and saw nothing but gray.  I love rain, but I guess I like rain that adds a depth to color already in existence in the surrounding area.  Even the desert, where I live, has some color to be enhanced by the wetness of rain; different shades of brown, with an added touch of green here and there are better than the flatness of gray in my book. 

Be that as it may, I'd never been to Wisconsin or the Chicago area so I decided to make the most of it and enjoy the rain after being in an arid climate.  As we drove down the freeway toward Great Lakes, IL, I took in my surroundings.  I'm used to mountains, and as I looked out over the horizon I saw nothing but flatness, and leafless trees, and of course, gray.  So I had to entertain myself with looking at signs and buildings.  I didn't have to wait long.  When we drove past the sign pictured above I bust out laughing and exclaimed, "Are they kidding??!  They did not really name it that!"  Yep, they did.  I had all kinds of images going through my head that entertained me for quite awhile.  I couldn't resist looking up the story behind this recreation area after I got back home, and apparently the park sits on land originally intended for an Air Force Base named after Maj. Richard Bong.  Because of the sign's name alluding to marijuana use, I found out the sign was a frequent target of theft until they came up with the idea to make T-shirts and sweatshirts bearing the image of the sign.  I hope Richard is happy bringing all those smiles to folks.

Another oddity, for us anyway, was a small castle sitting out in the middle of nowhere named Mars Cheese Castle.  It wasn't very busy. 

We finally arrived at our hotel in Great Lakes, and during the check in process the hotel clerk asked if we desired our rooms next to each other.  I had already decided beforehand I didn't, but was distracted and answered in the affirmative, until my son-in-law spoke up, and with raised eyebrows asked me if I was sure I wanted to do that.  Then I remembered why I didn't, and told the confused clerk no.  Jody and I began laughing and the poor clerk looked even more confused, so I decided to clear things up for him.  I told him we were there to see my daughter, and this (pointing to Jody) was her husband who hadn't seen her for 2 months, and I was the mother.  I let that info sink in a moment before hitting him with my desire to not be in the next room while my two children were having fun with each other.  Without missing a beat the clerk asked with laughter in his voice, "Hows three doors down?"  I laughed and told him it was perfect.

After dropping our stuff off in our respective rooms we decided we still had energy to burn with a few hours of daylight left.  We had to be up and at the base gate by 6:30am, and decided to go find the gate so we'd know precisely where we were going the next morning.  There were a lot of gates, ( I counted 8 in just a 2 mile stretch ), and we finally had to ask someone to point out which gate we needed to enter for the graduation services. Once we found it, I asked Jody to drive me to Lake Michigan.  Even without the tell tale signs of the calling seagulls flying over, I felt the water close by and had to get to it.  I'd never seen any of the Lakes, and heard they were like oceans.  I haven't been to the Big Water since last summer, so my soul was jones-ing in a big way.

You would think access to the Lake would be easy, it being so close by and all, but we could find no road getting to it, and finally had to stop and ask someone for directions.  We had to drive to a quaint little town called Waukegan to finally get to a road that led to the Lake.  We came to a dock that was closed, but we found an off road that led past the dock to the Lake.  I was so excited to see water, I leaped out of the car before Jody had a chance to put it in park, and was hit by a blast of cold, bitter wind coming off the Lake.  That crazy look you see in my eyes was me trying to keep myself from shivering and stand still long enough so Jody could take a picture without it blurring.  As soon as the picture was taken we hightailed it back into the car to enjoy the Lake with the heater on at full blast warming us. 

Once I'd been semi-satisfied with seeing the Big Water we headed back to town.  On the way back I noticed a little hole-in-the-wall kinda bar that stood by itself on a back corner, and asked Jody if he would mind stopping to check it out.  Over the years, now and then, tiny little bars in the middle of nowhere have attracted me.  I think its the writer in me, because the atmosphere, clientele, and owners found in these little places have great stories that I wouldn't hear anywhere else.  So when I saw this little bar outside Waukegan, I had to satisfy my curiosity, and Jody was kind enough to oblige.

It's name was Manuel's Bar On Twelfth Street.  When we got to the door it was locked, even though the sign said it was open, and we could see the owner sitting on a barstool.  He waved at us to wait a second, and got up to let us in.  Jody and I looked at each other and shrugged as we walked into the bar...and walked into Mexico.  No one else but the owner was in the place.  The TV hanging on the wall was blasting, turned to a Mexican station playing a soap opera.  Every sign, every written word in the place was in Spanish.  We found out even the owner didn't know that much English as we ordered a beer.  He grabbed a couple of cans out of a small refrigerator made for Coke products.  I asked the owner where he was from, and he, not surprisingly, said he was from Mexico, and had moved there 15 years prior.  Conversation from that point grew sparse.  I took a look around.  There was a small dance area in front of a Juke Box that played only Mexican music.  All chairs and stools were covered with shiny felt cloth.  I noticed a room toward the back that lay in darkness so I got up to have a look.  The owner followed me and said, "pool," as he turned on the light.  Sure enough, there stood two pool tables.  I looked at Jody and asked if he would like his ass kicked at pool.  He took the bait, and we played horribly, but I did win...barely.  During our play, the owner turned off the TV, and turned on some music from the Juke Box.  Arriba!  After finishing our beer and our game we finally had enough of Mexico and left.

We stopped at a fast food joint before heading back to the hotel, and ate our food in my room, looking forward with excitement to seeing my daughter the next morning.  We parted ways, and while I had a hard time falling asleep because of anticipating seeing my daughter, it felt good to know that in just a few hours I'd be taking my little girl's face in my hands and kissing her cheek Hello again.  I know there was a smile on my face as I finally drifted off to sleep...

(Next post:  Graduation Day!)


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