Manistique

The trip to the Upper Peninsula still ranks as the overall best family trip. The U.P. is underrated as far as a tourist destination. They have water up there. They have trees. They have amazing pasties. And they have a group called Da Yoopers. And they have waterfalls, many, many more than the Lower Peninsula (where all the under-the-bridge trolls live).

We had raced up and over the Mackinac Bridge from our home base near Lansing. We braved crossing - and walking under and over - the Cut River Bridge. And we reached our first night's stay, Manistique. The Northshore Motel, right on US-2 and among the first motels you'll see heading west into town, is a great, no-frills kind of place with nautical themes and fantastic toast. Really, try the cinnamon swirl toast in the morning - I don't lie about these sort of things. The owner gave my daughter a tiny little pillow for her doll earned the motel a special place in my heart. And surprisingly quiet for being right next to the highway.

Across US-2 from the motel (look both way before crossing, kids) is the Manistique Boardwalk that runs along the northern shore of Lake Michigan. Don't be perturbed that the boardwalk isn't made with boards - it has great views of my favorite Great Lake, a smooth ride for bikers, joggers and weirdos that like to crab walk, and one you can take all the way to the East Breakwater Lighthouse - and beyond! (As Buzz Lightyear would say.)

(I apologize if I have offended anyone with my comment about Lake Michigan being my favorite lake. I only said that because it's better than the other ones, despite the fact that it does touch Gary, IN.)

Man does not live on tourist sights alone. The Three Seasons Café has an excellent fish basket, which I recommend, and if you mention my name, they may give you a discount. Or they may throw you out because they don't know who I am. In any case, let me know. At the Cedar Street Café the next morning, we made it a family-style breakfast, stuffing ourselves on a cinnamon roll (a fairly common dish on the U.P. breakfast menu), pancakes, and a Swedish omelet. I don't know what made the Swedish omelet Swedish - talking like the Swedish Chef, perhaps? Anyways, having an icing-covered cinnamon roll is a great way to make for a happy, energy-filled child. At least for an hour. Breakfast got six thumbs up.

Do you remember where you bought your first Batman soundtrack on cassette? I do - it was Manistique. The store is gone but the memory is forever. And I also fondly recall a trip as a teenager and watching the Pauly Shore movie "Son in Law", probably seen on a rainy day while camping at Indian Lake State Park. Pauly Shore, where have you gone?

Sometimes, you can't go home again. The ice cream place next to the campground was closed.

I can't let you escape this post without a little history lesson. The Siphon Bridge (1918) crosses the Manistique River and, at one time, the roadway was below the level of the river, and the bridge itself was partially supported by the pressure of water rushing under the bridge. This is not the case anymore, but how cool is science, to be able to do that in the first place? Oh, that twentieth century had some marvels.

(NOT the bridge, the equally historic water tower.)

Manistique is a nice base of operations for south-central U.P (not to be confused with south central L.A.), including the don't-miss attractions of Kitch-iti-kipi, Fayette Historic Village State Park, and Seney National Wildlife Refuge. Wonderful views of the lake and a friendly town, and it's all right there next to US-2. Live the dream and go to Manistique!

One Well Brewing, Kalamazoo

I'm normally not a fan of restaurants in strip malls. It's not quite a phobia, just a preference. But the owners of One Well Brewing made their location work. Look, it has a well next to the door! And the outdoor seating looks like a place I could hang out during the summer months. But it was a cooler evening, and the area was full anyways, so inside I went.

As I walked inside, I was greeted with a blast of noise that had the introverted side of my personality (which is typically dominant) wanting to run for cover. At first glance, the main room looked full, but past the crowded bar, there was plenty of seating at one of the long tables a bit further back. But this was 5:15 on a Saturday, so your mileage may vary. At any rate, I had the whole table to myself, so it was either not as busy as I thought, or I had an unpleasant odor wafting about me that I was unaware of. I had been hiking quite a bit that day.

I ordered at the bar, because that's where you order. The woman behind the counter was among the most upbeat, perky people I have ever interacted with, a day and night difference from the morose McDonald's employee that had "served" me in St. Joe earlier in the day. I was given a number on a stick to notify the food bringer of my location, and his mission, I was happy to report, was a successful one just a short time later.

The pulled pork sandwich was excellent, tender and tasty, and, if I may throw a third 'T', tangy, referring to the BBQ sauce. I made the error of thinking the coleslaw was a side. It was, in fact, a sandwich topping. But the sandwich was solid without it, so this mistake was a minor one. I had no doubt I made the right choice with my dinner selection -it was a definite winner. The smattering of chips were crispy and dusted with a spice of unknown origin. Forced to guess, I would say paprika.

Your entertainment choice are legion. A plethora of board and card games await anxiously to be chosen. If pinball is your thing, they've got you covered there, too. Or perhaps darts are you thing. Feel free to throw pointy things at the wall until your heart's content. Remember, though - throw them at the wall, not fellow patrons.

As for me, I'm more of a reader, so I enjoyed my dinner with a pair of beers in a not-so-quiet corner, reading "Ready Player One" on my Kindle until it was time to return to Lansing. I had an excellent time at One Well Brewing. Good food, good beer, good times. I didn't see Elvis in Kalamazoo, but finding good beer is even better.

Whataburger, Tucson

I admit, I wanted to visit Whataburger because of the name. The fact that we didn't have any in Michigan was also a draw. Because when in Tucson, do what Tucsonans do. Or what you think Tucsonans would do. (Is Tucsonan even a word? My spell checker thinks it is, so I'm going with it.)

In addition to having its name going for it, Whataburger also is colored like an old school circus tent. Orange and white stripes - how inviting is that? My target Whataburger, on East Speedway, was not busy when we pulled in, and service was fast, everyone seemed happy, and I wasn't assaulted once. Nor was I asked for money to buy food by a fellow customer - that has actually happened to me in Detroit. Score one for Tucson.

I didn't spend much time looking at the menu, going for the bacon and cheese burger. A decent choice. In the major fast food hierarchy, Whataburger is the equivalent of Wendy's, and had a solid tasting burger, and the right size for me. And they were quite generous with the tomatoes. I would say no tomatoes were harmed during the creation of this burger, but that would be a lie - there was a wholesale slaughter of them. The fries, like the burger, were tasty, that magical combination of crispiness and tenderness done just right, and neither my daughter nor I had any problems finishing our meals. If I lived in Tucson, it would be on my radar of places to go on my lunch break.