Did we really drive to Chicago to fly kites with an octogenarian uncle? Why, yes, we did! We took six days and drove through 5 states and over 2,000 miles to fly kites on the banks of Lake Michigan in the Windy City with Uncle Mike. We tacked on a couple of side trips along the way and, considering this trip came hot on the heels after Ohio and North Carolina, I believe we hit a family best of 17 days of traveling and over 4,000 miles on the car during 3 road trips in about 5 weeks. And we parents managed to keep our jobs. And most of our sanity. Whew!
Truly with a kite, Poppa’s Uncle Mike with Cleverly and his bike and kite string, beautiful Lake Michigan and the lovely Chicago skyline
Our first stop was Painesville, OH to see the grandparents. Unfortunately, my Dad was in the hospital for unexpected surgery so we visited him there. We entertained him with stories and kids antics and drawings on the whiteboard. Happily, he went home later that day and is doing well. We might have stayed, but he needed rest and quiet – not exactly what we would bring to him, and besides, we had kites to fly! He understood, and we planned to see him on the way back.
Detroit and lunch with Uncle Paul
Next up was lunch with Poppa’s Uncle Paul. We crossed the Michigan – or should I say Pure Michigan – border and headed for the Motor City. We were early, we noticed a thrift store, so of course the thrift store found 6 new customers. We scored an UNOPENED Harry Potter book on tape – the exact one we were listening to but we were missing several, ok more like half or more, of the 17 cassettes – for 25¢!! That will go down in the legendary thrift scores to be discussed for years to come.
The restaurant Uncle Paul took us to is worth mentioning. El Barzon has gourmet Italian AND gourmet Mexican food with cloth napkins, fancy glasses (3 spilled and 1 broken by us) and no kids menu. I loved it! It was located in a rough-looking neighborhood and had a gated, guarded parking lot. Inside was an oasis with a waterfall and outdoor seating, and amazing food. It reminded me of Honduras or Malawi in a way – such opulence surrounded by harsh urban conditions.
We did not see much of Detroit, unfortunately. I am very interested, though, in the local phenomena of Motown Studio A, the thriving urban farming scene, Detroit underground music/art, and the access to Canada via the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel and also the Ambassador Bridge. I wish we had had more time!
Grand Rapids, Michigan
But we were off to see some friends in Grand Rapids. Every time I hear about this town, it is followed by an exclamation of what a nice small town it is. I may be influenced by the spectacular weather and our friends – heck, the sketchy neighborhood in Detroit even looked pretty good that day- but it was really beautiful. The architecture, the tree-lined blocks, the lack of corporate chain drug stores and fast food places downtown, and the public art all impressed me. Residential streets were as neat as a pin, and also, the town has a proud connection to sculptor/mobilist Alexander Calder as it reminds you on street signs and manhole covers. That’s the river and Calder’s La Grande Vitesse on the manhole cover below, which can be translated as “the great swiftness” or “the GRAND RAPIDS”!!! The large, red Calder sculpture is a downtown centerpiece for the town and they are justifiably proud.
We took a walk from their house to the downtown on a sunny day and found this great playground complete with pre-1990 (as in hardcore, industrial, dangerous, metal) playground equipment used in my childhood before that safety molded plastic crap overtook our playscapes and childhoods… but I digress! We also saw this great mural, decorative peacocks on a downtown building, and a nice bench. We spent less than 24 hours there and we were sorry to go, but we were trying to get to Chicago…
Benton Harbor/St Joseph, MI
How did we end up in The Riviera of the Midwest? We were on the scenic route from Grand Rapids to Chicago, just looking for lunch and trying to catch glimpses of the Great Lake to our west. These towns looked convenient and larger, like there might be more dining options, plus they are right next to each other and are on the lovely shores of Lake Michigan. We noticed a lot of pedestrians, beautiful houses, and the Lake in the distance as we drew closer. Then there were signs about foot traffic due to an unnamed event. It soon became clear that we had happened upon this. Well, the pageantry and drama of the 75th Senior-something- Golf blah blah blah were lost on us, however a concurrent event drew us like a magnet. My friends, I give you… Naschair.
Yes, we watched tricked-out office chairs propelled by backwards-facing contestants race towards a finish line decked out with an air-inflated arch and hay bales for safety. The thrill of NASCHAIR!!! Those Michiganers sure are wild-n-crazy. There were also two other notable attractions: an old Plymouth police car, dutifully documented to later share with my Dad the automobile enthusiast, and an old wooden swing perched on a hill for a thrill. That’s a carousel building down by the lake, too! We wanted to get to know Michigan’s riviera more, but Second City beckoned.
Oh, that’s right, the destination for this trip. Well, we made it. We met Uncle Mike and followed the mildly eccentric 80+ year-old kite-flyer as he rode his bike through the city- not an easy task when you are driving a minivan. He took us to a beautiful spot with excellent wind and we quickly had an airborne kite for each child. There were a million fuzzy dandelions. We had crossed a time zone and scored an extra hour!! And it was my birthday!! What a present – an extra hour and all that blue sky, the lake, the kites – and it got even better!
I posted something on facebook about being in Chicago, then got a phone call from Sylvia Starlight. I expected to hear ‘happy birthday’ but instead she said ‘where are you?’. It turns out she, a fellow East Coast Mama and homeschooler, and family were in Chicago, too! They were downtown, at a hotel with a pool! Did we want to come and swim? Did we! After we finished with the kites and made plans to see Uncle Mike in the morning, we headed into the downtown for a serendipitous play date. I have no photos of the event, but much fun was had. We were up way too late, and, hmmm, where were we going to stay? We had been couch surfing thus far and I dreaded to pay for a hotel in the big city. What did the Fantastics do to save sanity, obtain quality sleeping arrangements, and stay in a frugal budget? Stay tuned, readers, the answer surprised me!