Yooper Blooper: June 16
“Why would anyone build the most spectacular bridge in the world at the top of Michigan instead of at Detroit where everyone could see it?”—letter from an irate “troll” taxpayer to the Governor of Lower Michigan, 1980—
The taxpaying troll’s question reminds me of the man who lived close to my hometown in Indiana. In 2011 he wrote to a local newspaper: “A lot of deer get hit by cars west of Crown Point on U.S. 231. There are too many cars to have the deer crossing here. The deer crossing sign needs to be moved to a road with less traffic.”
Perhaps deer are flâneries.
Nancy and I arrive in the small town of St. Ignace, probably unnoticeable had their neighbors across the straits not been Mackinac Island and Da Bridge.
St. Ignace is a rather nondescript town that one can drive end to end in approximately 6 minutes. State Street is lined with the usual pizza and hamburger joints, closed Native American museums, lots of motels, several ferry piers, and annoying road work. Population? About 2,500 and declining. Tourists and visiting Trolls save their economy so Yoopers tolerate them. Then the weather turns bad and Trolls go away.
Nancy and I arrived early enough to immediately board a hydro-jet ferry bound for the town’s main (and possibly only) attraction: Mackinac Island. Now on the map, there is a Mackinaw City on the other side of Da Bridge. However, Yoopers refuse to concede to convention and regardless of how it is spelled, on this side of Da Bridge it is pronounced ma kuh naa. Go figure!
The ferry takes us for a loop under the iconic Ma kuh naa Bridge; when opened in 1957 it was one of the four longest suspension bridges in the world (now ranks 24th). Suspension bridges are measured by the length of their main span which is the distance between towers with this suspended span supported only by cables. By this ranking, the Mackinac Bridge is currently the twenty fourth longest suspension bridge in the world, and the third longest suspension bridge in North America with a distance of 7,400 feet from pier to pier. (The Golden Gate has a main span of just 4,200 feet.) Yoopers can probably quote numbers to raise the world ranking but suffice to say Da Bridge is 5 miles long and pretty impressive
Mackinac Island sits in the Saint Martin Bay of Lake Huron. Debarking onto the island’s main street, we are inundated by ticky-tacky novelty shoppes, cafés and coffee houses, fudge and ice cream stores, and multitudes of tourists all accompanied by the smell of horse excrement. The numerous horse-drawn carriages may be quaint but none of the horses wear “dumpsters” and none seem to be trained to wait until they clop home. The sidewalks are filled to beyond capacity; the streets are a dangerous game of dodge the bicyclists. It is really hard to appreciate any claim to island charm.
The Visitor Center, found just beyond the Seabiscuit Cafe (named in honor of the champion thoroughbred though he never ate here), is worth a visit. The center does a good job of explaining possible sites to visit, the numerous hiking and biking trails, parks and nearby Fort Mackinac.
I suppose you didn’t have to watch “Somewhere in Time” (stars Jane Seymour, Christopher Reeve, and Christopher Plummer) to know Mackinac Island is also the home for the Grand Hotel. Just about every travel magazine, Michigander and wish list includes it as a “must see.” We escaped chaotic main street and walked to the hotel.
The Grand Hotel was completed in 1887 and is a glaring white expanse which sits atop a high point on the island for sweeping views of Lake Huron and Round Island. Prices for lunch or dinner (which enforces a dress code) is a bit extravagant at $60 to $90 plus gratuities. Luckily, the $10 admission charge to enter the hotel can be applied to your tab, this Troll writes tongue in cheek. Better to just pay the admission, walk around and ogle the photos and décor, climb to the Cupola Bar and have a drink. We were also free to lounge on their iconic veranda and sip an over-priced drink and later enjoy an over-priced ice cream from Sadie’s Parlor. All in all, The Grand’s “old-world hospitality and charm” is costly but the views are spectacular.
Returning to St. Ignace, we discovered our hotel dreary, dinner a dry disappointment even though the cook agreed not to deep-fry but bake the fish, and not enough alcohol to make it better. We were trapped in one big amusement park but with better scenery. Our decision was to “cut and run.”
“I wish the media downstate would stop referring to the top of the mitten (Cadillac, Houghton Lake, Grayling, Traverse City areas) as Northern Michigan. A Yooper considers that area Central Michigan. This is one of the reasons the U.P. wants to become its own country. Those trolls down there still consider the U.P. a picker on the “Mitten of Michigan”—Glen Adams, Yooperland resident—
Well Glen, early the next morning, these Trolls crossed Da Bridge using the Troll Turnpike to enter Da Mitten’s Troll Land. That was $4.00 well spent.