For the past few years I have had a love-hate relationship with Up-North Michigan. (And I have to say, Rick fuels the fire, but he's right.)
In the past ten years Up North has gone from being really a get-away to being a get-away-to-a-different-place-that-looks-too-much-like home. The proliferation of big-box stores like Lowes, Home Depot, WalMart and Meijer have put many of the smaller hardware and grocery stores out of business. Those small-town shops and stores were among the places that made my summer town of Gaylord (and many of the other northern cities) what they were -- a getaway from city life.
This is the Gaylord I remember from my childhood. The place I bought my school clothes, the five-and-dime, the single movie theatre downtown with a phone booth outside (our delight was phoning the booth when the movie got out to see who would answer!).
Tourism in Gaylord perked up after the town went "Alpine" in the 1960s. The Alpine movement wasn't all bad -- it brought a community together and increased tourism and the bottom line for the small shops that dotted Main Street. Faux Alpine buildings (most not done all that well) were all over town. Even Big Boy wore an alpine hat. I-75 came along and had two exits. A festival was in order. But with more people, the area became more attractive to chain restaurants and stores. With good comes bad.
It isn't just Gaylord. It's like that with little towns all over the north. I don't begrudge the permanent residents the flexibility to shop in stores that other spots have, I really don't. But I get a little crazy when I think of going north to relax and you can't even get past the highway exit because the street right after is a left turn into the WalMart lot and there is no left-only signal! If I wanted to go to WalMart, I would have stayed home. The sprawl drags on for miles out of town, so the proliferation of the "boxes" not only affects the independent merchants but puts a big blot on the landscape.
People around the country tell me they see the state's Pure Michigan campaign commercials on television and how beautiful our state is. And the commercials are well done and accurate to the point of showing what's left of the best. But what those commercials don't show is that wrapped up with the beautiful vistas, startlingly blue lakes, gloriously colorful fall foliage and breathtaking winter views are traffic jams, urban sprawl, chain restaurants out the wazoo and the same big box stores that you can find in any state at any time.
It's like taking a photo for your blog. The vignette on the table or cabinet, the piece of art, the close-up of the bowl of fruit on the kitchen table looks charming! Could any of us Susie Homemakers be better? But pull out to a wide shot and you might see the breakfast skillet still on the stove or a rug that not only needs vacuuming but is peppered with cat toys. Don't even think about that pile of craft supplies on the far end of the table!
When I was a kid coming home from the lake with my mom, we'd always stop for lunch at the Lone Pine Restaurant in Grayling, about 20 miles away from the cottage. (Grayling, I might add, doesn't have a lot to offer in the shopping department but it stayed true to its small, up-north town image of a main street and minimal sprawl, except the strip when you exit the interstate.) We'd always have a burger with their special sauce, long before Mickey D. thought of the Big Mac.
Recently, Rick and I have taken to having breakfast there when we return on a weekday morning from the cottage as we did the Tuesday after Memorial weekend. Two eggs, toast, polish sausage to die for for about $5.50. Best breakfast in the north.
It's the kind of place you expect to see in Northern Michigan -- and the kind that is fewer and farther between. It's northern kitch. Pine walls and tables, a spaghetti board with specials, taxidermy on the walls, photo tributes to locals, a case of miscellany that is intriguing if not designed by House Beautiful. There are still bits of Christmas up. Quite a few bits of Christmas, to be honest, but since I'm a Christmas girl and still have two (small) trees in the house, I take no one down on that one -- simply observe!
It was quiet when we arrived. The usual crowd of morning folk had departed a bit before, our waiter said. For once, we had the restaurant and our waiter to ourselves. He was a charming, talkative fellow who had been around the area forever. Somewhere in the course of the conversation he mentioned the restaurant would close on August 1. After 50 years, the owner wants a rest, one she is entitled to. The restaurant is up for sale with little interest so far. One could only hope.
This hit us on any number of levels. For me, there was an emotional connection, that mom-and-kid lunch memory. For Rick and me, it's a fun spot to stop, a quirky, non-chain with fair prices. But what really hit us was the realization that "another one bites the dust." IF, and it's a big if, they sell the restaurant, chances are a new owner will spruce it up. Maybe (or maybe not) keep the bear and the deer on the wall and its wonderful pine walls.
They'll probably remove the wonderful paneling in the rest room. Really, I like this. Perfect for the environment, nicely done.
If it isn't stripped and leveled for another Dollar Store, they will "upgrade" things. Prices will escalate -- you have to pay for those renovations somehow. And assuming they have the willingness to give it charm, chances are it will be faux charm, just like Gaylord, twenty miles to the north, is faux Alpine.
Who knows what will happen then. What I do know now is that we will eat at Lone Pine many more times before August 1. And be grateful we had the chance to include this little spot in our own bank of northern memories, before Up North becomes Down South at Higher Altitude.
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