Monday, May 11, 2015


Living in Chicago for the last twelve years has afforded me several trips to Michigan. Michigan is just a quick jaunt from home and it offers many great escapes from city life. I've always loved this state's woodsy feel and relaxed attitude. 

Camping in Muskegon

My first visit to Michigan was a Labor Day weekend trip to Muskegon with Mrs. Tires when we first started dating in 2005. Muskegon is not a traditional vacation destination, but it is quite charming, it's close to Chicago and it actually has quite a lot to offer. 

We stayed at the Lake Sch-Neep-A-Ho Campground, a chill area with a man-made lake and lots of room for tents. On our first night there, we sat around the campfire, made s'mores and talked late into the evening. 

A young Mr. and Mrs. Tires
The next day, we made our way to Muskegon State Park, which sits on the shores of Lake Michigan. We chose a trail that would take us through the forest and to the shore of the lake. It was a lovely hike down a mostly flat trail that reminded me a lot of the woods in Maine I used to explore as a kid. 

After a short hike, the trail spit us out at the top of a sand dune overlooking the water. We found a quiet spot on the dune and enjoyed the view while lounging in the sand and then took a delightful sun-soaked nap. 

The view from the dune

A very strange bug

Our perch from down below
Afterwards we hit the town, where we found a home at a local dive bar with $2 beers and a pool table.  

I knew Mrs. Tires was a big roller coaster fan, so on our final day in Muskegon I surprised her with tickets to Michigan Adventures, a marvelous place that is half amusement park and half water park. 

The coasters were classic wooden ones, which were rickety as all get out. While riding them, it seemed we were moving side to side as much as we were moving forward. They were exciting rides, but after a while we tired of being turned into human milk shakes. We changed into our bathing suits and hit the water park, where we spent a long time circling the lazy river. 

Not only did this road trip serve as a wonderful introduction to Michigan, it was also the first time Mrs. Tires and I had traveled together. The amount of joy and laughs that came out of this journey cemented the notion that we'd be doing a lot more traveling together in the future.

Swimming in Paw Paw 

My friend John's family owns a gorgeous lake house on Finch Lake in Paw Paw, Michigan. They have been kind enough to invite us up there several times over the last few years, and each visit has been an absolute blast. We'd spend our days cruising the lake on their party boat, pushing each other off the docks, and floating in the lake on noodles and other floatation devices. At night, we would sit around the campfire on the shoreline, drink, laugh, and occasionally shoot off fireworks. There were also a lot of cribbage tournaments and margaritas.  

During one stay, we took the party boat out late at night and anchored in the middle of the lake. We weren't there two minutes before one of us yelled "skap dank," stripped off his bathing suit and jumped into the water. Others followed almost immediately. Clothes were flying off, and people were diving into the water from all angles. For a moment, we were living our own teen movie. 

Dan was the last to jump in, and when he did, he came up yelling "Oh, shit! My glasses!" He then explained that he forgot to take his glasses off when he jumped in. The teen movie was over. 

We took a few turns trying to swim to the bottom to retrieve them, but it was too dark and the lake was too deep for us to have any chance at getting them back. Dan spent the rest of the weekend blind as a bat.

Performing in Ann Arbor

My first visit to Ann Arbor came in 2006 when my comedy group Dirty Water ventured up there for a gig. We were performing as part of the Michigan Improv and Laugh Festival, also known as MILF. The festival brought in big crowds and was backed by a strong improv community. The venue was a fantastic improv theater that is unfortunately no longer standing.

Dirty Water made a second trip to Ann Arbor for a performance in 2007. That time, we stayed at a friend's place in town. One of the members of the group got separated from us after the show, and this became a problem when it was revealed that he left his phone and wallet with one of us before he disappeared. 

Someone from the theater offered him a ride to his accommodations, but he had no idea where in Ann Arbor we were staying. I'm not sure he ever would have found us if it weren't for our host's odd address.

He remembered us snickering about the name, and that was the only clue he had to use to get back. His generous driver took him down Hiscock (still funny) and eventually he found us.

Ann Arbor is a great town. There is a central area with a lot of restaurants and nightlife, and the surrounding area is filled with small shops, bookstores and cafes. The whole place has a classic, inviting vibe. Essentially, it's the model college town.

Stadium Chasing in Detroit

Mrs. Tires and I made a trip up to Detroit in 2012 to visit our friends Sara and Luis. 

What drew us to Detroit that particular weekend was a game between the Detroit Tigers and my favorite team, the Boston Red Sox. Our journey to the park on the first day of our stay started at Nemo's Bar, a cozy sports bar decked out in memorabilia and newspaper clippings relating to Detroit's sports teams. Being immersed in the city's sports history helped prepare us for the game ahead.

From there, we walked to a nearby baseball diamond which happened to be the playing field of the old Tiger Stadium, a historic park in its day before it was demolished in the early 2000s. The field has been preserved and will soon be repurposed for youth baseball. 

Next we made our way to the Tigers' new stadium, Comerica Park. The journey was a bit harsh because I was sporting my team's gear, and this was an unpopular stance in Detroit that day. I always get taunts when I am rooting for the Sox on the road, but Detroit brought the hate the hardest. It was intense, but all in good fun.

At the first entrance to the stadium, we were greeted by some menacing tigers who were eyeballing visitors from their perch atop the gate.

As we circled the stadium, we encountered more tigers. Some were quite menacing looking and intimidating to opposing teams' fans.

Other instances of these tiger sculptures were a bit absurd. Apparently tigers eat baseballs? 

Once inside the park, we were acquainted with the most intense and gigantic of all of the tigers. 

One might say they kinda overdid it with the tigers. 

As we entered the stadium, we encountered one of the extracurricular activities afforded to Tigers fans at Comerica, a food court that centered around a tiger-themed merry-go-round. 

This is one of two rides within the ballpark. The other is a ferris wheel with baseball-shaped pods. 

While there's a lot of fanfare on the perimeter of the stadium, once you reach the field, the park takes on a more industrial, business-like feel. The field features strong angles, and the Detroit skyline acts as the stadium's backdrop. 

We had exceptional weather, especially for Detroit in April. There was a lot of sunshine warming our section, which felt great after a long winter. It was only the second game of the season, and Tigers fans were clearly abuzz over their team's chances that year. Their optimism was fueled by the recent acquisition of Prince Fielder (son of Tigers legend Cecil Fielder) and his pairing with superstar Miguel Cabrera.

We discussed this with the fans behind us as the game began. The group of three Tigers fans we chatted with were actually from Canada and had come down to Detroit specifically for the game. Detroit is close to the Canadian border, so it is not uncommon for Canadians to come down to Detroit for a getaway.

As we chatted, the Tigers started showing their muscle on the field. Fielder and Cabrera each hit home runs.

The Canadians drank heavily as we continued to converse. Eventually they would become obscenely drunk and end up pissing off everyone in the section by saying awful racist and age-ist things. As the section started expressing their displeasure towards the Canadians, the drunk canucks would turn to us for back up. This put us in an awkward position and we eventually had to disassociate with them. They became the only Canadians I have ever met that I didn't like. Eventually security came over and kicked the hosed hosers out of the stadium.

While this was transpiring, the Tigers were continuing their onslaught. Cabrera and Fielder would each hit another home run, and before long it was 10 - 0 Tigers. The score would stand, and the game would serve as an early indication of what was to come for both teams. The Tigers would go on to play in the World Series, and Miguel Cabrera would win the Triple Crown. Meanwhile, the punchless Red Sox would endure one of the most miserable seasons in recent memory and end up in last place.

Despite the obnoxious drunks and the savage beating the Tigers handed the Red Sox, I really enjoyed my visit to Comerica Park. It's certainly feature-rich, and I understand why some might call it overdone. However, there's a lot of fun to be had there, and our visit was certainly an interesting and engaging experience.

We spent the rest of the weekend cruising through Detroit with Sara and Luis. This gave us an intimate look at recession-era Detroit. It wasn't pretty. One minute we would be driving through a wealthy neighborhood, marveling at the huge houses and trying to imagine ourselves with such wealth. Just two blocks away, we'd drive through an impoverished neighborhood that was one of the many victims of the city's economic collapse and try to imagine ourselves in such ruin. The phenomenon of wealthy neighborhoods abutting poor ones exists in many cities, but the extremes were more pronounced in Detroit, mostly because of the state of complete devastation in the poorer neighborhoods. 

The Heidelberg Project tackles the subject of Detroit's economic state head on. Located on Heidelberg Street, this outdoor living art piece is a series of abandoned houses that are now canvases, sporting art and decoration made up of found pieces. It's bold, intriguing, clever and sad, all at the same time.

Here are some of the more striking pieces we saw:

Woven among the many abandoned areas of Detroit were signs of hope. The arts community is thriving there, and some new construction offers a physical sign of rebirth. Hopefully these signs will continue to sprout, and I bet I see a much different Detroit next time I visit.

Skiing in Northern Michigan

My most recent journey to Michigan came in January of 2014, when Mrs. Tires and I made the five and a half hour trek from Chicago to the Crystal Mountain Ski Resort in Northern Michigan, just south of Traverse City. We were itching to get out of town and thought a trip over to Michigan for some ski lodge lounging would provide the break from city life we needed.

A pleasant Friday night drive got us to Crystal Mountain just in time to check in, explore our cozy room and call it a night. 

My theory on skiing is that everyone that tries it winds up in one of two camps. Either they fall in love with it, or they fall on their ass a million times and give it up forever. Mrs. Tires and I are firmly in the latter camp. However, we both had pleasant experiences with cross-country skiing in the past, and thought we'd give it another whirl. That was the plan for Saturday, our only full day at the resort. 

After a quick breakfast, we were outfitted with cross-country skis, boots and poles and were sent on our way. 

We were optimistic as we headed out onto the trail. Little did we know we were in for an epic misadventure. 

The trail started off on fairly flat ground, and we were able to get into a rhythm as we glided over the packed snow. Feeling confident in our abilities, we were undeterred as the terrain started to become hilly.

However, we were soon literally fighting an uphill battle. We had to dramatically change our skiing tactics to make headway as the elevation rose. This took its toll, and soon we were slipping, sliding, falling, and occasionally skiing backwards. This led to a lot of frustration. We swore and struggled as we made our way uphill. We would fall, fight to get ourselves back upright, ski for a moment, and then fall down again. 

Eventually we were able to get our cold, bruised asses to the peak of the hill. Our numb fingers, frost-bitten toes and runny noses made it too. We were able to compose ourselves and take in the scenery at the top of the hill for a while, and that rest gave us some new perspective. We were optimistic about our journey back down the hill. 

The optimism didn't last long. 

Being a hill, the descent involved some skiing that was akin to downhill skiing. Deep parallel tracks were embedded in the trail. Presumably they were there to help cross-country skiers handle the downhill aspect, and when we could keep our skis straight and our balance right, they helped. However, as soon as our balance shifted, the skis would pop out of the track and send us flying. This happened again and again. 

Each fall became more and more frustrating. Whenever we got the feeling we were getting the hang of it, we'd fly off again, sending skis, poles and bodies twisting and tumbling down the hill. Our frustration reduced us to angry, defeated messes. We were yelling obscenities left and right. Having no other choice, we persevered and eventually made it down the hill and back to the trail. We'd have bruises for weeks to remind us of the misadventure. 

Fortunately, there was plenty of lounging ahead to help heal our aching bodies. After gladly returning our skis, we made our way to the outdoor hot tub. It was twenty degrees out at that point, so the mad dash from the changing room to the hot tub was intense, but once we were submerged, it was wonderful. We relaxed, enjoyed the novelty of being warm despite the snowy surroundings, chatted with strangers, and lounged until we pruned. We were nice and relaxed by the time we got out, nearly forgetting the harrowing skiing incident earlier in the day. 

After showering up and changing, we went to the resort's fancy restaurant and bar. We had a reservation, but there was some confusion with it, which resulted in a long wait. While we were annoyed at first, they comped us some drinks and we snagged a spot on a comfy leather couch in front of a fireplace. This turned things around in a hurry. We chatted, laughed and stared at the roaring fire while I sipped a delicious porter and Mrs. Tires enjoyed a glass of wine. We waited almost an hour but didn't mind a bit. 

Dinner was solid (tuna on hot rocks? yes, please) but the wait for the table ended up being the highlight. 

After dinner, we went to the resort's bar, where an entertaining duo played cover tunes. Among their selections was a song by Rodriguez, who had recently been made famous but the documentary Searching for Sugarman. We had seen the film recently and loved it. We sang along and danced for a few hours. 

We made a couple of stops on the way back to our room, one to have a fake skate on their snowed over ice skating rink, and another to check out their their convenience store, where we challenged each other to find the strangest junk food they offered. We ended up with shredded beef jerky that's supposed to imitate smokeless tobacco. The flavor was as disgusting as the concept!

The next morning, we had a delicious breakfast at the resort's restaurant and then hit the road. It snowed the night before, so Michigan was covered in a fresh blanket. It made for a lovely cruise. 

On the way back, we made a stop at the New Holland Brewery's Pub in New Holland, Michigan. I am a big fan of their Edgar Allen Poe-inspired "The Poet" Oatmeal Stout, and was looking forward to trying their other offerings. To no surprise, they were wonderful. The beer flights came with generous pours and a lot of options, most of which were outstanding. Mrs. Tires delighted in her first "beer float," which was basically a root beer float incorporating a tasty New Holland stout instead of root beer. The brewpub was generic but still charming, and the food was pretty good too. Overall it was a worthy stop and a fine ending to another trip to Pure Michigan. 

Must See in Michigan:
  • Comerica Park 
  • Ann Arbor
  • The Heidelberg Project 

Check it Out:
  • Muskegon State Park 
  • New Holland Brewery 
  • Crystal Mountain Resort
  • Michigan Adventures Amusement Park

Skip It: 
  • Cross country skiing in Northern Michigan


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