One could easily jump to conclusions, thinking the worst, if one should get a text message such as I did about four weeks ago. My daughter Annie, wrote, “Dad, can we go someplace together for spring break? I want to ride along with you on a trip.” Annie is 23 years old, graduated college last year and is now in her first-year teaching school in Iowa. Hanging out with your Dad over spring break is not something most 23-year old’s want to do. Rather than trying to figure out why she wanted to hang out with me, I started looking for a trip we could take on her available days off.
I knew she would want to go someplace warm and green; a cool destination, where she could go back to work and boast, “I went to so-and-so, for spring break.” Anything opposite of winter, would define “cool.” To get a trip like that would involve driving to California, and she only had five days off. I was offered a trip to Washington state, a cool place, but again, we would spend our entire time together on the road driving. A potential trip to Kentucky came up and I claimed it right away. A few days before spring break, that trip fell through. The only other option on the table was a drive to Port Huron, Michigan – not exactly the warmest place this time of year, but I accepted the offer.
I met Annie in St. Paul, Minnesota, where we spent the night, then left early the next morning. After doing my business in Port Huron, we drove down to the waterfront on the St. Clair River; a shipping channel that connects Lake Huron to Lake Erie. It’s also the border between the United States and Canada. The shipping season wasn’t underway yet, so there were no boats to see and frankly, not much action going on. We considered going to Canada, but Annie doesn’t have a passport yet. Although Port Huron is a cool area, I told Annie I wanted to start for home, “We’ll visit here another time during the season, for now I have something else I want to show you farther north; we have to get there before dark.”
Four hours later, we were in Mackinaw City, Michigan. I wanted to take Annie to the beach at the park, but a ten-foot-tall snowbank at the parking lot entrance caboshed that idea. The lighthouse museum and most other attractions in town were also closed for the season. From the main street, between the high snowbanks on each side and the big ridge of snow down the middle of the lanes, I was able to show her the Mackinac Bridge that we would be crossing to get to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She thought it looked pretty cool.
If you’ve never crossed the Mackinac Bridge, (pronounced Mackinaw) put it on your list of “must do” destinations. It’s the third longest suspension bridge in America, only behind the Verrazano-Narrows, in lower New York Bay, and the Golden Gate at San Francisco Bay. Spanning the Mackinac Straights, the natural waterway which connect Lake Michigan to Lake Huron, the bridge was finished in 1957. The center lanes are open grate surfaces, you can see right through them: the outer lanes are paved. Combine her narrow lanes, no walkways on either side, the short side rails and the deck being some 170’ above the water, and the person sitting on the passenger side is looking right over the edge of the bridge – straight down into the icy waters! Can you say anxiety? If you have no fear of heights the Mighty Mac, just might give you one – but oh, what a thrill to drive over it!
The Mac’s upright towers stand tall and majestic. Huge cables sweep up from the deck, all the way to the top of the towers, then down the other side to the center surface of the bridge, then race back up to the next tower and once again down to the deck. Such a design of strength is an engineering miracle, but to the average person, it is simple grace and beauty on display.
Annie was absolutely glued to the windows; looking over the edge, and all around. It was a real charge for me to share her excitement, crossing for the first time. “We have a great lake over here.” She narrated while panning her video camera from left to right, “and another great lake over here.” On the north end of the bridge, we stopped to pay the toll. I didn’t mind paying this one. It was only four dollars and the toll booth guy, was really nice. He had a wealth of information about the bridge and since there were no cars behind us, he was willing to share.
While Annie was experiencing such a natural high, she asked hurriedly, “Dad, can we please go back over it again. That was so cool.” “We have to pay every time we cross.” I told her. She fired right back “I’ll pay the toll.” I explained, “Yes, but we would have to pay to go south, and then pay another four bucks to come back north again.” “Dad, please! I’ll pay it! We have to do that again!” I was so caught up in her elation, I wanted to cross over again, too! I made a U-turn and went back to the bridge.
Crossing back to the south, Annie was all camera, all windows, looking over the edge again, straight up at the towers, off to the distance in every direction - every angle she could find. But, it was the third crossing, going back north, that was the best!
Semis and vehicles with trailers are limited to 20 miles-per-hour on the bridge, because the winds are always strong that high in the air. The temperature was in the mid-fifties. Annie got up on her knees on the center armrest and had her upper body sticking out through the open sunroof. With her arms extended in the air as if she was on a roller coaster using no hands to hold on, she hollered, “Wooo Hooo!”
Annie mimicked Jack riding the bow of the Titanic. Her body rushing through the wind, her hair was blowing straight back and her eyes watered in the cold air. She proclaimed, “I’m the king of the world.” June watched Annie, then looked back and forth between Annie and me as if to alert me, “Are you seeing this, Dad? I think Annie’s gone loopy.” “It’s okay, Bugs. She’s just having fun.” I assured.
Annie seized the full effect, fearlessly hanging over to the side to look over the edge of the bridge. She was savoring every exhilarating moment, all the way to the end of the bridge. She was still poking out the sunroof when I pulled up to the toll booth. It was the same nice man in the booth. I’m sure he watched her celebrating coming down the lane toward him. From the open top, she handed him four dollars, “that was well worth the money.” She said. He was laughing when he took her money, “Well, that’s one way to cross the bridge.”
The trip was a blast to say the least. We had a lot of fun, saw a lot of neat things and spent much time talking. Annie plug her iPhone into the stereo and introduced me to “DCappella,” an a cappella group that sings all Disney songs. The group of seven singers is every bit as talented as you would expect from any Disney production. In the 23 hours were on the road, Annie got me to like this group as well…and she taught me the lyrics to a few of their songs. I even agreed to someday go to a DCappella live concert with her.
Arriving back at the house around 2 a.m. Friday, the road trip portion of our spring break together was over. Tired, we decided everything in the car could stay there until morning. We went inside and straight to bed. Friday was a day for sleeping in late to recoup, lounge around the house for a while, then get some things ready for Saturday – St. Urho’s Day, in Finland, Minnesota.
If you’ve not heard of St. Urho, he’s worth researching a bit. It’s my understanding he is the saint credited with chasing the grasshoppers away and saving the grape crops in Finland. He has given the Finnish people as much reason to celebrate as St. Patrick gave the Irish. And, celebrate they do! People come from great distances to join the festivities in Finland. One of the bigger spectacles is a parade on Saturday morning.
My wife coordinated the parade float and crew for the North Shore Federal Credit Union, where she works. I was honored to drive the truck pulling their float. Since Annie had been driving with me the previous two days, it only made sense she would be my copilot for this venture as well. My cousin’s Andy and Sarah, rounded out the tow vehicle crew. (Yes, it takes four people to drive the truck!) It was a really good time with many wonderful participants in the annual parade. The crowd was large and the spirit was festive. After the parade, we stayed awhile to join the party.
That night, back at the house, we made a late dinner of homemade beef and noodles. We sat around the fire in the living room telling stories and enjoying conversation. When the others went to bed, Melissa and I broke out a new carton of Moose Tracks ice-cream. Yum… Hey, it wasn’t our fault those party poopers couldn’t hang with us until dessert time!
Sunday morning brought yet another great feast – brunch: eggs scrambled with green pepper, onion, mushrooms and sausage. Homemade buttermilk biscuits, fried potatoes and fresh fruit. Again, we ate well and enjoyed good conversation. Near the end of every adventure, I always ask the kids, “What was your favorite part of the trip?” I forgot to ask Annie at the table, but I would ask before she left town.
After brunch, Andy and Annie helped with cleaning up the kitchen. Sarah and Melissa started loading the car. It was now time for our guest to head south for the Twin-Cities. Annie would now ride back with them as her was car parked at their house. It’s always kind of sad when a visit comes to an end and your guests have to go home. As I stood on the front porch and watched them drive away down the road, I remembered that I had forgotten to ask Annie what her favorite part of spring break was. I imagined she would have told me, crossing the Mighty Mac, or the St. Urho’s Day Parade.
Inevitably she would return the question, “What was your favorite part, Dad?” I thought about it for a moment. I smiled as I could see myself telling her, “My favorite part, was having a 23 year-old daughter who wanted to spend spring break with her Dad.”
a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!