Day 1 of our Lake Michigan “Lap the Lake” trip (posted 5/19/22)

Today was the first day of what I expect to be a 5-day trip around Lake Michigan, starting in Chicago and going northwest through Wisconsin and Michigan, before rounding the top of the Lake and coming back down the east side through Indiana, returning to Chicago. 

One of my cousins – Darryll – bought a 1976 Cadillac El Dorado convertible last year, and he and my cousin Bob and I drove that car from Chicago to LA on Route 66 last May.  We had a such a good time that we decided to take another trip together this year. 

Yesterday (Thursday, 5/19) was the beginning of that trip, but things got off to a rough start. 

In the morning, Darryll noticed that a dashboard brake light was on.  He checked the brake fluid and found it a bit low, but after he topped it off and re-started the car, the brake pedal went almost to the floor before it gave much resistance.  He drove the car carefully around the block and returned it in one piece, and then wanted to see what I thought. 

So I drove it around the block, seeing how travel there was in the brake pedal, and trying to decide if it was a lot spongier than it had been during our trip last year.

The psychology problem we both had was similar to the sour milk conundrum: when someone asks you to smell milk to see if it’s sour, your mind plays tricks on you, and you think you might detect a sour undertone, whether it’s there or not.

We went through the same thing as we test drove the caddy.  Yes, the brake pedal has a LOT more give than the brakes in either of our newish cars.  But was it weaker than it had been before?  

I know that an old brake pedal generally has more travel than the one in a modern car. But the steering wheel does the same: you turn it a while before the land-yacht car starts to turn. 

So maybe you just have to press the brake for a while before… you know… the car stops.  Or even slows appreciably.

To add to our list of issues, the gas gauge also stopped working in the 24 hours before we were set to leave.  Those of you who followed our trip last year may remember that the speedometer and odometer already weren’t working.  Along with the a.c. 

If any of us had a wife with us, she might have said something crazy and irrational like, “Let me get this right:  You’re about to drive over a thousand miles in a car that may or may not stop when you need it to, and you won’t know how fast you’re going, or how far you’ve gone, or when it will run out of gas?  With your half-wit cousins, who must be as dumb as you are?”

But Bob’s wife and my wife were not there, and Darryll is single, so he gets to go through life blissfully unaware of all the things he’s constantly doing wrong. 

Hence we had to rely on our own fantastic judgment, and make a decision.  Sure, we could still make the trip in Bob’s newish, modern car.  We would drive in air-conditioned comfort, knowing how fast we were going, and how much gas we had in the tank, and that the car would stop when we pushed the brake.

But where’s the fun in that? 

More importantly, where is the kind of faulty risk-assessment and joie de vivre mixed with toxic masculinity that says, “Hold my beer and watch while I circumnavigate Lake Michigan in a rolling death-trap!” in that?

As you may have deduced by now, we are Ameri-CANs, not Ameri-CAN’Ts.  So we looked on the bright side, and tallied up what we had going for us:

1. Half a dozen cigarette lighters tucked into various corners of the Caddy’s interior.  Because it was made in 1976, when a proud America turned 200, and there were only two genders, and both of them smoked like a tire fire from morning ‘til night.

2. An atlas.  That’s right, I brought a collection of paper maps with us, similar to the ones carried by other intrepid explorers, like Vasco Da Gama and Magellan and Amerigo Vespucci, as far as I know.

3. A little something I call “grit.”

So we took off in the cool of the morning and headed toward Chicago.

Long story short: the brakes are holding up so far, and somewhere after Lake Shore Drive the gas gauge started working again.   HA!  Take that, common sense and good judgment!

Today’s trip took us around 220 miles – we can’t be sure exactly how far. 

Because: no gauges.

We received our first compliment on the car – out of 14 so far – in Joliet.  (Home of “Joliet Jake” of the Blues Brothers.) It came from two bikers who cruised by us on the interstate, looking the car over and nodding approvingly. 

We got to Lake Shore Drive and pulled over just before Soldier Field and put the top down.  Then we drove on, eventually winding through some leafy, north Chicago suburbs.  In Evanston, we took a short detour to drive by the house where Risky Business was filmed.

Both of my cousins wanted to do a running slide across the front porch in their shirt-tails and underpants with a Bob Seger song playing, but I managed to dissuade them.

You’re welcome, Evanston.

Before long, we crossed into Wisconsin, where our first stop was Kenosha. 

With a population of just less than 100,000, the parts of Kenosha we saw were impressive.  They’ve got a scenic waterfront district, two giant museums (one a Civil War Museum) that we saw, and their Columbus statue near the Lake has been un-toppled and un-defaced!  There were a lot of beautiful homes and some small, pretty parks along the lake front, too.   

We walked around several blocks near the water, and a nice couple took a picture of us in front of a charming, upbeat mural depicting an AMC Gremlin, a car that used to be made here. 

And that’s the only sentence you’ll ever read with the words “charming,” “upbeat,” and “AMC Gremlin” in it.

We didn’t have time to drive around looking for the area where Kyle Rittenhouse defended himself against a group of career criminal sex offenders, but I hope that the next time I go through Kenosha, I’ll see a statue of him near the statue of Columbus. 

And I hope that that statue’s base will bear the immortal words, “That iron get ya’ mind right!”

Further up the coast we drove through Racine, a much grittier town, but one that still has some lovely homes along the waterfront, along with a very cool lighthouse where we stopped and took some pics. 

Our next stop was Milwaukee, which once again impressed me.  With a population of around half a million, it’s a better-known city, but seemed much larger.  In just a brief drive through downtown we saw at least a dozen really beautiful buildings – churches, commercial buildings, city hall – built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

And there’s no better way to take a driving tour through a city like that than in a convertible.  Because he was driving, Darryll didn’t get to take in the visual feast as much as Bob and I did, but I definitely want to visit again, when I’ve got more time to spend.

Past downtown, we drove along the lake with a tall bluff to our left, on which sat several miles worth of beautiful old houses and other buildings.  We eventually doubled-back, driving up onto the bluff and stopping at a very cool old lighthouse, which led us to discover a series of walking bridges made of wrought-iron.  They spanned some walking trails in a ravine below, and connected a series of green parks that provided gorgeous views of the lake.

Back in the car, we circled an impressively tall stone water tower from 1873, and then drove through what seemed like miles and miles of really stunning homes built in a variety of styles. 

The only discordant notes were struck by occasional modern houses – still large, and on landscaped lots with great views, but built in the 1960s and 70s, with all the charm of a dentist’s office.

With the temperatures dropping and the daylight getting short, we drove another 45 miles or so north, to Sheboygan.

Despite sounding like an annoying noise made by a mugging Jerry Lewis in one of his Nutty Professor movies, this town was a great place to end today’s journey. 

We checked in to a small motel on a pretty park, and then had a great supper in an old-fashioned, supper-club-feeling steak place called Rupps. 

We took a late walk around town, and this place really punches above its weight, as Kenosha and Milwaukee do.  Though Sheboygan is home to only 50 thousand people, we walked through a charming, 12-block stretch of well-preserved and homey two-story brick buildings.  It looked the way a small-town downtown should look, only there was more of it.

We passed a very nice library that had a lot of art around – and it wasn’t abstract, or woke, or otherwise terrible!  One piece consisted of four tall, bronze panels depicting aspects of what libraries should contain.  One panel was dedicated to children’s lit (with characters from Where the Wild Things Are, Dr. Suess and others), one to culture, one to science, and one to history. 

One children’s museum had a huge mural of an ocean scene and a large whale near the surface.  Above the whale’s head was a huge sculpture of the stern of a sailing ship, sticking out from the building as if it were in the process of sailing into it.  As we rounded the structure we could see masts and the superstructure of the ship sticking up through the top of the building, and the bow of the ship coming out through the other side.    

There were a lot of bars and restaurants, and a much larger than expected waterfront lined with condos and boat slips.  

So far I really like what I’ve seen of Wisconsin, and I’m looking forward to seeing more tomorrow.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: