Search This Blog

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Where Is the "Real World"?

View zoomed from my favorite little house in Grand Marais

I’ve fallen away from Robinson Crusoe, not far from the end. If I were a 14-year-old boy (an extraordinary young teen, that is, one with patience for Defoe’s convoluted sentence structure; this is a challenging book to read aloud, I warn you), I’m sure I would be more excited by the plotting and shooting and killing. But would I, even then, accept Crusoe’s hunger for adventure, his determination to go to sea against parental wishes, as his original sin? Can this character really (let’s pretend, for the sake of the fiction, that he is a real person) have wished he’d stayed home and played it safe, as his father had urged? And to answer a question I’d posed for myself in an earlier post, no, he doesn’t seem to have seen his plantation slave-owning as sinful, and venturing off to sea again to buy slaves for other plantation owners he regrets only for the greed of it, not because of any other aspect of human trafficking. 

I’ll probably skim through the remaining chapters but feel no great pull. These days I'm much more pulled to be outdoors, soaking up September light.

“When we get back to the ‘real world,’” David began, as we stood by the door of the West Bay Diner in Grand Marais, on the point of departure.

“This is the real world,” Ellen interrupted, smiling but firm.

“I stand corrected,” David acknowledged handsomely, without argument.

View from the window of our room at the Superior Hotel

I thought back to a trip we made to Mackinac Island in the fall of 2007 (when we were “between dogs”) and David’s comment then that the island was not the real world. Surely it is, I had argued, for people who live there and work hard seven days a week, showing tourists and summer people a good time! That’s what Ellen and Rick do at the Diner, and it’s what Mary and Rick do a couple blocks away, running the Superior Hotel and getting out the Grand Marais Pilot. And they’re not the only ones.

Leelanau County, a beautiful Lake Michigan peninsula, is called “La-La Land” by some. They see it as a retreat for the wealthy, a land of leisure bristling with trust funds and fat investment portfolios, but that is only one picture from the county album. Other snapshots would show carpenters and waitresses, farmers and orchard workers, clerks, teachers, retirees (some but not all rich), millionaires and yacht owners (yes, a few), but also food pantry volunteers and clients, housekeepers, builders, lawn care workers, cooks, bartenders, plumbers, tech support people, disabled veterans, nonprofit volunteers (and paid directors), caregivers (paid and unpaid), artists and writers, small business owners (who wear multiple hats and perform many jobs), and minimum wage workers of every stripe.

 Beer at Garage Bar & Grill
Visitors who call this “La-La Land” don’t see it as the real world because they are on vacation, as we are when we go to the U.P. Vacationers can sometimes mistake residents' lives as residing in a dream. Well, I’ve said it before, but here it is again: Having a dream is easy. Living a dream takes work.

When I first moved into the little bark-covered building on the corner of Mill and Nagonaba in 1997 (already the third location of my business and currently the home of Nature Gems, an even older local business), I told my new landlord I was in it for the long haul. Visitors who haven’t been to Northport for a while find it hard to believe, as I do myself, that Dog Ears Books has been in its present location for a decade already.

In the real world, time sorts out the dreamers from the workers. No, that’s not quite right. Because if we weren’t dreamers in the first place, we would not have chosen this path! What time reveals is which dreamers are willing to put the work into living their dreams and which are not, which sounds like I’m tooting my own horn -- and in part, obviously, I am -- but fresh back from Grand Marais it’s Ellen and Rick G., Mary and Rick C. that I’m singling out for a special salute today.

View down Nagonaba Street to marina in Northport

A salute to Grand Marais is no snub to Northport! Both villages, the one on Lake Superior and the other here on Lake Michigan, have their share of hard-working dreamers, and that’s only one thing they have in common. Isolated, end-of-the-road locations; seasonal economies; struggling small schools; a shortage of summer workers, with that situation exacerbated by rising real estate prices; friendly locals; and beautiful natural settings are other features shared by the two sister villages.

Is it any wonder I feel so at home in my “home away from home” and can enter so sympathetically into the lives of my friends in that other very real world?

In Arcadia
So yes, we came home, but then almost right away we made a little day trip down the coast south, past Frankfort, through Arcadia and Onekama as far as Manistee, a town that seemed like a city to this pair of country mice. Gorgeous old buildings and a lovely riverfront walk! All along the way, too, we found people working. 

I’d mentioned to Ellen, up in sight of Lake Superior, that all summer long when I was indoors in my bookstore I tried not to envy vacationers running off to hike or swim or simply walk the beach, and then there I was, running off to swim in Sable Lake (once!) while Ellen and Rick slaved away in the Diner. I told her there was something about this in Wind in the Willows and would find the quote for her, so here it is. The Mole has just said to himself, ‘Hang spring cleaning!’ and emerged into a sunlit meadow to go off rambling cross-country.
It all seemed too good to be true. Hither and thither through the meadows he rambled busily, along the hedgerows, across the copses, finding everywhere birds building, flowers budding, leaves thrusting—everything happy, and progressive, and occupied. And instead of having an uneasy conscience pricking him and whispering ‘Whitewash!’ he somehow could only feel how jolly it was to be the only idle dog among all these busy citizens. After all, the best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the other fellows busy working.
That is just how it was again yesterday for David and me. Crews were out working on roads, men and women on lawn mowers busy on the grounds of homes and public places, cooks cooking and servers serving, bartenders pulling draft beer from taps – “busy citizens” everywhere, while we two “idle dogs” played hooky for one more day.

Messing about in boat storage yards....

Riverfront view, Manistee
Street scene, Frankfort
Back to Frankfort for dinner at Fusion



We two “idle dogs” had a fabulous day, and now we're back at work. 

Also looking ahead to Leelanau UnCaged, a week from tomorrow. Come visit Northport for the big street fair on September 24!


Dawn said...

This is why Monday is my new (since retirement) favorite day. Because everyone else goes back to work and I don't have to. I don't feel retired on Saturday or Sunday.

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn, I get it!

Joe said...

Wonderful post. I finally got around to picking up one of the books I purchased this summer. "Indian Country" by Phil Caputo. Amazing novel. While looking up more from this author I found reviews. People of my age (+60) understand and raved about. Younger reviewers didn't seem to understand.

Post reminded me we need to get back to Grand Marais! Via Northport of course.

P. J. Grath said...

Thanks, Joe! Did you recognize Grand Marais and surrounding territory in the Caputo novel? He rearranged the geography somewhat.... Younger reviewers did not live through the Vietnam era -- or the draft.