Friday, July 30, 2021
It was the last day of my second trip to Michigan since the pandemic started.
I wasn’t going to Charlevoix again because I’d already been there twice on Wednesday. I swear more people were walking or driving up and down Bridge Street than on the streets in Manhattan when my mom and I drove through there on a Friday afternoon in September 1986. (Seriously, this is almost not hyperbole.)
Bridge Street is aptly named. The Charlevoix Memorial Drawbridge spans the canal connecting Lake Charlevoix and Lake Michigan, and it opens and closes every half hour, backing up traffic for at least a couple dozen blocks.
Because it was my last day in Michigan, I decided to walk on the shores of Lake Michigan rather than hunt for parking spaces in Charlevoix, Petoskey, or Harbor Springs then weave in and out of pedestrians along the sidewalks. I’d done my shopping and didn’t need any more caramel corn, stationery, or books.
Between Petoskey and Charlevoix, I stopped at a couple of parks and hiked along Lake Michigan, taking pictures and getting my feet wet.
After I left the second park, I planned to return to my mom’s in Petoskey. But that meant crossing traffic that was heading west so I could go east. It would be clear one way, but never both ways at the same time. So, I headed west, planning to make a left-hand turn into a parking lot, then make a right-hand turn and head back to Petoskey.
Before I found a place to turn around, I was almost to Charlevoix. I decided to keep going.
I parked before the Charlevoix Memorial Drawbridge, my strategy to avoid the long line of cars waiting for the bridge to open and close every half hour.
I crossed the bridge on foot and walked to My Grandmother’s Table, a bakery, café, and coffee bar located just on the other side of the bridge. I’d thought about this small eatery when I’d made the decision to keep heading to Charlevoix. Along the inside wall of the café was a stunning mural, its color palate suggesting delicate confections and scrumptious food. If the desserts and food were only half as delectable as the mural, my money and time would be wisely spent.
“I’m here for dessert,” I said to a man in a white chef’s coat, making an effort to speak to him and not to the mural to the right of me. At 2:30 in the afternoon, their dessert trays were mostly bare. A few cookies sat on two trays and one large brownie, the size of Rhode Island, sat on a third tray.
“This is the best brownie,” the man in the white chef’s coat said, pointing to the lone chocolate rectangle sitting on a white paper doily.
It was so big. “Can you cut it in half?” I asked. He looked perplexed. Maybe he hadn’t heard me because of the mask I was wearing. I asked again.
“Well—” he said, then stopped talking.
“I’d like to eat half today and the other half tomorrow.”
“Well—” he said again, struggling to find some words.
I thought, “How hard can it be to cut the brownie in half?” Halfway through that thought, I had a moment of clarity and added, “I want to buy the whole brownie. I’d just like it cut in half.”
“Oh, okay.” He smiled and put it on a plate. He’d thought I wanted to buy only half the brownie—silly man. He pointed to a space behind me. “You can cut it if you’d like. There are knives over there.”
I turned and had a moment of surrealism. I looked at a silverware caddy filled with utensils and straws. During the early days of the pandemic these caddies had been spirited away and hidden behind counters, so when I ordered takeout, I needed to ask for utensils or straws. Now, like indoor dinning, the caddies had reappeared. I grabbed a fork and a knife. I cut my brownie in half, and the chef wrapped a piece of plastic over my plate. Even though indoor dining was open, I walked outside and sat down in their outdoor eating area.
I enjoyed the best brownie I’ve ever eaten. I only ate half of it, so I could enjoy the other half the next morning as I drove back to Wisconsin.
I returned to the café to tell the man in the white chef’s coat that it was the best brownie. Again, I reminded myself to talk to the man, not the mural. I asked if I could take a picture of the mural on the wall. “Of course,” he said, and we both turned to look at it.
I aimed my phone at the mural, but stopped before clicking. A German shepherd lay on the black-and-white tiled floor. I moved my phone to look at him. The dog wasn’t real—it was part of the mural. But he looked so real, I thought, “If a patron dropped food on the floor, the dog would rise and gobble it up.” The dog was the only image on the whimsical mural that looked realistic. He was part of the painting, yet apart from the painting. He reminded me of myself during my trip in this pandemic—part of the world, yet apart from the world.
[The mural, 35 feet wide and 12 feet tall, was painted by Gary Markley, a local artist from Torch Lake, Michigan. He strived to recreate the painting as its original artist Anton Pieck (1895-1987) intended it. A Dutch artist, Pieck’s paintings have a Currier & Ives quaintness that depict 1800s European life. My Grandmother’s Table: Facebook Page. To see information about three charming, independently owned bookstores in Michigan, click on the name of each bookstore: Between the Covers in Harbor Springs, Round Lake Bookstore in Charlevoix, McLean and Eakin in Petoskey.]