The weather is not a thing up here; it is THE thing. I kept my plans soft because I had no idea how comfortable I would feel driving around in my not-so-ideal car and all season tires. Come to find out, Yoopers (as residents of the UP are called) may have more suitable traction, but they make their decisions on the weather as well.
Restaurants are mostly closed here in St. Ignace, but of the few that are open, they can’t really commit to set hours. “It all depends on the weather,” the server told me yesterday in Bentley’s where I have eaten more meals than not. I stopped at The Berry Patch yesterday near Tahquamenon Falls for chili. A woman was cleaning the floor, and raised her voice in frustration, “I am sick of hearing this weather all the time. It changes every five minutes.”
I have been quite literally driving on roads completely covered in ice. The snow gets pushed aside, but the snow melting and refreezing forms a solid coating of ice on every highway. I noticed yesterday that I was letting myself feel a little too confident after a couple of days of successfully navigating the slippery stuff. “Speed is not your friend,” my friend Stan had warned me on Tuesday. I reminded myself that all it takes is one slip.
The Upper Peninsula in the summer is remote and beautiful, but the U.P. in the winter is otherworldly. Snowmobiles shoot across frozen Lake Huron from Mackinac Island. Cars are outnumbered by snowmobilers dressed in thick clothes and helmets. Nobody even bothers to take off snow boots or winter clothes inside. They just deal with the slush and mess and peel off layers until they are comfortable. I imagine they drink lots of alcohol, but I know they drink lots of coffee. And don’t ask for a latte. That’ll make you the butt of a number of jokes. It’s coffee, plain and simple.
Gathering Places … and apparently, I have some cousins in the UP!
Any open restaurant is basically providing a public service by staying open. When I eat, I stay literally for hours because everybody is visiting and talking about – you guessed it – the weather. The day literally revolves around traveling a long, slow distance to get where you are going, eating and drinking coffee, and figuring out what time is the best to get on the road again. The pace is slow. The people are warm. All plans are flexible.
A couple from Nashville was in Java Joe’s with me this morning along with a couple of siblings who were in town because their father died. I had to wait to order because the cook was eating her breakfast. When she was done we all ordered and visited while we waited.
The Nashville couple drove their truck out on the ice this morning and took a picture to send back home. They, too, were trying to decide if they should drive around much or head back due to the weather. Driving on ice on purpose is better than doing it unexpectedly.
“In the summer,” Joe said, “we have a line out the door to get in here.” It’s hard to imagine it being so busy, but everybody says it’s so. My friend Pat in Barbeau told me that everybody complains about the weather, but they really are sad when the snow is gone. “We have fun in the winter,” she said. “No matter where you go,” it takes an hour to get there.” So, they travel long distances, go snowshoeing and skiing and eat and drink coffee. And I imagine they do a lot of talking about the weather.