Friday Dinner 
I'm on my way to my parent's place for the weekend and have stopped for dinner. It's worth backing up a little and explaining why I am where I am at the moment.

With traffic and a stop for fuel working against me, I realized I could not join my parents for dinner. (Not without making them wait a couple hours.) I called to give them my ETA and suggested they dine without me.

"No problem," said my mother, "we're just having BLTs."

Just BLTs. I was now faced with a craving.

Driving up I-75, the vast majority of the information I had easy access to (i.e., roadside signs) informed me of all sorts of places that did not speak to me of BLT availability. Some of the exits had a Big Boy restaurant at them and I thought Big Boy probably had a BLT on the menu, but I did not want to risk being disappointed. I kept driving north.

I had a back-up plan. I knew that Tony's at exit 136 had a BLT on the menu. It's a BLT that I try to avoid, being older and wiser than I once was, but it was there, patiently biding its time.

Having failed to find anything that sounded promising by the time I was 136 miles from where I-75 enters Michigan's southern border, I reluctantly exited the freeway and turned left. Driving across the overpass and past the Marathon station, I turned right into Tony's parking lot, parked, and joined the queue waiting for tables. There is always a wait for a table at meal times.

Once at the head of the line, I was sized up by the person doing the seating.

"How many?"

"One."

"Do you mind sitting at the counter?"

"Sure -- no problem." I actually enjoy sitting at the counter in most places. As a former short-order cook, I like to watch the staff in action and see how the production line flows. I'd call it "professional interest" if I was still cooking for a living. These days, I think of it more as "confirming that I'm glad I don't do that sort of thing every day."

I took a seat at the counter -- right across from the spot where the waiters pick up the the food. Staring back at me was a BLT. It was eight or nine inches tall. Tony's, you see, brags about the pound of bacon that goes into their BLTs. That was why this was my BLT of last resort -- I really don't want that much bacon at one sitting.

"I can't order one of those -- I'll get something else," I decided, and asked for a menu.

Every now and then, we all run into moments in our lives where we look around for a hidden camera. When we're sure we've been set up for some sort of practical joke or that we're being manipulated for the amusement of others. This was such a moment in my life.

"Hmmm . . . 'Hot Roast Beef Sandwich' sounds good," crossed my mind, just before a cook set one on the ledge for a passing waiter to pick up. "No, I can't eat all of that."

"Ooh! How about the Fish-n- . . . no, that's enormous," just as someone walked by with an order for a diner more ravenous than I.

"I could get the . . . ," and the next thing I considered showed up on the ledge, causing me to change my mind again.

This went on for an improbably long time.

Finally, I noticed the hamburgers -- 1/2 pound burgers. That's the same size as the burgers I often get at lunch. That's not stupidly large! I can get one of those.

The burger actually provided me with a solution to my craving. A cheeseburger came with lettuce, tomato, and mayo; if I added bacon to it, I'd have my BLT. With a cheeseburger on it! Sort of a "ground beef club sandwich," but I knew this would satisfy the BLT craving and ordered a cheeseburger with bacon.

If only it had been that simple. This is Tony's I-75 Restaurant -- a palace of prodigious proportions. For this reason, I am now looking at burger, served open-face, with half a pound of bacon on it.

There is no way I am going to close that sandwich and fit it in my mouth. No human mouth is that large. The solution? Treat most of the bacon as an "appetizer" and keep nibbling until there were only about 6-8 slices left. Then I'll close the sandwich and enjoy my BLT/Cheeseburger.

It occurs to me I should document this substantial sandwich:



It is worth noting that I have eaten about a third of the bacon before having the presence of mind to take a picture.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a date with a deliciousness.





Tony's I-75 Restaurant
8781 Main Street
(Exit 136, I-75)
Birch Run, MI 48415

(989) 624-5860


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2012 MAGFest 
Last weekend was spent in Washington, DC, volunteering for the security crew at MAGFest 10. MAGFest (Music And Gaming Festival) is a DC area convention that celebrates video games and video game music. The main attractions at this convention are a large video game area, a vast collection of vintage arcade games (around 100-150 this year), what may be the world's largest Bring-Your-Own-Computer LAN party, and concerts by bands that play music from video games.

The concerts are, for a non-gamer like me, surprisingly good. If you've not been keeping up on music in the video gaming world (which I haven't), you may be surprised to discover how far it's advanced beyond the cute little tunes played on Pac-Man or Mario Brothers consoles. This year, along with the various bands that usually show up to play music from their favorite games, MAGFest scored a major coup -- Nobuo Uematsu, composer of most of the music for the Final Fantasy series of games, brought his band to the convention to perform for the fans. If you played Final Fantasy, Nobuo Uematsu and the Earthbound Papas was the must-attend event of the weekend.

I'm not a video game player, but I worked on crowd control before the concert and the autograph session afterwards. Although I didn't need to be there during the concert, I discovered I like Uematsu's music. I stuck around in the hallway behind the stage and listened to the whole performance. I've decided I need to buy the Earthbound Papas CD -- I liked the music that much.

Once the autograph session was over, Uematsu's translator mentioned that the band was impressed with how smoothly the session ran and asked that the security crew working the session come to a dinner Uematsu was hosting the following evening. Nice guy and good composer -- I enjoyed myself.

This year, the convention had around 6200 attendees -- more than double the 3000 that attended last year. The new venue - the Gaylord Convention Center and Hotel in National Harbor, MD - was a vast improvement over last year's hotel. Both places had first-rate staff and excellent rooms, but the new venue has four times the event space. (I'm guessing here -- I don't have the actual numbers.) Also, four times the public elevators ... and I'm not sure I counted all of them.

It's a weekend of loud games, loud concerts, and relatively few incidents. The few people who made major nuisances of themselves were carted off to jail, but the vast majority of the attendees where just plain terrific. I'm not used to having so many people thank me for checking their bag when they exited a room. "I understand why you have to do that; thanks for keeping our stuff safe," was the gist of most of the comments. A very nice group of people, overall, and I look forward to working MAGFest 11 next year.

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Septermber Song 
September has always been my favorite month. Perhaps being the month of my birth has something to do with it, but I think there's more than that. There are several things I associate with September that, individually, make me happy. Combined, they make me amazingly relaxed and content.

September really begins in earnest with Labor Day Weekend. Strictly interpreted, this means that September sometimes begins in the last day or two of August. I'm okay with that; as long as I get a three-day weekend out of the deal, all is well.

As a child, the concept of a three-day weekend never meant much to me. It was another part of this thing called "summer vacation", which was a kind of 90-day weekend. If other people wanted to make a big deal out of one particular weekend, that was okay.

I will confess to some degree of interest in Labor Day Weekend when I was a child. It meant two things to me: school would start up again once it was over and the last 21.5 hours of the weekend was the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. In my youth, Lewis was still at the top of his game; his energy and the enthusiasm of his guests made for a spectacular end to the summer. I'd stay up as late as my parents would allow, then get up early to watch as much as I could of the rest of the telethon. This would be followed by a good night's sleep and a return to school in the morning.

For much of my life, "back to school" was the thing that really got me going in September. I liked school -- I was good at it. Sure, school had its ups and downs and summer vacation was a lot of fun, but by September, I would be missing school and was always glad to be back in class. This feeling persisted through my early adult years. When the evenings were noticeably shorter and the mornings more cool and crisp, I got a feeling that said, "time to go learn things." Even though I'm not in school and haven't been for years, the "time to start again" feeling still sneaks up on me.

Perhaps the most dramatic thing about September is that after Labor Day, the tourists start their 9-month hibernation. Or so it seemed, when I was growing up. I spent a good part of my first 20-odd years, and almost all of my summers, in a resort town. We'd work like crazy to make as much money as we could between Memorial Day and Labor Day, knowing that many of us would have to sustain ourselves on that income for the other 9 months.

I haven't lived in a resort town for many years, but it still seems like everything slows down after Labor Day. Perhaps it's just that students, probably the most energetic segment of the population, have settled back into their routine of being back in school and the overall activity level of society has gone down as a result.

What ever the reason, I've enjoyed September and I'm ready to greet October, with all of its autumnal beauty. The past month has relaxed me. I'm content.

Bring on the colors!


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Ten Years Ago 
Where was I when the four planes were hijacked ten years ago? Living in a country that was more free and less frightened of shadows. I miss that country.


When the ivy has found its tower, when the delicate creeper has found its strong wall,
we know how the parasite plants grow and prosper.
-- Anthony Trollope


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A Weekend Outing 
The vehicle that shooting past you on the left? Not me. You'll find my car over in the right lane; it's the you pass because it's going a steady 60 miles-per-hour. You won't find me on the ski slopes, but on the crosscountry ski trails. Other people might enjoy running, but walking is more my speed.

When all is said and done, it takes me longer to get there, but tend to enjoy the scenery more. This doesn't mean my way is better -- it merely means my priorities are different. Labor Day weekend was a chance to indulge my priorities.

Friday - M came over to the house to pick me up. We both took the day off in order to get to Cheboygan State Park and set up camp before it got dark. I offered to drive, since M's car has a manual transmission and I miss having one. We started an audio book and hit the road.

Traffic was less annoying than expected and we reached Bay City in short order. Rather than continue north on I-75, I switched to westbound M-10, heading toward Midland. This route takes a little longer, but there's far less traffic. We exited the freeway at Coleman Road and headed north, through Amish country, to my hometown. A slower route, but relaxing and there's plenty to see.

Another benefit to taking the day off is that it allowed to for a visit with my parents on the way up. After an hour of pleasant conversation and coffee, we promised to stop in on the trip back and it was back on the road and up to Cheboygan.

I'm pleased to say we made it to the camp site before sundown. About 8 minutes before sundown. And the campground has many, many trees. It wasn't exactly dark as we set up camp, but we did resort to flashlights a few times. Still, it was better than working in the dark and we soon had shelter (complete with sleeping accomodations, doormat, and various supplies) set up for the weekend.

Since M and I are addicted to knowing what's happening on the networks at home and at the office, we grabbed our computers and struck off in search of wireless access. Being in a rural community, the free wifi locations aren't as easy to find as they are in the city. No matter -- I'll take the minor inconvenience if it means fresh air for the weekend.

We'd had a late lunch and neither of us were hungry, but there is a bar in Cheboygan that I've been curious about (Mulligans -- "Good Food, Bad Shots") and it was free wifi. We got a table near an outlet, ordered drinks and a sandwich to split, and caught up on the virtual world. The reuben was good, the sweet potato fries were good, the iced tea was cold and wet, and there was nothing wrong with any of the networks I maintain. (I'm not sure what all M checked up on, but since there were no shrieks, I concluded all was well.)

Finally, we headed back to the tent and burrowed into our sleeping bags. My phone allowed me to check my favorite weather site for the current forecast -- lows in the low 60s and a good chance of rain. With the tent above us and warm sleeping bags around us, we turned off the light, confident in prospect of a good night's rest.

Saturday - It did rain. It rained and rained and rained. I'm told that glaciers typically move about 6 inches an hour. Likewise, the storm that was passing overhead. No breeze shook the tent and when I chanced a look outside, the rain was coming straight down. And quickly. And voluminously.

Also, insistently. The rain had found ways to saturate some of the tent's seams and was seeping its way inside. Several puddles had formed on the floor of the tent. Parts of our sleeping bags were wet. Not soaked, just damp, but it meant there was water dripping from points all over the tent. We weren't happy, but we were still dry and warm (air mattresses are wonderful things) and figured we'd deal with it in the morning, when it was light.

M's camping supplies includes a small bucket to be used as a trash receptacle. This morning we used that small bucket as ... well ... a small bucket. Using a washcloth as a mop and wringing it out frequently rendered the floor of the tent mostly dry. Having done as much as we could with water removal, we spread out the sleeping bags (and the washcloth) to dry and left camp to get breakfast.

We had breakfast at the Step Inn restaurant -- a small, family restaurant with amazingly good biscuits and gravy. (M ordered that. I ordered something else. My meal was good, but not amazing.) We lounged around the place for coffee and conversation; listening to a recorded book on the trip up had kept the talk to a minimum and we were making up for that.

Eventually, as often happens with vacationing computer jockeys, we set forth in search of Internet access. This time we opted for my current reliable fall-back provider, McDonald's. I've found that the nice folks with the addictive french fries are kind enough to offer free wifi at almost all of their locations. M and I visited the nearest location, bought some drinks and computed for a while.

While there, C (M's spouse) called with an update on his travel plans. Rather than become moving targets, we decided to stick around, have a light lunch, and catch up on our social networking. Upon C's arrival, we packed up our network operations center and headed back to camp.

We noted that the damp spots on the air mattress had dried off and the ad hoc mop was nearly dry. After shuffling a few things around inside the tent, C was settled in and it was time to think about what we were going to do about the evening meal. We discussed the matter while lounging around the campsite, eventually mentioning that we'd liked our sandwich at Mulligan's the previous day. That was enough for C to decide he'd like to check them out.

Mulligan's had three specials listed. There were three of us. It seemed like a simple decision, but we looked over the entire menu anyway. C ordered the salmon, M ordered the ravioli, and I was left with the prime rib. We ordered soft drinks all around, but I noticed a suspicious tap handle over at the bar. The waiter confirmed it was Guinness, so a pint of stout was obtained and shared around the table.

The prime rib was good. Not outstanding, but I'd order it again. The stout tasted wonderful. The conversation was pleasant and, since C had been driving for most of the day, he wanted to go on-line while we were there. No problem -- soon all three of us were chatting, hacking, and snacking.

We eventually paid our tab and headed back to camp. C, having a car full of radio equipment, engaged in one of his favorite hobbies -- chatting with other radio operators around the globe. M and I spent some quality time with a cribbage board and, towards the end, explained the rules to C. We'll have to play some three-handed games in the near future.

As much-too-late registered on the clocks, we decided to turn in. Another night of lows in the mid-60s found me sleeping on top of my sleeping bag.

Sunday - Around 4 a.m., I'd had enough of my bag-top sleeping arrangement and decided to crawl inside. It was sprinkling outside, so I felt round the tent, reaching out to any of the former puddles that were near me. All dry. With a content sigh, I zipped up the bag and went back to sleep.

We woke late, 10 a.m. or so, and started to discuss breakfast possibilities. Seeing as M and I enjoyed our breakfast the previous day at Step Inn and C hadn't had the pleasure, we that seemed the obvious choice. I generally avoid repeating restaurants when I'm on a three-day vacation, but I wanted the biscuits and gravy.

The remaining member of our camping group, B, called to say he'd be arriving in about two hours. This would be right around the time the rest of us would be finishing breakfast, so we figured we might hang around downtown Cheboygan and maybe check out the coffee shop we'd spotted the day before.

Step Inn was busy and our breakfast took longer than the day before. Even so, we were out and about by the time B called to ascertain our current location. After a few minutes of I-am-here-where-are-you, we all ended up on the sidewalk outside the State Street Coffee Company. problem -- we had little planned for the day and the coffee was good. Since B had breakfast just before getting to town and the rest of us were floating on a sea of Step Inn coffee, we figured we'd head to camp and get B settled in.

Once camp was fully set up, we relaxed a bit and talked about dinner plans. By now, it should be apparent that we do quite a bit of this. We're on vacation -- meals are part of the relaxation process. For the next meal, we were looking at adding two more to our party -- my brother-in-law and a friend of his who would be just finishing up their participation in the annual DALMAC bicycle tour.

Each year after the DALMAC ride, my brother-in-law, his friend, and I try to have dinner at Darrow's in Mackinaw City. I talk the place up regularly and my campmates were more than willing to give the place a try. The campers arrived a little early and held a place in line. On any given weekend, there's a line for dinner at Darrow's; on Labor Day weekend, the lines start early. The cyclists showed up after about 20 minutes had passed and we were all seated shortly thereafter.

The food was wonderful. (Try the whitefish, if it's your first visit.) By the end of the meal we were all stuffed and regretting that we couldn't possibly have a piece of their marvelous pie.

"I'll have a slice to go," piped up one voice.

Five other diners suddenly perked up. In the end, we all got pie to go. My brother-in-law got two slices, for which I am thankful. Not only would he not be in trouble for showing up at home without a piece of Darrow's pie for his wife, but I wouldn't get in trouble with my sister for allowing him to leave the building without the aforementioned pie.

The campers and the cyclists bid each other farewell. The cyclists hit the road south and the campers headed to Cheboygan. For the third evening in a row, we made use us Mulligan's free wifi. This time, we settled down with our computers and a few pints of beer. I'd been keeping an eye on the weather forecast all weekend, watching the chance of rain for Monday morning bounce back and forth between 30 and 50 percent. This evening's forecast called for a slight chance of rain overnight and none for the morning. This news was greeted with great approval by all at our table. With a promising forecast ahead of us, we headed back to camp.

We wanted to make an early evening of it -- we were planning to get up at 5 a.m. to get an early start on the walk. Showers were taken and tents aired out a bit. Just as darkness was settling in, B fired up a piece of camping gear that we all admired -- his portable espresso kit. As we all ate at the picnic table, enjoying some late-night espresso and pie, it started to sprinkle. We finished up and turned in for night.

Monday -- Labor Day - After a day filled with coffee and beer, it's not surprising to find oneself awake at 3:15 a.m. Reluctantly, I ducked out of the tent for a few minutes. It was a brisk 45 degrees outside, but the rain had stopped and the sky was gorgeous. Being still rather tired and not dressed adequately for the cold, I went back to bed.

The problem with this brief interlude is that it involved climbing off, and back on to, the air mattress I was sharing with C and M. Since we were all awake, M decided to follow my example. As did C. By the end of all of this, it was a few minutes before 4 a.m. We all agreed that we could still get a bit of a nap in before our various alarms went off in an hour.

That's when people started stirring at the camp site next to ours. If we'd all been asleep, I suspect we'd have never heard them. Try as they might to be quiet, we laid awake and listened to them nonetheless. At around 4:15, they got in their car and drove off, headlights playing briefly across out tent. We all knew where they were heading. We are not the only ones who like to get an early start on Labor Day.

We came to the conclusion that none of us were going to get any sleep in the next 45 minutes. If B was ready to join us, we were head to wake and head out for the day. I called out and got no answer. No problem -- I called his phone and we listened to the ringing from the tent next to ours. B answered the phone, agreed with out change of plans, and suggested that communicating between adjacent tents was just plain silly.

We dressed quickly and headed into Mackinaw City. As we were ahead of schedule and there was a coffee shop between where we parked and the shuttle buses, B and I decided that coffee was in order. And a donut -- we had a long walk ahead of us.

There was no delay to speak of getting to the buses and we were across the bridge before the northbound lanes had closed. This put us at the starting point an hour before the walk was due to start. We jointed the press at the gate, watched the beach balls being bounced around the crowd, and did our best to ignore the inane chatter of the DJ.

Somewhere around 7 a.m. the DJ lead the crowd in a countdown, the gate was opened and we started our southbound walk. It was, perhaps, the windiest bridge walk I've been on. About half-way through, the bridge swayed more than I've ever experienced; it was like walking on a gently rolling boat. By the end of the walk, it was only 9 a.m. and we had the rest of the day ahead of us.

We drove back to the campground to break camp. Considering how long it took to set everything up, it all came down and was stored in our cars surprisingly quickly. By 10:45, we were ready to head to breakfast. On our way out of the campground, I stopped to talk to one of the rangers.

"Do you know when the bridge walk in Cheboygan happens?"

"The State Street one?"

"Yes, I think so."

"One moment -- I'll ask." She stepped inside for a moment and returned. "11 o'clock."

I checked my watch. It was 10:48 and it was ten minutes into town. We decided to walk the other bridge before taking breakfast.

Arriving at the State Street Bridge, we were surprised to see there were so many parking spaces. Also, only about 7-8 people lined up by the bridge. We parked and went to join them. Nobody was sure when the walk started. Some of them thought 11:00, others said 11:45. I had an idea -- the State Street Coffee Company was just on the other side of the bridge so I proposed checking there. Surely, I reasoned, they'd know the correct time.

I walked across the bridge by myself and asked. 11:45. Definitely, 11:45. So I walked back across the bridge and shared the news with the rest of the crowd. We had 40 minutes left before the official State Street Bridge Walk would start.

What could we do to kill the time? Well ... there was a coffee shop on the other side. So our camping party trekked across the State Street Bridge to get coffee. And back again.

After a few minutes, we all (at least several hundred -- I was number 306, according to the lady with the clicker) walked the official "other labor day bridge walk." We were told that if we turned left and walked a couple blocks there was a gathering in the park with free coffee and hot dogs. We declined to go, as we had other breakfast plans.

Thus came my seventh bridge walk of the day -- the sixth for this one bridge. Once on the other side, we stopped to watch a car ferry we'd spotted in the river. We guessed correctly that the bridge would close momentarily and be raised so the ferry could pass. After watching the drawbridge in action, we finally drove off to our breakfast destination.

I discovered Alice's Restaurant the first year I stayed at the Cheboygan State Park Campground. They serve an excellent eggs benedict and I wanted my campmates to have the opportunity to try it.

After a delicious meal, we hit the road for home with one short detour. We all stopped in to visit my parents for some conversation and coffee. (Yes, more coffee.)

The rest of the trip was much like the last leg of most trips. Lots of driving, a few stops for fuel, meals, beverages, and so on. In the end, it was late when I got home and time to turn in. It had been a long day and I was glad for a soft bed at the end of it.

When I woke up, it would be time to return to my usual routine. Also, to look forward to next year.


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