Off to the Cotton Patch, Days 2 & 3: A Journey of Ups, Downs, & Mistaken Identity

After that bracing breakfast, I hit the road.  Little did I know that this was going to be one long, agonizing drive.

West Dundee is only 34 miles away from Chicago and I made the astonishing discovery that Chicago area drivers are apparently training for NASCAR.  Illinois is doing a ton of construction on the interstate and the speed limit was only supposed to be 55 miles an hour.  Based on my observations, I came to the conclusion that the speed limit was apparently just a suggestion because I was the only person who seemed to be obeying the limit.  Every other car was just blitzing by me.

To say I was nervous was an understatement.  The combination of the heavy construction, massive traffic, and battalion of speedsters actually caused me to feel knuckle whitening, heart palpitating, panic.  I had to take a couple of deep breaths to actually bring my nerves back under control.  This may be the norm for big city drivers, but this was my first experience driving through a really big metro area and it was a bit of a shock.

My frustrations were further fueled by the fact that I had to watch out for the toll booths.  I accidentally missed my first toll booth on Halsted Street.  The signs had said to keep to the right so I did.  Right before the booth, the road opened up even further to the right.  It happened so suddenly that I wasn’t able to change lanes and soared right through the I-Pass.  Fortunately, I was able to go online later that night and pay the fee I missed.

After I got out of the Chicago area, the traffic slowed to more normal speeds, but the speed limit stayed at 55 miles an hour.  Even worse, when I finally crossed the border into Indiana, I found that they were still doing the construction being done when I last passed through in 2008.  Traffic was so congested that it ground to a halt and I plodded along at a rate that had snails making fun of me.

It took 3.5 hours to make the journey from West Dundee to the Michigan border where I finally was able to resume the normal speed limit of 70 miles an hour.  The drive became a lot more pleasant after that. . .until I reached Holland, MI.

Traffic was going along pretty well and I saw a Wal-Mart Supercenter in the distance.  I needed a few toiletries and decided I’d just get them now.  After buying my supplies, I got back on the road and traffic ground to a halt again!  Apparently the road I was on was the main thoroughfare for a few cities and it was now rush hour.

What should have been a four hour journey ended up being a 6.5 hour drudgery and I arrived in Whitehall, MI much, much later than intended.  I was tired, frazzled, and starved when I finally pulled up to the White Swan Bed and Breakfast.

Then things began looking up.

The first break I caught that day was that the Howmet Playhouse where I would watch and review Cotton Patch Gospel was literally right across the street from the bed and breakfast.  The second break was that I met Cathy Russell, the sweet and kindly owner of the White Swan.

The White Swan

The White Swan

Cathy showed me to my home away from home, the Jasmine Room.  The soft white of the room and the plush looking bed seemed to scream comfort and I felt myself begin to loosen up.  I think Cathy noticed my weariness as she asked if I had eaten and I told her that my journey woes prevented me from having anything since breakfast.  She prepared a plate of Michigan blueberries, cheese, and sweet potato Triscuits along with a glass of white wine.  I stepped onto the screened in porch and began to read and munch.  I felt better almost all at once.

The Jasmine Room

The Jasmine Room

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Living Room

Living Room

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After getting some much needed food into my stomach I began my explorations.  The White Swan is a circa 1884 Queen Anne house.  It’s very homey and has a pleasant lived-in quality well suited to an inn.  After I finished taking pictures, I freshened up and walked across the street to enjoy Cotton Patch Gospel.

Howmet Playhouse

Howmet Playhouse

And enjoy it, I did.  In fact, you can read the review right here.

After the show, I returned to the inn and darn near collapsed into bed and didn’t wake until the next day.

***

When I awoke today, I was ravenous and ready for a rousing meal.  Cathy served up a dish of mixed fruit and cream, a vegetable quiche, homemade sausage, and orange juice.  With my stomach full, I was ready to begin exploring the area.

Mixed fruit and cream

Mixed fruit and cream

Vegetable quiche and homemade sausage

Vegetable quiche and homemade sausage

My first stop of the day was at the Country Dairy.  This family owned dairy farm has been in the Van Gunst family for 5 generations and it credits their great dairy products to their happy cows.  No, that isn’t a joke.  The Van Gunsts take pride that their 1,400 head of cattle have great lives.  Their lives consist of milking, birthing, sleeping, and eating 100 pounds of food a day which is the secret to great milk.

The Country Dairy

The Country Dairy

Happy cows happily eating lunch to produce happy milk

Happy cows happily eating lunch to produce happy milk

It was a very interesting tour as I watched how milk goes from the cow to the carton, went into a cheese locker, visited a bovine maternity ward, and saw a group of newborn calves (even petted a few).  I even learned about the value of good breeding.  The number one rated polled Hereford was born at Country Dairy and he and another cow sold for a combined $1.2 million dollars.

Inside the calf barn

Inside the calf barn

When the tour ended, we were treated to free samples of cheddar cheese (the best I’ve ever tasted) and chocolate milk.  This milk is farm fresh which means no fat has been skimmed from it.  Whole milk has got nothing on farm fresh milk.  This moo juice was so tasty and rich that I actually bought a pint for myself.

The dairy also boasts a small restaurant which feeds more people than any other eatery in the region.  Trucks come three times a week to restock the food items not produced by the dairy itself.

After my tour, I drove around a bit to see what there was to see.  After viewing a few sights, I returned to the inn and took a long walk around the area and stopped to enjoy a vanilla shake at Dairy Treat (supplied by Country Dairy products).  I then returned to my room to relax for a little bit.

I had intended to attend worship services at St James Catholic Church, but my travel woes returned when Mapquest epically failed me.  The directions I got brought me to downtown Muskegon where I found no church.  I went to a nearby hotel where the desk clerk informed me that the church was actually in Montague.  Another clerk informed me there was another church three blocks up the road.  I dashed off to it, but found they did not hold Saturday night services.

I returned to the White Swan and found that St James was a mere two miles from the inn.  I could have walked there and back several times in the time I spent driving to and from Muskegon.  Thankfully, they have an 8:30am service tomorrow so I can worship in the morning, have breakfast, and hit the road.

I decided to go Montague and have dinner at the Old Channel Inn.  This restaurant is very popular and was jammed to capacity when I arrived.  After a short wait, I was led to a table when I decided to have the charbroiled Alaskan salmon with a side of Creole corn and salad.  Now I was wearing a suit which is crucial to the story.

Old Channel Inn

Old Channel Inn

I took off my coat so I could prepare a salad for myself.  When I returned to my table, I said grace and started eating.  A few minutes later a gentleman came over to my table and said, “I have an embarrassing question to ask you.  Are you a priest?”

“No,” I replied, somewhat baffled.

“I’ll tell you why I asked that in a moment,” said the man as he walked away.

He returned a few minutes later and said, “You’re probably wondering why I asked if you were a priest.”

“Was it because you saw me praying?”

“No.  I’m the owner of this place and there was a woman who saw you, asked for me and said, ‘I saw that young man cross himself.  I think he’s a priest and I want to buy his meal.”

A gentle poke would have felled me at that point.  This is where my suit comes into play.  I was wearing a black dress shirt under my sport coat and my arms would have been blocking my yellow tie while I prayed.  The generous stranger mistook my dress shirt for clerical garb.

I don’t even know what this mysterious woman looks like, but I’d certainly like to thank her for paying for my supper.  It made the rough day I’d had yesterday and my travel woes today vanish in the breeze.

I returned to the White Swan to sip a 7-Up while I wrote this story.  Now it’s about time to hit the hay before I hit the road tomorrow.

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