The Great Fall Getaway

It was 90-some degrees and 200% humidity here in Michigan the first week of September. It’s like Labor Day hit and Summer said, “Wait a minute! I’ve got until the 21st, not so fast with your pumpkin spice, you’ve still got some sweating to do.” It’s hard to imagine that in 4 short weeks or so it will be 50 degrees, grey skies, and freezing rain. But it will be, because F and I are planning our Fall getaway together on the Concours.

It never fails. Every Fall sweeps in to Michigan all blue skies and crisp breezes and sun highlighting the magnificent oranges and golds of the trees as they turn.  It’s time for cider mills and pumpkins and sweater weather, but mainly just because you want to wear a sweater, not because you really have to. It’s perfect. And then whatever October weekend we’ve set aside to head north to enjoy it all, Fall suddenly says, “Sooo, I’m taking the weekend off, but don’t worry, Winter’s gonna pop in and cover my shift.” So, my apologies in advance, Michigan folks, but we’re planning our annual motorcycle Iditarod. We’re not exactly sure where we’re going or which weekend we’re going yet, but don’t worry, you’ll know. The morning the furnace kicks on for the first time, you can say to yourself from within your warm cocoon of blankets, “Ah, K and F must be on their way up north.”

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All Boys Are Not Created Equal

On our last weekend ride, F and I headed west on M-50 to the small town of Tecumseh. It’s a very tidy little place that clearly had some money back when it was being established — lots of big, old houses that sit back from the main drag, buffered by manicured green lawns. And an inordinate number of cupolas. Like seriously, almost every one of those big, stately houses had one….

…aaaand I just fell down the Google rabbit hole for a bit, because I wanted to find out if I was using the word “cupola” correctly to describe the square, windowed things on these roofs. Turns out that what these houses boasted was a specific type of cupola called a belvedere.

The More You Know

But I still don’t know why they were so prevalent in this small town. Or why two other things appeared prevalent in the history of this small town:

  • Millionaires — Apparently at one point in history, Tecumseh had the most millionaires per capita of any city in the U.S.
  • Mass murderers — Andrew Kehoe, who killed 38 children and 6 adults, and injured at least 58 others when he blew up a school in 1927 in the Bath School Disaster, was from Tecumseh. And Henry Lee Lucas kicked off his killing spree in Tecumseh in 1960 when he murdered his mother there.

 

But I digress. Bigtime. (Thanks, internet.) What I do know is that Tecumseh has one of the friendliest, busiest Big Boys we’ve seen on our travels. We were glad to see the place hopping, including a few other motorcyclists, and breakfast was great.

Tecumseh Big Boy

Even this guy was extra friendly.

 

Later that week, F texted me a picture when he stopped in at the Big Boy in Imlay City where we’d stopped the day we got the Concours. “Huh,” I said when I saw it. “This Boy… he looks a little devious. How is that possible?”

Imlay City Big Boy

Would you buy a burger from this guy?

And then it hit me: the eyebrows. I hadn’t realized that the Big Boy statues themselves could be different from each other — but clearly Imlay City Big Boy was in need of some manscaping.

Tecumseh eyebrowsImlay eyebrows

 

 

 

So now I’m curious. Why do restaurants in the same chain have different statues? How many different Big Boys are out there? Where/how do you get one of these things? Why had I never noticed Big Boy’s male pattern balding before? And is there really a Big Boy Graveyard in Northern Michigan??

I clearly need to conduct more research. Which means more breakfasts at more Big Boys. Which means more time two up on the bike. Oh, the sacrifices we make…

In the beginning…

…there was breakfast at Big Boy. Somehow, there is always breakfast at Big Boy when we go for a ride.  This was a rarity: the second ride in as many days without being away on vacation. It was the 4th of July of this summer, which is the only reason we had these two days in a row together. A Monday off of work butting up against a Sunday that I wasn’t on the schedule at the library meant that I’d piled all of my gear into my car and headed up to F’s house in Mason, looking forward to getting out on the road.

We’d gone for a meandering ride the day before, heading south, wandering road to road that we’d never been on before, not consulting maps. We’d decided to eventually aim toward Eaton Rapids, and after a brief stop for directions at the kind of country convenience store that clings to a house like some sort of tired barnacle — one rusty gas pump outside, sun-faded signs for cigarettes in the windows, kerosene apparently a big seller — we found ourselves at our destination. And wondering why it was our destination in the first place. It was the kind of ghost town Main Street that is all too common in Michigan these days, any viable business long since swallowed by the strip malls and box stores that had sprouted up closer to the nearest freeway. The storefronts now bore signs for the kinds of second-hand shops and electronics stores and nail salons that you knew would fold and give way to the next round before their first year was up. And not a restaurant to be found — so after a stop for gas, we headed for Charlotte, because we knew there was at least a Big Boy there.

At least, we hoped there was a Big Boy there. If you’re from Michigan, you know just how ubiquitous Big Boy used to be — and how many of them have closed up shop in the last few years. We held our breath as we scanned the signs along Lansing Street, cheering when we saw evidence that yes, the restaurant was indeed still open. We were hungry. This seems to happen to us a lot, aiming for one place with breakfast on the brain, and not actually getting to sit down to eat until a couple of towns down the road.

So this morning we’d decided to go for another quick ride, this time headed north. And we ended up at the Big Boy in St. Johns, laughing about the fact that apparently all we do is ride from Big Boy to Big Boy. “We could document this,” we said. “Write a bikers’ guide to the Big Boys of Michigan,” we said. “Roadtrip all around the state in search of the last remaining Boys, those giant, burger-hoisting Kewpie dolls in their red-and-white gingham overalls,” we said, “and document our findings in a blog.”

It was so ridiculous that clearly it needed to happen.

I mean, really. Look at this guy.

I mean, really. Look at this guy.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if I wrote beyond the initial schtick, maybe we were on to something. I’m a writer who hasn’t been writing much in the past couple of years, and on more than one occasion other writers have recommended blogging to me as a way back into the writing saddle. “But what on earth do I have to blog about?” I would inevitably ask.

And of course, the answer is that trusty chestnut, “Write what you know.”  And what I’ve come to know during the past few years while I haven’t been writing much is the joy of riding two up on a motorcycle. I’d ridden two up before meeting F, but not to the extent that we do. It’s a major part of our lives together, and through him I’ve come to love motorbikes and the open road in new ways. We vacation on the bike, getting away for a few days and a few hundred miles a couple times a year. I’ve discovered the thrill of watching motorcycle racing, and the joy of being a darn good passenger to the kind of rider for whom motorcycle is a second language.

So that’s what I plan to explore here: all the ways that two up has affected and influenced me and my life and my writing. This is the view from the back of the bike. Sometimes it’s open blue sky and twisty roads. Sometimes it’s freezing rain and another 70 miles to the destination.

But there’s almost always a Big Boy.