The S.S. Badger

I sweep across from Iowa and into Illinois, and from there it wasn’t very
far to Chicago. Like other mythological places, all roads lead there. But
I didn’t want to drive to Chicago. Instead I drive northwards, towards the
Chicago suburb of Cary, where my cousin Trina lives. Trina has offered me a
place to stay, and I need to get off the road for a day. Cousin Trina is a
premium person.

I spend the next day there, visiting Chicago (briefly) and having dinner
with cousin Trina and her son Nick. Nick is a young scientist, and it is
always incongruous to see him without a lab coat and test tube (bubbling.)
He’s the only person I know who has had two experiments on board the space
shuttle, and he knows how to handle beryllium. Some day I expect him to
invent time travel, or perhaps immortality. (Though a depilating cream
wouldn’t be bad, either.) Nick is also a premium person.

Cousin Trina treats me to a sushi dinner, my first since leaving California,
and it’s really good. I order ama ebi, natto, chasoba, and oshinko
moriawase. Nick and cousin Trina look askance, but gamely try a few things.
Cousin Trina is impressed by unagi, as I imagine anyone sane would be. Nick
declines, hence postponing his first time for a more special occasion.

The next day I depart, and there is much gnashing of teeth, rending of
clothing, and baring of breasts. Tears are shed and supplications made to
the gods. (Well, no. Cousin Trina has already gone to work. However,
cousin Trina’s boyfriend Tom has an insane dog which barks at me as I leave.
I can’t remember this dog’s name, and when I try to remember her name, I can
only hear “BARK BARK BARK!” in my head.)

I drive north into Wisconsin, which is a major departure from my planned
itinerary. So major, in fact, that I am without map. But somehow I manage
to find both Milwaukee (“The Town Made Famous By A Brand of Beer”) and
Sheboygan, the town mentioned most often by Jewish comics in the Catskills.
Then I find Manitowoc, and the S.S. Badger.

I park my car in the lot of the last car ferry crossing Lake Michigan. It
is sniffed by a dog (my car, not the ferry, though I’m not ruling anything
out.) My car is then loaded onto the ferry by a teenager while I watch
nervously. I pay for my ticket, and after allowing us to mill for a while,
we’re allowed to walk on board.

I sit on deck with a New York Times. I can feel the hum of the engines
through the deck as seagulls circle and dive out on the lake, hundreds of
seagulls in the dark gray expanse of water and sky. They soar by a few feet
away, eyeing me, and I wonder if they’re expecting me to give them food.
When I don’t, they move on, looking displeased.

On the other side of the boat are mountains of tar, a concrete grain
elevator, and an old World War II submarine, all set against more dark gray
sky. From the deck of the Badger, Manitowoc is an incredibly ugly city.

As we steam out of the harbor, the seagulls gather to form a living wake
behind us. Ten thousand gulls follow the ferry out, bumping into one
another and screaming in outrage. They soar and follow and dive, swallowing
silver fish thrown up by the prop from the dark, gray water.

And then we’re out of the harbor, through the break water, and into the
lake. The fish swim deeper and both the gulls and the shore recede. I
sleep for several hours.

When I awake, we’re approaching a shore of sand dunes and green trees.
Bright white houses and red barns are highlighted by the dropping sun, and
I’m instantly enchanted. As we come into the harbor, kids and adults wave
to us from the break water, sailboats, the Coast Guard shack, and the
terminal. Everyone is happy to see us.

My van is waiting for me by the time I come on shore, and I’m soon chugging
out of town, heading East. I have a photo shoot scheduled for tomorrow in
Northville, a suburb of Detroit, and that’s clear across the state. I’m
worried by a slowly increasing engine noise. I’ve tried to locate it
without success. The van’s handling well, and I decide to check into it
tomorrow. I drive east, the orange sun to my back.


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