Danny McMahon has brewed up some great beer for the Door County Beer Festival. So great to see this stuff hitting the bottle!
Used to be an ice cream parlor back home in Door County called Out Of Chicago. Open late. Loved it, especially the Praline Pecan. Miss that place.
I love the name, Wish Paths. We had one of these in Egg Harbor when I was a kid, connecting County T (we snuck through the Itasca Engineering parking lot) down to the ballpark, through the orchard, past the fire station and little league field, and eventually down behind Main Street Market. It was maybe a mile long, but on a Huffy, it was an adventure.
It is impossible to drive through this community with a dry eye right now. Bo Johnson, a 13-year-old boy from Sister Bay, has returned home, his year-long battle with leukemia nearing its end. He will not survive, but he has beaten it. The day he returned, orange ribbons began to appear on signs, telephone polls, and on trees lining the streets throughout northern Door County, including this one on the sign in front of his school.
Bo does not want to die in a hospital. He has returned to his grandmother’s home on the shore in Sister Bay, where he can watch the waves crash near the beach where he loves to play and watch the incredible sunsets over the bay that he has loved his entire short life.
"I hope my friends can take me in my wheelchair to all my favorite hot spots," he told me on the phone as his mother drove him north from Milwaukee. He spoke in the weakened, slow drawl he has left, but not with sadness. Instead, there was joy.
In the last couple of days he has seen scores of his friends, been to his high school’s football game, and rolled down the street with his friends to his favorite of those “hot spots,” the Sister Bay beach. A couple of days ago he spent a couple of hours telling me his story, gifting me with perhaps the most inspiring hours of my life.
Today I will try to write it, the story of a boy who I was coaching just two summers ago, a boy I spied in the corner of the gym and thought, “he could be a great athlete one day.”
I was wrong about the athlete, I was right about the great, I just didn’t know he would show me so soon.
(Taken with Instagram at Gibraltar Area Schools)
Door County’s coolest venue, Camp David’s party barn, where Dave Ellmann has been staging concerts for more than 20 years. He also provides Northern Door’s only large-scale affordable seasonal housing on this old dairy farm. (Taken with Instagram)
The mantel at Leroy’s Water Street Coffee shop in Door County, Wisconsin. Ryan Leary, “Leroy,” is an avid skateboarder with the scars to show for it. His coffee shop is definitive Door County. (Taken with Instagram)
Poet Billy Collins after a reading at my old high school. “My work is under conceptualized and short on misery,” he says, deadpan. I’m not a poetry guy, but a friend implored me to see Collins. Loved him! A poet for the everyman. (Taken with Instagram)
This week my old newspaper, the Peninsula Pulse, released its annual Lit issue, the Hal Grutzmacher Writers’ Expose and Photography Jubilee, named after the late owner of a local bookstore that is still run today by his wife and son.
The lit issue has been a fixture of the Pulse since the paper was founded as an 8-page entertainment rag by a couple of new Lawrence University grads in their crappy summer apartment in 1995. The entire issue is dedicated to poetry and literary submissions, as well as a photography contest.
Over the years I’ve seen the photography of municipal employees, the poetry of local soul-searching high school kids, and the prose of my old high school English teacher earn places in the winners’ circle.
My favorite winner was an acquaintance named Jacob, a man I knew from my bartending shifts who loved to fish, drink Bud Lights by the dozen, and owned a tree-trimming business. I never guessed he would write a note to his wife, let alone an incredible story of a quest to find a long-sunken ship on the Lake Michigan floor near Death’s Door.
These are the things that can happen when there are no shareholders to satisfy, no profit margins to analyze, just a small newspaper dedicated to its community and the creative spirit running through it. Dave Eliot and Tom Mckenzie put the first ink on Peninsula Pulse paper 17 years ago, believing that doing something different, something that seemed to matter, and doing right by their community, would eventually pay off.
Last week, 15,000 copies of what was once an eight-page entertainment rag was delivered out of its Baileys Harbor, Wis. offices to homes around Door County, Wis.
It contained 88 pages and claimed the most advertisers in its history. There’s a lesson in this for newspapers around the country (hello Newhouse family), but their owners would have to pull their cupped ears away from Wall Street to hear it.
One night, I realized I would soon be going to a lot of funerals.
For eight years I was lucky enough to be a bartender in a small-town tourist community, four at a dive bar, four at a supper club. Many of the nights were soul-crushingly slow, but I was lucky because I got to know so many people and hear so many life stories.
The great thing about small towns is you can’t seek out a niche of friends just like you - there simply aren’t enough to fill the void. You end up going to bars with guys or couples 10, 20, 40 years older than you. In a small town the bars can’t cater to one age group, can’t have a jukebox full of only punk rock or only old classics. They can’t be all about sports or all about craft cocktails.
I would spend hours talking to retirees who had perspective enough to make any complaint or setback of mine into nothing but a bit of dust in the eye. I came to know them, to know how they liked their martinis, Manhattan’s, whiskey cocktails, and their beer. I listened to their stories and tried to learn from their mistakes and successes. I told them my experiences and they tried to give me guidance and encouragement.
And as I got to know so many, I realized that they were coming into my life as they were nearing the end of theirs. I’d be saying a lot of good-byes in the years to come. Those bar-stools would be full of ghosts, those voices fading in my memory.
So it will be on Thursday when I attend the funeral for Dick Daubner, an incomparably nice man who died at the relatively young age of 65 last Friday. As a writer I have been tasked with summing up many lives in my hometown, but Dick’s was one of the hardest.