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Monday, September 19, 2011

The Joys of a Sunday Drive

I've always enjoyed taking the road less traveled. And a Sunday drive in the country is perfect for discovering rural surprises along uncrowded country byways. Yesterday was a beautiful, end-of-summer September Sunday with a touch of cool crispness in the air, azure blue skies and a friendly, warm sun that beckoned us to take a ride on the back roads.

Hubz did the driving and we decided to head northeast and let the old country roads inspire our course. Our philiosophy: Embrace the unexpected. We both brought along our cameras because you never know when a photo opp will pop up.

No sooner had we veered off the main highway than we came across a wonderful fall festival/art show at a gorgeous park. The vast and grassy grounds teamed with people, luscious aromas of fried chicken, corn dogs and elephant ears and tons of original creations by many talented artisans. I never realized all the clever things you could do with old spoons and forks!

We spent some time mingling and kibbitzing, admiring the art and noshing. Then it was time to leave the crowds behind and continue our Sunday sojourne. Even though it's late September up here in Michigan, the blazing colors of autumn have not yet fired up. Most of the trees are still green. Nonetheless, we found lots of "sneak previews" of nature's annual color extravaganza.  After stopping along scenic rivers and farmlands and exploring some lonely dirt roads, we were rewarded with wondrous sights of historic covered bridges, picturesque, old barns and lovely woodland flowers making their fall debut. Here are some of our unexpected Sunday drive discoveries.

A jaunty farmer sits amidst his fruits of harvest.

  Specks of orange bell flowers bloom along a bubbly creek.

Cheerful goldenrod peek out from a creekside.

Splish splash goes a meandering stream.

Dappled shades of sunlight enliven a creek bed.

Joe Pie Weed and Golden Rod flank the Flat River.

A lone visitor admires the view.

A yellow butterfly lunches on wild daisies.

Wild purple astors wave in the wind along the river bank.

A century old, classic red barn stands sentry over the farmlands.

Built 2 years after the Civil War, White's Bridge over the Flat River, is still used by cars today.

At the end of a lonely dirt road, we came upon this spectacular covered bridge.

Canoes and kayaks glide the scenic Flat River.

A rugged yet beautifully weathered old barn graces the farm fields.

A scenic hillside view high above the Flat River.
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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Life is Like a Wet Burrito at the In-Between Bar

We drove by the restaurant...if you could even call it that. The football-size parking lot was nearly deserted. Grass sprouted up through all the cracks in the asphalt. The exterior was a muddy gray and screamed for a new paint job. There was no sign. Well...there was a board on the front with letters, but it was so dirty we could not make out the wording.

Even so, we knew this was the place. We'd been here before about six years ago and enjoyed a memorably delicious Mexican meal. Back then it was not actually a designated Mexican eatery. It had been owned by an Italian guy. But they served to-die-for enchiladas and burritos. Go figure. Today, it was high noon. We were in the neighborhood. And we were craving Mexican food. We decided to take a chance.

After entering the front door, we were blinded by the darkness. It was so dim inside, our eyes took a while to adjust. When we finally got our visual bearings, we saw that the place was practically empty. Only one table was occupied by four people. The inside was huge. It reeked of millions of stale cigarettes from years gone by, even though smoking was now outlawed on the premises. Dozens of tables and roomy but worn, vinyl-clad booths were vacant. There was a big, long mahogany bar, a bunch of pool tables and a stage. We saw no servers. At this point we considered leaving.

Suddenly from out of the darkness, a waitress appeared carrying a yummy looking pizza for the foursome at the table. She acknowledged us and suggested we could sit anywhere. We recalled that there used to be a charming outdoor garden seating area and we asked if it was still in use. The young woman cheerfully escorted us to the far end of the dingy dining room and opened a door to a lovely, alfresco patio with fresh, clean air, plenty of tables and tall sun umbrellas. It was a perfect weather, blue-sky, end-of-summer afternoon. Yet, nobody was outside. We had the garden to ourselves. By this time we were feeling adventurous so we plopped down at a table, opened a faded green umbrella to shade off the sun and decided to order.

I couldn't help but stare at our server. She was covered in tatoos. Hell Kat was emblazoned across her forearm. She had these weird, round, bright blue, ring-like things pushed through her ears. The effect was that they created a hole in her lower ear lobes big enough to shoot giant marbles through. Yet, she had a pleasant face and a perky smile and was very friendly.

The place offered a $5.00 lunch special. We each ordered a half burrito, no rice or sides and a light beer. We figured a small burrito would not be too filling but hopefully satisfy our crazy Mexican food cravings.

Hell Kat was back in a flash with icy cold beers, chips and salsa. The chips were homemade, large, flavorful and crispy and coated with an unusual but very tasty chili powder mixture. Yummo!  Since she had no other customers, Hell Kat, chatted with us for a bit and told us that the place had undergone several owners over the last few years and lots of name changes. At one time or another, it was called 36th Street Bar. Then Larry's. Then Frank's. Both Italian fellows who had a peculiar affinity for Mexican food. Now she said it's the In-Between Bar but they haven't changed the sign out front for years.

We asked how the place could possibly remain in business since there were virtually no lunch goers except us and the 4 folks inside. She said most of their business was in the evenings and on weekends with Kareoke, sixties rock bands, boomers and a hefty biker crowd. Ahhh, so that explains it.

In no time, Hell Kat returned with our half burritos. Half portion? An understatement to be sure! On an oversized dinner plate, sat an enormous, steaming hot wrapped tortilla...the size of a football...fully loaded with enough beef and cheese and sauce to feed a ravenous gang of bikers. A scrumptious red sauce smothered the burrito but left just enough room on the side for freshly cut lettuce strips and rosy, ripe tomatoes. We dived into our food. It was out of this world delicious. It even surpassed the memorable meal we had there six years ago. Amazing.

Between bites, we pondered how the place could afford to serve such large helpings and cram their burritos with such delectable meat/cheese fixings. Most likely the cook was a different one from previous years. But those wet burritos were still the best-tasting wet burritos we've ever had. It seemed a shame that the establishment was so run down. We pipe dreamed about how we could buy it, refurbish it, paint the outside, add lots of flowers and white table cloths and come up with a clever name. Then it was time to go. Hell Kat gave us take-home boxes. We loaded up much of the food we were too stuffed to finish, left her a hefty tip and fumbled our way back through the gloomy interior out to the car.

Later, it occurred to me just how much life is like a wet burrito at the In-Between Bar. Sometimes you have to forge through the darkness to get to the good stuff...because it's often in the most unexpected places. But always worth taking a chance. Sphere: Related Content
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