2008.10.22 A few hours of fall fun in the Thumb

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

Don’t you hate being on vacation and passing by some little attraction, wondering if you should turn around and go back to visit? Obviously, you can’t indulge every such impulse, but I spent last weekend backtracking to something I missed over 10 years ago.

In May of 1996, I was driving through Lexington, Mich., near the end of a trip through the state’s Thumb region when my companion spotted a business called Foley’s Market. We agreed we should stop to look for souvenirs, but the Ford Aerostar I was driving lacked working turn signals and we were being followed by a state police cruiser.

Rather than risking getting a ticket as a memento, I decided to wait until the trooper made his own turn. Unfortunately, he tailed us for six or seven miles before passing and we decided to continue on instead of returning to town. Last weekend, I got another chance.

This time, I got to play navigator as a friend invited me on a fall color tour. Since she wanted to drive her new pickup and had never been to the Thumb, I got to sit back, scan the state map and direct our travels. I had checked online and found Foley’s Market still existed (although not owned by someone named Foley) and it was added to the must-see list.

Once we got on U.S. 23 and headed north, we quickly found we could have filled the truck with dead deer as a remembrance of our travels. I should have kept an accurate count, but I’d guess 30 carcasses to be close.

Once we got off I-69 and headed cross-country to Lexington, the scenery got a bit more interesting. In Yale, I was intrigued by the sight of School Place Apartments, a former school converted into an apartment complex for those not wanting to “graduate” to a house, I would guess. East of Peck, my chauffeur spotted several buffalo in a field. This trip, we turned around and went back so I could see them.

We made it to Lexington and Foley’s Market, but you’ll have to take my word for that. For a business in a tourist area, I was amazed that they had nothing available for sale with their name on it. No T-shirts or caps. No travel mugs. No cheap trinkets. Not even a grocery sack. I bought a few snacks and didn’t even get their name on a receipt. We discussed taking a photo, but since neither of us brought a camera, we thought it wasn’t worth buying a travel camera just for that.

Some people wouldn’t agree. A few miles north of Port Sanilac, a man on a bicycle we had recently passed pulled up to us at a rest stop along Lake Huron. He said he was taking photos of town water towers along the path of his trip to prove where he had been and asked if we would take a picture of him standing in front of the lake with an ore boat in the distance.

He seemed quite happy to get the photo. A few more miles to the north, we went by a really neat lighthouse. I hope he found someone to take his photo there, too.

We stopped for dinner at a café in Port Austin near the tip of the Thumb and got a lot more than we bargained for. The waitress took our order, went in the kitchen for a minute, then outside and brought in the “open” sign. We asked if we had came in late, but she said it was about 15 minutes until closing and she was just getting ready. Up until then she had been pretty quiet, but that set her off.

She proceeded to tell us the history of the restaurant (she was the owner’s daughter as well as cook, waitress and bus girl on this particular night), all about her family and quite a bit about running a business in a tourist town. She even managed to fit it a few stories about several vehicles she had owned. For someone who had already put in a 12 hour day, she seemed in no hurry to send us on our way. She even sold me some vintage Coke glasses as a keepsake of our visit.

Unable to sleep well after the excitement of the day, I went to our motel’s continental breakfast shortly after its 6 a.m. opening. They even had a computer with internet access available to guests. Armed with a bagel and orange juice, I checked my email at 6:15 a.m. That made it official. This little journey was almost over.

From Bay City back home was all main roads with not much to do but grieve for the dead deer along the way. At least this trip didn’t leave me with that feeling that I missed out on something. I wouldn’t, however, mind going back to Port Austin some day. I’d bet that waitress still has some stories I haven’t heard.

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