Friday, July 1, 2011

Michigan trip yields great memories

By Mike Ullery

Chief Photographer

Everyone loves taking a vacation. My family is no different.

Last week, we packed our bags and headed north, destination, Traverse City, Mich.

The No. 1 goal for our vacation was to spend time with our entire family together, which as many of you know, as your children are grown and out on their own, is all too infrequent.

Like most families on vacation, we planned to get the maximum amount of fun into the few short days we would be gone. In retrospect, I wonder if the stress of attempting to cram several dozen events into a three- or four-day time slot can fairly be called “relaxation.” Actually, our oldest daughter, Carrie and her husband had laid out a great itinerary that left plenty of options for fun.

The trip was the thing that dream vacations are made of — family time, fun and adventure.

First, let me say that Traverse City and the surrounding area is my favorite place in the world. My mother was born and raised in Traverse City and I grew up looking forward to trips to “The Water Winter Wonderland,” to quote a decades-old Michigan motto.

Several things from this trip brought an air of nostalgia to mind, but not in the way that I would have expected.

First, our entire family, all four car-loads of us, spent an evening at the Cherry Bowl Drive-In Theatre. The Cherry Bowl, which has operated continuously since 1953, is about 25 miles southwest of Traverse City. We arrived just after the gate opened at 7:30, visited the concession stand, filled with photos and movie posters from yester-year, then enjoyed our meals to music from the “drive-in theatre era.”

The movie began when it got dark but for some time before, the screen was filled with promos from the heyday of drive-in theaters.

In case you are wondering, “Cars 2” is a very enjoyable movie. I’m not sure that I would have gone to see it on my own, but I can safely say that our grandkids loved the show. We did not stay for the second feature as this old fogy needs his sleep.

Another thing that caught my attention on the trip was, of all things, a grocery store. A grocery chain in northern Michigan, “Tom’s,” has a reputation for, what some might call, “old-fashioned” service.

Like many travelers, we made a couple of visits to the grocery store. Most of us have become so accustomed to big-box chain store grocers and their self-serve style that we don’t give it a second thought any more.

Many will argue, my wife included, that one pays more at the smaller stores. I couldn’t really tell you as when I make a trip to a grocery store, my goal is to pick up what I need, pay and get out the door, preferably in the time it takes an Indy-car driver to make a pit stop.

“Tom’s” was like taking a step back in time, service-wise. First, there are signs that no shopping carts are allowed in the parking lot. This seemed a little odd but I quickly put it out of my mind.

The check-out lines were what we would expect to see at any modern grocery, a mix of self and traditional check-out lanes. The first difference that I noted was that the traditional lanes were actually manned. This was a startling contrast to our local mega-stores, who have 30, or more, lanes, only two of which have someone to help you at any given time.

We chose a self-serve lane as we did not have that many items. As I was scanning our items, a Tom’s employee quickly moved to the end of our lane and began bagging our groceries. This is almost unheard of at big-box stores. The only time that you deal with an employee at big-box self check-out lanes is when the scanner malfunctions … which means that you deal with someone nearly every trip to the store.

After our items were bagged, the employee asked if we wanted to pull up to the curb and he would load our bags into our car. The reason no carts are taken to the parking lot is that all groceries are loaded into your vehicle after you pull up under a large covered area, protected from the weather.

It was a stark reminder that service is still alive and well in at least one part of the country.

Another thing that should be noted about the Traverse City area. Recycling is taken very seriously. First of all, it should be noted that Michigan has had a deposit on bottles and cans for decades. Most all major grocers in the areas that we were in have large recycling centers and area residents take great care to see that bottles, cans, plastics, cardboard, etc. is separated and put into proper containers so that it can be re-used.

It could be that living among some of the most beautiful natural resources in the world makes them more aware of the dangers of littering and careless disposing of used goods.

No matter what, we could all learn a lesson or two from our neighbors to the north.

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