I set the alarm for 6 a.m., but it didn’t go off. M magically woke at 6:30, and we hit the road an hour later in a borrowed car heading towards Michigan, Eastern Standard Time, and Holly and Jeremy's wedding. I met the bride in late 2002 when we were coworkers at a national nonprofit organization. I walked into her office shortly after being hired and saw an image of comedian David Cross on her computer monitor, and knew then that we were destined to become friends. We were even neighbors for a while, I knew the guy who owned the house next door and the rent was cheap, so she and Jeremy moved in. They had a set of E.T. walkie talkies, and we kept one in our kitchen, turning it on now and then and speaking into its belly to see what was going on next door. It wasn’t very effective since we’d have to call first and tell them to turn their E.T. on, but it was fun nonetheless.
Time spent with Holly and Jeremy is frequently spontaneous and immature, and makes me laugh until my stomach hurts. Once while driving on Ashland Avenue Jeremy began yelling things out of the passenger side window. I told him to yell "alcohol is a social lubricant," and he did, hanging his head out the window like a dog and howling it at pedestrians. Eventually the phrase was condensed to "social luuuuuuube," and still later to a single word, "soshalube." For days afterward we muttered it to each other in a kind of half-cough.
We were fairly casual about visiting between our homes, and I walked into their living room once to find a small pile of toenail clippings on the edge of the coffee table.
"Are those toenails?" I asked Holly.
"Yes," she answered, mortified. I knew what they were instantly, and I knew that they had to have once been a part of Jeremy’s foot because M does the same thing in our living room.
Their apartment was in the attic and had slanting walls where the roof inclined. It was cute, but small and poorly heated, so they moved out after a year to a bigger space near Logan Square. Holly quit her job in August of 2005, and I followed suit shortly. It was an adjustment; towards the end of our time working together we shared an office with a window that overlooked Lake Michigan, and it was fun going to work knowing she’d be there. About a year ago Holly and Jeremy moved to Grand Rapids, and we’ve seen them once or twice since then. They’d been together for seven years before they got engaged, so it was almost as if they were married already, but I was looking forward to watching them make it official. They'd chosen the small town of Pentwater for their wedding because Holly's family has been spending summers there since before she was born; for years they've had a bumper sticker on their car that says "Pentwater, Heaven, What's The Difference?"
We took the Kennedy to the Skyway and drove through Gary and northern Indiana before crossing the border into Michigan and connecting to Route 31. Signs for the Blue Star Highway appeared on the side of the road, and I thought it sounded like the most beautiful highway in the world. We passed Schmuhl Road, crossed the Paw Paw river, and as we approached Holland I realized I had an urgent need to find a bathroom. M pulled into a gas station and I walked into the adjoining convenience store, where a woman sat behind the counter engrossed in a phone conversation. I looked around the small space hoping that the bathroom was inside the store, but saw no evidence of one. I got the cashier’s attention, and hadn’t even finished forming my question before she threw a key attached to a piece of wood on top of the glass-topped counter in front of her without breaking the rhythm of her conversation. I walked outside and slipped the key inside the lock of the bathroom door, the promise of sweet relief just seconds away. What I saw sent my urine into reverse; even with the lights off I could see a pyramid of toilet paper sitting glacier-like in the middle of the toilet bowl, accented with streaks of brown that cascaded down onto the toilet seat. Like a glacier, a small percentage of its mass showed above the waterline. I walked back into the convenience store and threw the key onto the counter with the fury of relief denied. The cashier absentmindedly picked it up and hung it back on its hook behind the register.
“Do you have another bathroom?” I asked, “that one’s dirty.”
“Oh really, is it bad?” she asked, the phone receiver still pressed to her ear, "yeah," I said.
“No, that’s the only one we have,” she said, and turned back to her conversation. I marched towards M, who was finishing up at the gas pump.
“That toilet is disgusting,” I announced, “we have to go somewhere else.” We drove a few hundred feet to a Denny’s, and I marched right past the hostess to the back of the restaurant. I burst through to the first toilet and was so relieved that I started laughing as a torrent of urine exited my body. I heard a rustle coming from the adjoining stall and realized that I wasn’t alone. I finished quickly and washed my hands, and giggled again after reading a sticker affixed to the paper towel dispenser that read:
BEFORE YOUR SHIFT BEGINS
AFTER A BREAK
AFTER BEING SOILED BY WORK
AFTER A SMOKE BREAK
EMPLOYEES MUST WASH HANDS
On my way out of the restaurant I passed by a friend of M's, a professional painter who, in exchange for tattooing from M, painted our living and dining rooms when we first moved into our house six years ago. He was on his way from Chicago to a wedding in Saugatuck, and I wouldn't have recognized him, but he'd approached M in the parking lot and they'd exchanged greetings.
Back in the car I began to notice that the town of Holland, MI had a Dutch theme; there were signs for Tulip City Airport, I spotted a mini golf course with a windmill on the putting green, and we drove past a sign in the shape of a Dutch clog advertising the Wooden Shoe Antique Mall & Restaurant. At Felch Street we spotted a car with four Jesus fishes attached to the rear.
"That guy just really, really, really, really wants you to know that he believes," I said.
"He also really runs red lights," M said, as the believer blew through an intersection ahead of us. We continued on past both Ransom Street and Ransom Street West, Macatowa Legends Golf Club, and a convoy of vehicles transporting boy scout troops to a jamboree.
We pulled into Pentwater at about 12:30 p.m. Michigan time, changed out of our traveling clothes and walked to the village green. The wedding ceremony was short but poignant. Holly walked across the green with her father and stood on the steps of the gazebo with Jeremy, where they exchanged vows. Their dog Enzo served as the ring bearer, with assistance from Brian, the brother of the groom. Once Enzo delivered the rings a round of applause came from the guests, and a woman with salt and pepper hair who I recognized as Jeremy and Brian's mother leaned forward and said:
"Good job Brian".
Afterward there was a reception under a tent on the lawn of the Ida Jean Bed & Breakfast. Teary eyed toasts were made by the two sisters of the bride, the father of the bride and various friends, as well as the single funniest brother of the groom speech I've ever heard. Jeremy and his brother Brian have many similar features, but while Brian has a full head of hair Jeremy has none. In some circles Brian is known as Hairemy, and he opened his speech with:
"People say that my brother and I are a lot alike, but there are some things I do that he doesn't... like buy shampoo." Much dancing and revelry followed, and at midnight the party moved to a local bar called The Antler. M and I headed to our cozy B&B, dog tired from our travels.
We spent the next day with the bride and groom, and a handful of other guests, passing an idyllic day swimming, watching the sunset, drinking beer and sharing stories under the stars. Since we were on the far western edge of the eastern time zone the light lasted until ten o'clock at night, adding to the sense of magic. By the time Monday rolled around it felt as though we'd been there for weeks, and had completely relaxed into the small town routine of greeting strangers on the street and never walking more than four blocks to get anywhere. We'd spent more time with Holly and Jeremy than we have in years, and made connections with some of their friends in the process.
We made the trek back home on the same roads we'd driven up on, with a view of new billboards. One bore an ad for an "adult superstore" called the Lion's Den that featured the silhouette of a lion with a full mane standing closely behind a lioness in a pose just shy of coitus. Another advertised Buck Snort Lodge Products, and a third advertised a restaurant called the Texas Corral with the catchphrase "Just drop the shells on the floor," an odd selling point. In Michigan City, Indiana, a billboard read "What can wash away my sins? Only the blood of Jesus," but I wasn't sold on that either. We pulled off the highway twenty yards from it it to stop at the Indiana Welcome Center, and parked next to a man who got out of his car sporting brown polyester pants and thick lamb chop sideburns. It was as if we'd not only crossed over the state line to Indiana, but had also crossed over to 1975. In the ladies room every third bathroom had a sign announcing that it was out of order, and the clock in the main entryway was set for Chicago time.
Just before stopping at Culver's for butter burgers (if you've never had one you're missing out) M spotted this bumper sticker on a car ahead of us: "If you can read this, thank a teacher... and since it is in English, thank a soldier."
"Wow, that's great," I said, "since everyone in the service speaks English as their first language."
"Not to mention that the only war fought on U.S. soil was against England," M added. I considered this for a moment.
"What about the Alamo?" I asked. We were cloudy on the specifics, but if you'd like to take it up with the driver, they have vanity plates from Michigan with the word "ANJULS" spelled out - in perfect English, naturally.