Weekend at the Mint Julep

Last week my buddy Kip came down to visit. He lives a couple hour drive away. It was his house I was returning from when the windshield on the motor home almost fell out. Kip’s a nice guy, so he came down to work on my motor home. I’m a lucky man. I have several friends that help me when needed. I have a 36 foot gas powered motor home with a wheelchair lift and several modifications to it so I can move my wheelchair around in it. I love my motor home, but if you’re going to buy one and have it modified for use with a wheelchair, buy a diesel pusher. They are based in a diesel semi truck frame unlike the gas powered motor homes which are based on a Ford or Chevy truck frame. My motor home has only 68,000 miles and the frame is ALL bent and twisted. But the mint julep is the motor home I have, so it’s what I have to work with. Oh, in full disclosure I didn’t buy the mint julep my brothers and sisters bought it for me. I’ve never had the money to buy one.

On my way home from a trip to Marquette Michigan back in 2002 the signs of my aging disabled body slapped me in the face. I pulled into North Platte Nebraska, a town I like to spend the night if I’m traveling through on a certain night. I haven’t been to Marquette since 2004, so I can’t remember what night was comedy night at a motel in North Platte, but if I was driving through it would come back to me. Anyway, I pulled into town tired from driving and parked in front if a restaurant. Then it happened, I couldn’t transfer out of the driver’s seat into my wheelchair. I didn’t have the strength. Driving across the country in my 92 Ford van was taking its toll. I slept for a few hours in the 90 degree heat in the driver’s seat, missing the comedy show, until I had the strength to do the transfer. The next night in the next town it was the same thing. I pulled into San Jose knowing that was the last time I’d drive across the country in my van. I had driven to 40 states in my van. I was done. It was becoming too hard on my body and it wasn’t fun anymore.

I wasn’t ready to quit traveling, so after a lot of thought, I asked my brothers and sisters to buy me a motor home. I figured a motor home wouldn’t be so taxing on my body, which it isn’t. I could stop driving anytime I wanted and be in a living room to relax. My parents would never buy me one, so they weren’t an option. After a vote, my brothers and sister gave me the money to buy the mint julep, so she’s what I have to work with. Now Kip came down, with a friend, to fix her up.

But I’m not a slave driver, all work and no play makes Jer a dull boy. After a good start building an angle iron wall in the back of the motor home to add strength so the cabin wouldn’t flex as much, it’s my guess why the front windshield pops out and a few other projects, I suggested we head to Santa Cruz to watch the free Eddy Money concert on the beach. The free concerts on the board walk are always fun. I usually go there two or three times a year then to the bowling alley bar afterwards for the local band.

I don’t think we were in the bar watching the band for more then a half hour when someone asked Dave, Kip’s friend to dance. A few minutes later a beautiful woman asked me to dance. Before the night was over Kip was dancing as well. I love getting out of the house. I feel sorry for those who stay home all the time. There is a wonderful world out there. I don’t recall the lovely lady’s name I danced with, but I’d like to thank her for a great time. We must have danced for close to an hour. I should have asked her for her number, but I’m not very smart. One doesn’t stay single for this long by being smart.

When I was seven years old my mother, father, twin sister Jean and I went for a ride in my great grandfather’s ’36 Ford car. We went to Michigamme to look for a cabin my father was thinking about buying. The ride took us down country road 607 over four concrete bridges so narrow that it requires one car at a time to pass over them, then on a gravel road that hadn’t been maintained for decades. Most of the road was long mud ruts were you hoped you’d make it through to the dry ground a quarter mile away. The road hadn’t been maintained so the trees were over growing most of the road. My great grandfather’s car had to been scratched up pretty bad from our drive. Then we came to a wooden bridge that looked like it was going to fall into the river. My father told us to walk across after he slowly drove the car over. After driving up and down these old logging roads for a few hours, we finally stopped at the end of one of them. You couldn’t see anything but trees, but my father was sure we were close. We got out of the car and instantly the mosquitoes attacked us. We didn’t have any bug spray. After a few minutes, my father found what looked like a path going somewhere. We follow it to the cabin we were looking for. It was a two room tarpaper shack. But 100 feet away was a beautiful inland lake that Michigan is famous for.

My father purchased the cabin and the land. Over the years he built a few buildings and fixed the road. We used to go to camp every weekend even in the winter time. My father had a snowmobile trailer that carried three arctic cat snowmobiles, a cat cutter and a sled or two. We’d park the Jeep Wagoneer and trailer at the beginning of the gravel road then we’d snowmobile the rest of the three miles over the unplowed gravel road. For the first several years there was always a little work to do, but then it was play time. There was a lake which was a mile long to swim in. It had bass and other fish, so we went fishing. My father had two 20 foot Styrofoam sailboats that were impossible to sail. Well they were for a 12 year old boy anyway. I tried sailing them, but I could never get them to turn or tack around. My father also had mini bikes and snowmobiles for us to ride. Growing up riding them were a lot of fun. I have never been the best at any sports, but riding mini bikes and snow mobiles you can become the best you can be at them. I loved pushing them to the limit or my limits anyway. We were always allowed to bring friends out to camp, so going to camp was a lot of fun. Then on Sunday night on the way home we’d pickup Vila Capri pizzas. To this day, when I visit Marquette, I always have a Villa pizza along with pasties and Togo’s. We have Togo’s but I never have them. They’re not the same, not as good. I’ve heard the very first Togo’s was in Marquette and the next ones were here in San Jose, then I’ve heard it was just the opposite. I’ll have to ask Whitney or Kate. I believe they’re related to one of the founders, either Tom or Gorge. Togo’s is from ‘’to’’ from Tom and ‘’go’’ from Gorge that much I know for sure.

We ended up staying at the motor home until Monday. Kip and Dave completed several projects I had for the Mint Julep. Kip fabricated two angel iron walls to strengthen the cabin so my windshields won’t pop out any more. Dave cut holes and installed my rear speakers for the stereo. The motor home came with two front stereo speakers over the driver’s and passenger’s heads and the rear speakers in the bedroom. If you had people sitting on the couch, they couldn’t hear the music very well unless it was turned up louder which would isolate the driver and passenger from the conversations behind them. Instead of having the rear speakers in the bedroom where they are useless, now they are over the couch so now the volume is even for everyone. Dave also installed a new roof vent that is remote controlled operated. That is nice. Now it opens and the fan turns on with the push of a button. They also repaired the wheelchair lifts in both the motor home and my van and installed a flat panel TV in the bedroom. They did a lot of work which reminded me of going to my parent’s camp, especially the early years. Sometimes going to camp meant doing some work before play. For my parents, it was a little work before relaxing. Now that I’m 50 years old, I’m in the relaxing camp. The weekend at the motor home was fun. There was work on my ‘’mobile cabin’’ and relaxing afterwards. Next week I’ll have the windshield people put the windows back into place then I’ll head up to Kips to finish the upgrades. Then we’ll load up the Mint Julep and take her to Yosemite for a few days. The Mint Julep is a lot of work. A few months ago we had to replace the refrigerator. But that’s part of the fun. You fix her up then you get to enjoy her. I’m glad my family bought me a motor home. I don’t think they have a clue how much it means to me and how hard it was to ask them for it.

To Jail or not to Jail, That is the Question

I can look back at my life and see so many single events that changed my life and made me the person I am today. The 4th of July weekend in 1984 was one of those events. It started off much like the 4th of July the year before. I was going to Big Bay, but this time I ended up in jail.

I had another year under my belt of dealing with new life. I had gone to Las Vegas and then Florida for spring break. I was leaving my house and having a blast. I felt like anything was possible. I now felt like I could go anywhere and be accepted. A lot of that was due to a goofy guy I knew named Jim. Jim and I knew each other from school and Jr. hockey, but not so much outside of that. We grew up on different sides of the town, Marquette. Jim, he’s a natural ice skater. He’s the type of skater that could take the hockey puck from behind his own net, skate around everyone on the ice like they were peewees, but then shoots it 5 feet wide of the open net. I said a natural skater.

Our soon to be lifelong friendship cemented on a Thursday night in the Pier I. Jim had just sold one of his cars and had a pocket full of money.  Somewhere during our evening we decided a road trip to Mackinac Island was going to be fun. Neither of us had been there, so why not? The next day Jim is driving his ‘’now white’’ Chevy Nova, with me as his co-pilot, 115 mph down M-28 east toward Mackinac Island. But sorry Maureen, Jim’s mother, you’ll have to wait for that story. While neither of us went to jail on that adventure, it was touch and go for awhile.

What I love about Jim and what he showed me was to just be you. To let that inner person who you know is good – out! For those of you who know me think that I’m good at going into a room full of strangers and making friends, I learned it from Jim. The number one thing is to be positive. If you’re having a bad day, stay home. If you’re having a bad day at work, leave it at work. Think of yourself as an ambassador, for ‘’you’’ every time you go out and meet people. If you don’t want the world to think of you as a whining, complaining, lazy piece of crap, then don’t act that way when you’re out in public. Jim was always happy when he went out, and it showed. I truly believe you have an aura around you. If your positive and happy, that’s what people will feel when you’re around them. Jim showed me that. To this day, if I show up around my friends or co-workers tired, they immediately ask me what’s wrong? When I say nothing, just tired, they often don’t believe me. What’s wrong? You’re not yourself? Other times you can see my friends smile when I show up. Jer’s here, now we’re going to have fun. I believe everyone has an unseen aura that shows what kind of people they really are on the inside.

Staying the weekend at the iron bar inn was not how I planned my 4th of July, 1984, but I find life rarely goes as planned. The long holiday weekend started off just like the 4th of July the year before, I’m going to Big Bay. For those of you not familiar with upper Michigan’s small towns, it’s a small town on Lake Superior with a population of a couple hundred people. It has three attractions, the hotel, which may or may not be in business, it’s been both a few times while I lived there, Perkins Park Campground and a softball field. Oh, and the Lumberjack Tavern, what self respecting town doesn’t have one of them. On the 4th of July weekend, the population doubles, triples, etc. etc. etc.

The one other thing Big Bay is world famous for is a best-selling novel written by John Voelker, Anatomy of a murder. The book was later made into a movie starring James Steward, George C. Scott and several other well known stars. The movie was filmed at the Big Bay hotel. If you like Jimmy Steward movies, this is one of his best, and if I remember right, the ending of the movie has a twist.

That’s it! I just bought the eBook version of it, Anatomy of a Murder. I just leaned John Voelker wrote it under the pen name, Robert Traver.

Ok, now for my story of how I ended up in jail in Big Bay, no, L’Anse, no, Crystal Falls, no, it was actually the Delta County jail I ended up spending my 1984 4th of July weekend in. You may not believe this, but if I could do it over again, I’d do it all the same as I did back then. I like who I am. Who I turned out to be.

Several years ago I seen a movie called, Mr. Destiny, staring James Belushi, Linda Hamilton, Michael Caine and Rene Russo. The movie starts off with James Belushi unhappy about the contractors that are building his new house, then he gets fired at work and on the way home his old crappy station wagon breaks down. It breaks down in front of a bar, so he goes inside to call a tow truck. While inside waiting he has a drink served by the bartender Michael Caine. James tells his sad story about his life and how it would have been so much better if he only wouldn’t have struck out in the bottom of the 9th in the ‘’big game?’’ a little league baseball game. If he would only have hit that pitch?

He drinks the ‘’magic’’ drink and when he leaves the bar, his life is as if he hit the ball and won the big game. He suddenly finds out he’s now married to Rene Russo instead of Linda Hamilton. Since she’s the daughter of the owner of the company he used to work for, he’s now the CEO of the company and a millionaire. The huge mansion he now lives in has a garage bigger than his old house, which is filled with all the rare and expensive cars he could only dream of having a day earlier. After only a few days of his new life he realizes he’s an asshole in this life. Even though he’s now rich, he had a better life before and wants it back. I’d hate to wake up someday to find out I lied to people, cheated them, or wasn’t a person that is warranted of respect. No matter how rich I was.

The July 4th weekend in 1984 was a beautiful sunny weekend in the U.P. (Upper Peninsula). I picked up Jim in my 1969 GTO and off to Big Bay we went. Danny Joe showed me how to listen to people, pay attention and talk when needed, Jim showed me that just being yourself, be positive and have fun worked well too. Jim’s not smarter than anyone, not better looking, more talented or richer, but that’s what makes Jim – Jim. He doesn’t care. He’s not judgmental nor is he star struck by people. People are just that, people. Talk to them, get to know them and enjoy meeting them.

That’s what Jim and I did that Friday 4th of July weekend, 1984. We went to person after person, group after group, party after party talking to people. Some offered us food to eat, some offered us beer to drink, some offered of marijuana to smoke, but they all offered us a conversation and that’s what Jim and I did best. We had fun talking with 20 different people, 30 different people, 50 different people or 100 different people? I couldn’t tell you how many, but it was fun. We never stopped. If the conversation became slow, dull, political, or negative or it just ran its course, we’d move on. I’ve always loved hanging out with Jim, you just had fun. If you’re still wondering which Jim I’m talking about, it’s the one who shaved his head at the senior party?

As day turned into night and night turned into early morning, Jim and I found ourselves on the beach. We had been at the campground, the baseball field, the bar, the hotel? I don’t remember the hotel, so probably not, but if you’re looking through a photo album and have pictures of me there, I won’t deny it. It was after 4:30am and I had stopped drinking a few hours before when I asked for the direction to drive to L’Anse by way of the AAA road. A gravel road that wound its way through the woods. From Big Bay, back to Marquette to L’Anse would have been a couple hour drive. By cutting through the woods on the grave road, we’d cut hours from the drive. Why L’Anse? Jim was going to play in a guts Frisbee tournament in a few hours, around noon or so. I liked to drive at night, I had stopped drinking a while earlier and I hadn’t gotten high in a while, so I felt confident I could do it.

I was wrong! Jim fell asleep minutes into our journey. My 1969 GTO was getting old. The electric windows stopped working and they were down when they stopped. It can be 80 plus degrees during the day near Lake Superior, but the nights can still get cold. I was adjusting the heater controls when I found out the AAA road has a hairpin corner. I’ve since learned I’m not the first person to suddenly find this out – the hard way. I was only going 30 mph so no one was hurt, but we were now in the ditch. Jim was sleeping and he wasn’t going to wake up. But it’s my lucky day, some guy in a jeep is on his way to his favorite fishing hole at 6am and he offered to go get help. An hour later I find out he was an off duty police officer and help was not one, but two ‘’Michigan State blue’’ colored cars with round lights on the roof. Did you know that the Michigan State police cars have their own special blue paint?

I had quit drinking several hours earlier in the evening and I didn’t feel drunk, so the last thing I thought about was a DWI (driving while intoxicated). Not worried about that, I didn’t worry about the little bit of illegal stuff I had on me. It was my lucky day. I failed the breath test by 1/100 of a percent, which meant I was searched, which meant I was going to jail, which meant a nice ride in a state police blue colored car with a light on top. And no they did not hand cuff me. As a matter of fact, I told them the front seat was easier to get into, so I got to ride in the front seat of a Michigan state police car to L’Anse. Then to Crystal Falls because the L’Anse jail wasn’t wheelchair accessible. Neither was the Crystals Falls jail, so finally after some phone calls by my new friends in blue and we were off to the Delta County Jail. I have no idea where it is, since they never sent me a reunion request, I never looked it up.

The judge I needed to see was back in L’Anse and he wasn’t going to ruin his 4th of July by going to work, so I got to enjoy breakfast at 6am even though I didn’t order it. They brought me free lunch and dinner too right up until Monday morning when I was given a nice ride back to L’Anse. Now that I think about it, the room and board wasn’t free. I bailed myself out of jail. Hint, always have money for bail hidden in your wallet. I have no complaints; they were all nice to me. I even bought the two officers that were transporting me lunch from a McDonalds drive through. Jail food isn’t very good. It has zero seasonings. The other thing I found out by sitting in the front seat of a police car was if you can see a police car, he has you locked on radar. It has that far of range.

Spending a weekend in jail taught me I don’t want to do it, but also it was time for me to evolve. On May 12, 1979 I felt like I was going to evolve out of my childhood and into adulthood. Then in an instant I went back to being like an infant, physically anyway. I had to learn how to dress myself, hold a knife and fork, comb my hair, and becoming sociable around people. Everything everyone spends their childhood learning I had to relearn. July 4th weekend, 1984, I realized I was back, well as close as I could be to that place again. It was time for me to grow up and start acting like an adult. It was time to quit partying like a rock star and become an adult.

For the next few months I thought about what was next for me. I started assessing where I was in life. Because I was living on only $14,000 a year return from the investments my father had made with my disability money, I had been working part time minimum wage jobs for extra money. It was time to change that. My first job after the accident was in 1980 working for the family rental company. It was the perfect job for me to start with. With having nine years working for my father’s construction company, I was familiar with most everything the company rented. Once I started talking, the customer quit looking at a disabled boy in a wheelchair and appreciated my knowledge, wisdom and experience. Often the customer came in thinking they wanted to rent one thing, but after talking with them, I’d rent them something else that worked better.

My next job was for a man who had a company that did medical billing for doctors. He had his hair cut by my sister Jean. Somehow the topic of computers came up and she told him how I liked computer. My junior year of high school I used to go to radio shack on my lunch hour and mess with their computers. So he called me and offered me a job. I’ll never forget my first day working for John. It was before I was driving, so my mother dropped me off at the building his business was located, the medical center off of Fair street? It was a cold wet day when I transferred out of her station wagon into my wheelchair. I wheeled through the front door and looked for the directory. His office was in the basement on the other side of the building. I didn’t want to be late for the job interview, so I was dropped off 10 minutes to 1. The interview was at 1 pm. I don’t know what the door knobs are like now, but in 1981, they sucked. They were perfectly round and smooth just like a Christmas tree bulb. Then the automatic door closers were set to close the doors in case there was a tornado inside the building. I’m sure you’ve seen the doors that take a winch from a tow truck to open. With my paralyzed cold wet hands the fire doors on the inside of the building became a nightmare. By the time I finally reached John’s office, I was 10 minutes late for the job interview. Being late for a job interview is just plain stupid. But John didn’t mind. He showed me his computer. Back in the early days of computers, they were mainframe computers. They were big, had their own rooms and only large fortune 500 companies and universities had them. Small business would buy a minicomputer. The one John had was the size of an apartment size refrigerator. Computers back then didn’t have internal hard drives. This one had two 20’’ removable disks. The computer screen was the famous green dots on a black screen. The kind you only see on movies from the 70’s. Your smart phone is probably 100 times more powerful then this refrigerator size computer.

John showed me how to input the invoice onto the computer two or three times. I asked him for a pencil, which I used upside down, the eraser’s end, and typed in a few invoices myself. I entered less than 10 invoices when John said he’d be back later. A couple of invoices later and the computer screen completely went black. Well, there was this little flashing green line. For the next four hours I pushed every button on the keyboard with nothing happening. John showed up at 10 minutes to 5, he held down the ‘’ctrl’’ button and something else and the screen went right back to where I left off. I must have hit the ctrl button instead of the shift button. Even though I was late and didn’t do much all day, John hired me.

I worked for John for a year or so. It was the same from the first day I worked for him until he went bankrupt or the last day. I’d show up for work and John would leave. But it was fun simple job. My next job was for a entrepreneur name Lon. I knew Lon from my days working construction for my father. Lon ran a supply company, Midwest Construction Supply Company. It sold tools and materials to construction companies working at the iron mines. When the expansions ended, so did the company he managed. Lon was a smart man, so he started his own company supplying roofing material to roofing companies. Now, I’m not an expert, so please no letters, but large buildings such as Wal-Mart would have one of two types of roofs. A tar roof which often would have a sprinkle of gravel on it or a rubber roof. Lon sold the materials for the rubber roofs. Lon also invented a few products for the rubber roofing business, which was the beginning to the end of his company. He manufactured his new inventions before he had sales orders. I worked for him for a year or so. Again a job I liked and learned a lot. The one thing I’ll never forget was him telling me to get all the boring shitty little jobs finished when I’m bored and don’t feel like doing anything. Then when the crunch time comes you’re not spinning your wheels on the jobs or tasks that you could or should have already completed. How many times have you stressed out doing laundry and other everyday tasks just before going on a vacation?

Prior to being very stupid and getting in trouble, I spent two years getting up every morning and leaving my house. If it wasn’t going to my part time jobs, it was to Danny Joe’s garage, Greg’s (another good friend) garage, wheeling the streets gaining strength and endurance or just driving around the U.P. (Upper Peninsula) to become a better driver. My nights were going to friend’s houses, P.R. (Picnic Rocks) bars or any places I could find people. My weekends were filled with whatever was going on. It could be the off road races, friends camps, road trips, bars, wedding receptions or again any place there were people. I loved going to wedding receptions they have 100 plus people happy and in a good mood to talk too. I never needed an invite. I’d bring a card with a $20 bill in it, and I’m there. I spent two plus years afraid to leave my house. Then for two plus years, you couldn’t get me to stay home.

Then I went to jail. I spent the next couple of months thinking about where I was in my life, and I was proud of what I accomplished. Not so much going to jail, but happy with who I was. The first thing I wanted to change was to quit getting high. I didn’t really like it anyway. All it did was to make me stupid and dumb. When I smoked pot, I got paranoid. I didn’t know what to say or how to act around other people. So I’d ended up going home. There I’d do something stupid like rearranging my sock drawer. I’d do something like organized the socks from the lightest color to the darkest color. Then I’d find one without a match, so I’d go looking for it only to get side tracked doing something else. It might be sorting all my pennies I had by year into red solo cups. I’d wake up the next morning with 20 red solo cups with pennies in them only to pour them all back into the empty peanut butter jar I kept them in. I’d then close my sock drawer wondering why I spent all the time organizing them when I don’t even wear socks anymore. So when the judge told me if I don’t get caught with drugs for two years it wouldn’t show up on my record. That’s all I needed, well and Nancy Regan’s advice to just say no and I quit getting high. Getting high for me was like hitting my thumb with a hammer, it felt so good when I finally quit!

With that said, I feel marijuana should be legalized. While it’s something that I don’t enjoy, others do. Many of them I’d rather see getting high then drinking alcohol. I’ve seen alcohol turn some people into assholes. I’ve never seen that from people smoking pot. Plus there would be less drunk drivers because people would get high and never leave their house. They’d stay home and rearrange their sock drawers. There are too many people in jail because of smoking pot. The United States has more people in prison than all other industrialized nations in the world, by far. If it was legal, it could be taxed and those in business selling it would pay income taxes. People are going to smoke pot, not me, but many do. Our government spending billions trying to stop it is stupid. We shouldn’t have a war on drugs. We should have a war on poverty, a war on illiteracy, a war on homelessness, a war on disease, a war on the deficit. But what do I know?

What I did know back in 1984 was it was time to grow up. I had two plus years of having fun. It was in September talking to two cute girls from Lower Michigan who were attending college at Northern Michigan University that the light bulb went off. It was time to go to college. I had been working part time minimum wage jobs that weren’t going anywhere. My father controlled all my disability money because I had no experience or education. And the university had countless beautiful young women attending it. It was a no brainer. It was time to go to college.

When I look back at my life, 1984 stands out as a year that my life really changed, for the better. I wouldn’t change a thing.