Jim and I woke up in a grass field on the outskirts of Sault Ste. Marie or as us Uppers like to call it, the Soo feeling pretty good. We’re going to see Mackinaw Island for the first time in our lives. This was before college, so we were there to party, look for women and have fun. We weren’t there with cameras taking pictures of the tourist stuff. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but there was a police chase before we took the ferry back to the mainland. Jerry O’Dovero, jer177.com, quadriplegic, living with a disability. (I think this is how Google tags my site. Not sure)
It’s funny how one will live next door to a tourist attraction and never visit it. I lived in Marquette Michigan for 32 years and never visited the Marquette Maritime Museum which was only 4 blocks from my house. In my poor attempt to give a weak excuse, my house on Ridge Street was several hundred feet above the level of Lake Superior and the museum was only 20 to 30 feet above lake level. The last block on Ridge Street drops the most. Going down the hill in a wheelchair is easy. You just put your hands on the brakes levers that brake the rear wheelchair tires and start rolling down – braking as needed well ALL the way down. It’s pushing the wheelchair back up the hill is the challenge. Now I have done it a few times when I was first injured. It would probably take me at least a half hour to an hour to make it up that one long steep block. Now that I’m old and turning gray, if God were to say, make it up that hill and you get a free ride into heaven, I’m in trouble. My advice is to take on challenges and push yourself to do things when you’re younger, because you may not be able to when you’re older with a disabled body.
It wasn’t until I moved to California that I started doing the tourist things in the Marquette area. I’d ask my brothers and sisters if I could borrow their children, my nieces and nephews for a day. We’d then go play tourists. We not only went to Marquette’s maritime museum, but the ski museum in Ishpeming, the iron museum in Negaunee and several other tourist sites as well. For me it was a blast. Not only was I being a tourist where I grew up, but I got to spend time with my nieces and nephews as well. The part I loved the best was how they changed from year to year watching them grow into teenagers from young children.
After a few years of being a tourist in the Marquette area with my nieces and nephews, our day outings morphed into a birthday outing. I always gave my nieces and nephews a birthday present. Even when I moved to California I’d send them something. Then one year I forgot my nephew Jimmy’s birthday. When he came up to me when I was back visiting and told me that, I felt bad, so I took him out so he could pick out a present. I bet I enjoyed it more than he did, so the next year I quit mailing birthday presents to the kids and took them all birthday shopping in Marquette when I was back visiting.
Now I know I had more fun than they did. At the time there must have been 10 or more kids at a wide range of ages. When I was buying the presents out here in California and mailing them, I’d spend $25 each time on the present and shipping, so when we went out in Marquette birthday shopping, I told them they had the same $25 each to spend. It was so fun watching them spending their allotted money and what each individual child would pick. Some would blow it all on one item like a super soaker squirt gun, a Zippo liter or other weapons of mass destructions. Some would buy a few less expensive items like Pokémon cards and toys until they hit $25. One niece would buy one large stuffed animal while another would buy more mature items like glass figurines that a woman would have displayed in her house. And how they spent the money was so different between each and every one of them. Some would buy one present for $20 and quit. Most would buy right up to the $25 area. It was fun watching them trying to do the math. Some could while others would say how much more do I get to spend Uncle Jerry? Then there was always the one that would push the limits, this costs $35 but I really, really, really want it, please, please, please Uncle Jerry! Do I need to write it? Or have you already figured it out I’d give in?
Crap! Side tracked again. Mackinaw Island with Jim. On the way to the ferry, Jim and I stopped and bought a pint of root beer schnapps and a 12 pack of wine coolers. Once on the island, we rented a hotel room right away. It was one of the older grander houses on the main drag that was converted into a? Well, I’d guess you’d call it a bed and breakfast. The room cost well over $100 for the night. The house had 10 steps or so to get to the front door. But that never bothered my family or friends. My family and friends have pulled me up 5 times that many steps on many occasions – without ever dropping me. I should say family and my very close best friends. I’ve been dropped by strangers, friends and even a few what I’d call good friends, but never by what I’d call my close circle of friends and family.
Once we secured a room for the night it was time to explore the island. Mackinaw Island is world famous for their fudge. If you go to Mackinaw Island for the first time without trying the fudge, you might as well go to the Vatican and not go to St. Peter’s square, Paris and not look at the Eiffel tower or New Orleans and not trying the Cajun food. Two other things Mackinaw Island is known for is the Grand Hotel and not allowing motorized vehicles on the island. The island is only 3.8 square miles, so bicycles, the horse drawn carriages, your feet or wheelchair or more than enough to tour the island.
Back in those days I used to have a hat collection. I’d buy a baseball style cap from all the places I’d visit. I had long since quit wearing them, but I still liked collecting them. I bought two caps, one tourist Mackinaw Island cap and one that was state police blue with the Michigan State Police badge on it. Jim bought the police cap and a FBI or CIA cap. I forget which one. We probably should have been wearing them later that night. It might have kept us out of trouble.
OK I lied! During the day Jim and I did the tourist things by checking out the shops and wandering up and down the streets checking out the sights. It was fun plus I’m a people watcher too. But I had to enjoy the sites with one eye and avoid wheeling on the horse crap on the streets with the other. They did a good job shoveling it up, but it would still get on my wheels which would get on my hands if I wasn’t careful. I think a few people thought I was touched in the head the way I’d all of a sudden wheel from my straight line down the center of the street to the curve and then back to the center of the street over and over and over again.
It was around 6 o’clock when we decided to head up to the Grand hotel for dinner. We both knew it was going to be a $100 meal and neither of us was rich, but again, you don’t go to New Orleans and not try the Cajun food. That’s why Jim and I bought the wine coolers and the schnapps. We were going to keep our alcohol cost lower and spend our money on the tourist things, but still party like rock stars. We were in ours 20’s, single, out of town and vacation. That reminds me, we might have bought a bottle of rum as well. Anyway, we put a couple of bottles of the wine coolers in my back pack and we’re on our way up the hill to the Grand hotel for dinner.
If there was a ramp into the hotel, I don’t remember, I’m pretty sure Jim didn’t give me time to look or didn’t care. Up the front steps we went. For those of you who don’t know much about Mackinaw Island or the Grand hotel, it was built in the late 1800’s. It’s a Victorian style building that five US Presidents, the Prime Minster of Russia, Mark Twain, Thomas Edison and many other famous people have visited. The first public display of Thomas Edison’s phonograph along with several others of his inventions was first displayed to the public there. If you’re a movie buff, the film ‘’somewhere in time’’ starring Christopher Reeves was filmed at the Grand hotel. It also has the longest front porch of any building in the world of 660 feet.
Jim and I weren’t in the hotel for more than a few minutes when we were asked to put on our dinner jackets. I believe after 6 o’clock in the evenings you’re required to be wearing a suit or dinner jacket. It probably was less than a minute later we were politely asked to leave. We said we would, but we didn’t. Jim suggested we should at least have one drink at the bar, which I thought was a reasonable request. The 20 something cute college student who was working her summers to pay for college at the hotel reluctantly gave in when we promised to at least leave the bar with our drinks so she wouldn’t get in trouble. She was sweet. She gave us the drinks for free and told us not to go in the direction we were heading but another. It didn’t help. We didn’t last too much longer when two very large gentlemen found us. I quickly asked them if they could kindly show us the way out that we had become lost. They did. At the door both Jim and I finished our drinks and handed them our empty glasses and thanked them for hospitality, in the tone of the lord of the house thanking his butler, and turned to leave. One smiled while the other looked at us like we weren’t the first smart ass college kids trying to run amuck in the Grand hotel and were shown the door. I am willing to bet we got farther than most. We were there for 15 to 20 minutes (after 6 o’clock at night without a dinner jacket), looked in several rooms and had a drink from the bar.
Leaving the Grand hotel for the main drag was easy. It’s all downhill. Since Jim started running, I free rolled it. It didn’t take us long to spot our next point of interest. There were three letters in bright neon that Jim seen and it was seven for me. Bar for Jim and it was seafood for me. Since it was only around seven o’clock the bar wasn’t too full yet. We made our way to the second room of the bar that was used later in the evening when the college students finished their day jobs and came out to party. The room was completely empty except for a cute blond hair girl behind the bar studying or reading a book. We still had my backpack filled with wine coolers, so Jim orders two ice waters. I’m starving so I asked what the specials are. The cute bartender tells me a dozen oysters for only a few dollars. Sure I said, let’s start with them. I think I ordered fish dinner as well. Jim didn’t order. He said something like not ruining a $40 drunk on a $5 meal. I had to eat. I was starving.
When Jim got the two glasses of ice water, he tried to be sneaky and dump the water out in a plant in the corner of the room. He then, again thinking he was sneaky took two bottles of wine coolers out of my back pack, filled the glasses then put the empties in a trash can without making any noise. The bartender looks at me. I shrug my shoulders and in a quiet voice tell her, yes he’s with me. She smiled and shook her head than looked back at her book to play along with Jim’s rouse. When the oysters came they were still in the shell. I guess that’s why they were cheap. Jim looks at the pail of unshucked oysters and said he doesn’t like oysters. The sweet bartender says she’s shuck them for me. I’m eating a dozen oysters by myself when Jim orders two more glasses of ice water. The bartender looks at Jim. In a ‘’you’re kidding me look’’ asks him if he’d rather just have glasses of ice? I answered yes please for him. When Jim took his full glass of ice and wine cooler to the other room in the bar to scout out the women, I look at the bartender and say, yes, he’s with me. She was a bartender in a college bar. I’m sure she’s seen a lot worse than Jim and I. At least Jim and I are happy drunks that never get in fights. I chatted with her while having my dinner. She was in her 2nd or 3rd year of college. She was from somewhere down state. I remember her saying she liked working on the island because she made good money.
After I had a good meal and Jim couldn’t find any girls to flirt with, we were off. As we passed the house with our room, Jim runs inside and grabs our pint of schnapps. I felt like I was at least two drinks behind him all night, so it sounded like a good idea. At the next bar we stopped at, before going in we take a swig off the bottle. Jim then comes up with the brilliant plan to hide the bottle behind the bar so the cops won’t find it on us later. Sure Jim, good idea. As we wandered the streets, Jim was on a roll. Me, it was my night to just sit back and enjoy the free entertainment. If you’ve never met Jim, he’s a happy go lucky guy that can be entertaining. I’m not just talking when he’s drinking. Jim doesn’t drink much anymore. He’s just a happy man. He naturally has the ability to talk to any and everyone. And this night on Mackinaw Island he didn’t stutter a word. He was putting a smile on nearly every girl he talked to. If she had a cool shirt on, pretty earrings or an interesting tattoo he had the perfect comment. Jim was flirting with girls that had boyfriends right next to them. While most didn’t mind, a few did. Jim would later say something like; it’s not my fault she’s with her brother. A bar or two later we find one that has live music. I think it was called the Pub. I think it had a long ramp in it. The place was pack. Since both Jim’s and my best feature is talking, places with loud music tend to slow us down. What I mean by that is in a church we are useless at talking to people when there is a loud voice coming from the pulpit that commands everyone’s attention. But once that loud commanding voice is gone, we both can greet, meet and become friends with everyone there. Since Jim was on a roll, a bar with live wasn’t going to be fun for long. Plus, the band sucked. The college kids in the band needed a new lead singer. Or at least play songs that he could sing. Jim had been lead singer in a band at one time. Soon he was singing out loud, better then the lead singer of the band. It wasn’t long; maybe another song or two when I was following Jim up the ramp to leave. About 2/3rd up the long ramp when all of a sudden the entire bar starts applauding. I turn my head to see what’s happening when I notice everyone in the bar; even the band stopped playing and was applauding us leaving. I yelled to Jim what was going on, which only fired him up all the more. He starts waving to the crowd like he’s Elvis leaving the stage. I’ve never had that happen before or since. It was definitely a once in a life time experience.
We’re wandering up the street, Jim still singing a song when he sees two cute girls without their brothers around. He quickly switches to a new song and starts serenading them. These girls start smiling and enjoying the attention. I’m thinking we might get laid. Jim you’re doing great – don’t screw it up. But within a minute or two – two cops show up and tell Jim to quit singing or he’s going to jail. Right away the girls leave as Jim gets read the riot act. The message was crystal clear, quit singing or jail. A block or so later and Jim spots two new girls without their brothers and tries it again. One girl had a punk look so he singing a more of a metal song and again they’re loving the attention. Jim doesn’t even finish the song when the cops show up again. OK you’re going to jail. The girls probably had pot on them because they are gone before I could even plead one word for one more chance. We’ve just been cock blocked twice in five minutes by these two cops. It was a lot of fast talking, but I get them to give us one more chance. We quickly leave before they change their minds.
To get Jim’s mind off of singing to girls on the street, I suggest we go to the bar where our bottle of schnapps was hiding and have a drink than go inside. I’m sitting in front of the bar when Jim runs around back to grab our pint. Of course our two friends who couldn’t get laid in a women’s prison with a carton of cigarettes quickly show up. Hey, your friend cannot go behind the bar to piss. I told them he wasn’t, but they didn’t care. They had decided Jim was going to jail and there was nothing I could say or do anymore to change it. Some people get locked into their holier than thou attitude and there is nothing you’re going to ever say or do to change it. Sometimes it doesn’t even pay to try.
I sit in front of the bar for 20 minutes waiting for Jim or at least the cops to tell me my buddy is arrested, but nope. No one returns. I finally go inside to wait. I’m chatting with a girl for 20 minutes, but there are 10 steps between the street level I’m now at and my hotel bed. I didn’t even ask her back to my hotel. I remember her asking me for my telephone number because she was going to be in Marquette later that summer. She did call me, but I had gotten that DWI on the 4th of July, so we never hooked up. I’ve never been a closer anyway.
I wheel back to the house I’m renting a room at for the night. I took a quick piss in the bushes just to piss the cops off then set about getting up the steps. I didn’t sit there for more than a minute when a large group of young men came walking up the street. I think my first impression was military, but they could have been college just as easy. Excuse me, my buddy is in jail and I need to get up these steps to go to bed. Yes I’m renting a room here. What do you need to do? OK I only need two of you. Who feels tough tonight? OK you grab my back handles here and pull me up the steps one at a time and you grab my front feet rest and make sure we only go up the steps one at a time and not back down. You don’t have to lift (talking to the guy who’s taking the feet rest) you’re job is to push the wheelchair into the step when he (the guy pulling me from behind) readjusts his feet up a step. And remember (in a half joking voice to the guy on the bottom at my feet rest) if we start coming back down we’re running you over. Your job is to NOT let that happen. Instantly the guy looked scared. Just as fast, another stepped forward saying he understood and he’ll take the feet rest (bottom end). Up and down steps isn’t that hard. The problem arises when the wheelchair rolls out of the step when the guy on the top is readjusting his feet up or down a step. Or more often, they try to go two steps without readjusting their feet. If you’re the guy on top, never, never, never try to raise and especially lower the wheelchair more than one step without readjusting your feet each step the wheelchair goes up or down. I don’t care how strong you think you are, you will fail and the wheelchair will fall down the steps out of control if you try going two steps without moving your feet up or down a step as well. But if you take your time and readjust your feet up or down a step for every step the wheelchair goes up or down one, it’s easy and safe. I’ve had two girls help me up two or more steps before. My sister Jean did it once all by herself. If it’s two or more steps, I ALWAYS go up backwards and down forwards. ALWAYS! If it’s only one step I usually go up forwards and down backwards. It’s a lot easier on the person helping doing it that way for only one step, plus they can’t screw up and drop you. Now if it’s family or a very close friend and I’m pointed out for one step down or vice versa and they want to continue that way, I never stop them. They know what they are doing.
Once safely inside the house I meet the caretaker. I must have that type of face, look or aura that tells others I like to talk and/or listen. Yes Pat, I sometimes listen. It was late, but I’m pretty sure this guy was in his late 80’s. The first thing he asks me is if I wanted a vanilla wafer cookie. I’m polite so sure. Now, the majority of the time I would have said no. Cookies are made with the wrong ingredients that cause weight gain. The 2nd reason is I try to never eat late at night, again because of gaining weight. I have to lift my body in and out of bed, the shower, my vehicles and even the floor when I fall out of my wheelchair. Gaining weight is bad for me.
I was out here in California for a year and a half when my mother came out to visit. After a few hours of chatting, my mother goes into the kitchen and starts looking for something. I asked her what she’s looking for thinking I know where everything is, but she doesn’t say a word. She just continues to look in each and every cabinet and drawer. She even starts looking in the cabinets above the counters, cabinets I being in a wheelchair cannot possible reach. She must know they are all empty? She knows I’m in a wheelchair and cannot reach them? As she’s looking, her search becomes more and more intense. It starts to resemble an FBI agent looking for weapons of mass destruction. Her search became so intense I begin to wonder if there is anything in the kitchen I don’t want her to find. It’s been decades since I smoked pot, so she won’t find that. I keep my condoms in the night stand next to my bed, so I’m safe there. I’m thinking hard, but I can’t think of anything that I wouldn’t want her to find or that would warrant such a though search of my kitchen. Finally after she looks in the last cabinet. The one above my fridge. I’ve only been here a year and a half. I don’t think the spiders have made it up there yet to make their cobwebs when my mother turns to me and asks where I keep my potato chips and cookies? You could have knocked me over and out of my wheelchair with a feather I was so at a loss for what just happened. Startled, I told her I don’t have any. When she looked at me like I was lying and just hiding them from her, I told her I never buy them. Soon my mother is off to the grocery store to buy cleaning supplies. My mother loves to clean. I’m sure my apartment isn’t her only child’s place she’s cleaned in the past. When she returned from the store with the cleaning supplies, she also had a big bag of bar-b-q lays potato chips and another type I forget. The first cabinet she opens, she finds my bowls. Lucky guess? After empting the entire bag into the bowl and placing it on the table, she grabs a pail and towels to clean my bathroom. It didn’t take me long to wander over to the chips and start eating. I probably ate a third of them before my dry mouth got the best of me. After pouring a tall glass of milk, I’m wheeling back to the table and chips. I see several of the bar-b-q colored chips on the floor. I look at my hand and see the coloring on my fingers. I lick my lips to taste the bar-b-q flavoring after I take a drink of milk when my mother comes out of the bathroom with a startled look. Jerry, I thought you didn’t like potato chips? She asks. Wiping the milk and chip power from my mouth with my sleeve of my shirt, I respond, I don’t say I didn’t like potato chips, I said I never buy them.
I found that if you don’t have food in the house to snack on, you can’t snack on food later at night when you NEED it the least. But I’m polite, so when this nice old man in an old victorian style bed and breakfast on Mackinaw Island at 1:30 in the morning offered me a hard old vanilla wafer cookie, I accepted.
Even though I’m ready to call it a night, especially since I had a late night at the Soo the night before and I needed to get off my rear. Sitting too many hours and getting pressure sores is always a constant threat. But for some reason I could tell this nice older man was alone in life. I’m guessing his wife passed away and the kids have lives of their own so they’re not around every day. Because he just started talking when he realized I was going to listen. He handed me two cookies and started talking. He offers me another two vanilla wafers, and he asks if I wanted a can of (Vernor’s) ginger ale. He then tells me the story of how Vernor’s ginger ale was invented in Michigan. He also told me stories of ship wrecks, a little history of the island itself and I believe some of his life. I’m sure I asked him about it. Finally after enjoying his wonderful interesting stories until 4:30am, I tell him I need to call it a night.
I start digging in my back pack for the room key when the nice older gentleman told me he’d open the door. I take the prescription pills I always take before bed, take off my shoes and transfer into bed. I wasn’t in bed for 5 seconds when there is a knock on the door. Since it must be the nice older man wanting to see if I made it to bed, tell me checkout is at 10am, but not to worry because we were up so late together or something like that, I softly yelled it was OK for him to open the door with his key. A minute or two later there is Jim standing there in the open doorway. Even though he didn’t really do anything ‘’that’’ wrong, the nice boys in blue (police) chased him into a park where he said he lost them. He then fell asleep under the bench or where ever he was hiding.
Like Jim, I’ve skated a thin line sometimes with the law. But I’ve never stole from anyone, beat up anyone or caused anyone any harm. I’d rather be happy in life and make those around me happy. I’ve had a few friends ask me to tell my Florida trip with Kate and Connie. That’s about where I am on my time line anyway so it will be next or soon.