I hadn’t been to Lake Geneva in the summertime in decades, so when a buddy suggested a day trip, I figured this would be as good as any a place to visit.
I am not old enough to recall the days when the town was mostly a resort area for wealthy Mr. Burns types from Chicago.
I am old enough to remember that high school kids used to drive up to Lake Geneva for the bars – when the drinking age was 18. And that the Playboy Club had a resort somewhere in the area. And that there was something sexy but ultimately silly about cocktail waitresses wearing bunny ears and cottontails with swimsuits and high heels.
Memories aside, on this particularly gorgeous Monday, we made like middle aged people, which is to say we ate lunch, then walked around town, gazing at the lake and perusing the souvenir shops.
One thing about Wisconsin beaches (and probably Illinois ones for that matter): From a distance it’s hard to tell if you are seeing a chubby dude or a large woman with her top off.
I congratulate these people for feeling comfortable enough with their bodies not to care what they look like when having fun in the sun and the sand.
Sure, being fat is a health issue in this country and elsewhere.
On the other hand, to head to the beach if you’re large is almost an act of courage and defiance, a big middle finger salute to a world that idolizes male bodies that look like mutant insects and women who look like skinny teen boys or who have more plastic in them than Barbie dolls.
Anyway, beyond the beach, the boat tours were busy, and the fish off the pier seemed as if they were waiting for somebody to feed them popcorn – or maybe fudge.
Confections, of course, are the staple of any good tourist town, as are restaurants and bars, and places that sell inexpensive t-shirts and stuff you don’t need.
Stuff like wine bottle holders made out of women’s shoes large enough for a drag queens, replete with the part that holds the toes adorned with Blackhawks and Bears logos; or benches made out of snow skis; or refrigerator magnets for North Dakota, so you can pretend you went there, too, I guess.
There also are plenty of women’s shops in Lake Geneva, including one called Oh My Gauze! which I at first thought might be a place to buy bandages. Instead it had hippie-like garb from California.
Makes sense, as wearing gauze in Wisconsin outside of July and August would be silly. The rest of the time it should be used to make cheese.
With me perplexed by all these boutiques, my buddy offered an idea:
He figured that as the dads, husbands and boyfriends probably spend most of their time out on the lake, somebody should open a bar in Lake Geneva for ladies who shop and gay guys not into water sports – so to speak.
The gay guys would be there to tell the ladies how fabulous the new purchases would make them look, which the local merchants would like to create business buzz. Then the craftier straight guys would find out about the place and occasionally stop in because of all the women while figuring some angle to work.
So a win-win for everybody.
Either way, all this thinking made me hungry – or at least made me think of food again – so on the way out of town we stopped at the Lake Geneva Country Meats, where I picked up some frozen bratwursts. I’m wondering if the ones with cherries will help prevent gout.
Past that, as is tradition, coming home along Route 31 required a stop just back across the border into Illinois at the Dog N Suds for a frosty mug of root beer for me and a root beer float for my friend.
Sure, I wanted a hot dog, too. But I had to save room for dinner that night as it was my buddy Tom’s dad’s 84th birthday that night.
We actually sort of celebrated a couple weekends prior by heading to Whiting, Indiana for for Pops’ favorite fest, that town’s annual celebration of pierogis. Pops enjoys it so much, he spent a good portion of June and July walking laps at the gym to make room for the food and getting in shape for all the walking we’d be doing.
We hit Pierogi Fest on a Friday to avoid the bigger Saturday and Sunday crowds. From this we learned that – just as is irritating custom in a snowy Chicago winter – people put out chairs along the parade route – and to save parking spaces – well in advance of the parade’s Friday evening start time.
Who knew that pierogis would have such a devoted following, just like boy bands, the Grateful Dead, Apple product launches, comic book conventions, and Star Wars openings? That’s how they cabbage roll in Whiting.
As for what we ate, the deep fried alligator pierogi took top honors, nudging out the (non-pierogi) chocolate covered bacon on a stick: Polish or Slavic with a cajun twist and a taste almost like a Salvadoran pupusa with a hint of St. Louis-like deep fried ravioli. Which is to say, ain’t that America?
Plus, Pops is Slavic, grew up in Michigan, and lived for a time with his own young family in New Orleans, where Tom was born.
Whiting, too, is where Pops had an uncle he used to visit as a kid. So at Pops’ request, we drove by the house where he thought the uncle lived in what used to be a big steel-making town.
Pops said that way back in the day, at any given time there could be a dozen or so folks living in the modest home, be they new arrivals or families starting out and the men working the blue collar industrial jobs to make ends meet.
Slavic, Polish, Irish, Mexican, many if not most of us come from roots like these. If we worked hard and had some luck, we moved on up.
We have the fests to prove it – and Lake Geneva, too, where we all can live sort of like the rich, if just for an afternoon or so, and get a tank top to prove it.
Either way, summer ends too soon.