We just spent five days in northern Wisconsin. Up nort’ as they say in those parts. Yah der hey. Our daughter had encouraged (and planned) this mini-vacation months ago. Since she loves spending our money, she had already located a cabin for rent on a beautiful lake. I use the term ‘cabin’ loosely. It was a brand new home that sleeps 10 and came with the use of a pontoon boat. We’ve stayed in rentals before but nothing like this one. One of the owners is an interior decorator and she had done a beautiful job designing and decorating both the interior and exterior spaces. The furniture was an eclectic mix of modern pieces and antiques. Anything you could want, she had thought of. There were games for children; the kitchen was stocked with every imaginable utensil. There were extra cell phone plugs and chargers, blankets for sitting outside, tools for grilling, fire starters, cans of citronella. The spice cabinet was stocked with all the basics. There were three kayaks and a paddle board, a beautiful outdoor deck and huge fire pit a short walk from the cabin. There were floaties and a football to toss around. It was a little slice of heaven.
Our grandkids ranged in age from two to nine years old, two boys and two girls. Since I’m not a fisherperson, my son-in-law brought poles and tackle for anybody that wanted to fish. His two boys were anxious to launch the pontoon, which proved to be no simple task. The owner had prepared a full-page document explaining how to prep and launch the boat, with a clearly stated warning at the bottom that if we failed to follow the directions and ruined his 70 HP Johnson outboard engine, it would cost $10,000 to replace it.
Since the cabin sits on the far northern edge of the lake, the water by the dock is very shallow, perhaps two feet in depth. It’s filled with lily pads and various other lake weeds. We called it the muck-a-lee! In order to get the boat out to open water, we had to back slowly through the weeds with the motor trimmed just enough for the prop to sit in the water. Once away from the pier we had to stop and pull weeds from the prop and use a small suction device to make sure the engine was spitting and clearing water. Once that was done, we could trim the engine down and throttle up. With hope in our hearts that we would slay some huge northern pike or walleye, we found what we thought would be the perfect honey hole and set the boys loose with their poles. They had both practiced dry casting at home and handled the poles like a couple of pros. As you might expect, the vision we had of eating fried fish that evening was crushed. We caught nothing. Never even had a bite. We had pasta for dinner instead.
We built a fire that evening. I had forgotten that all children, in their hearts, are pyromaniacs. There’s something about a campfire that draws them in like moths to a bug light. “Buppa, can you find us some long sticks?” they asked. I conscripted the mini pyros to help forage for small kindling to get the fire going. Each kid had to carry firewood from the cabin to the firepit and then I gave them each a long stick. Once the fire was going they’d spend the rest of the night poking and prodding the embers trying to get the ends of their sticks to light on fire after which they’d brandish them like hot, pointy swords of death. It’s only by the grace of God that nobody suffered third degree burns or lost an eye.
We settled into a comfortable routine. Coffee on the deck in the morning. Fishing and swimming into the early afternoon. We did manage to catch a few fish: one large crappie, one sunfish, one small-mouth bass and a perch. We let them all go, since nobody wanted to clean them. Naps for the kids...and Buppa. Dinner, campfire, repeat.
Our son and his two girls had to leave a day early. On our last night, we decided to go out for dinner with Rachel’s family. She had found a couple of restaurants that looked pretty good. We drove 15 minutes to get to our first choice, only to find it was closed on Mondays. Apparently she had failed to call to verify their hours of operation. We piled back into the car and drove 15 more minutes to another bar/restaurant that had been recommended. It was called Leroy’s Perch Palace.** We walked into the joint and looked around. The smell was not something I was familiar with. It was like a mix of my grandma’s basement, rancid cheese, and week-old roadkill. There were dead flies piled in all the window sills. I swear it had not been cleaned since the Truman administration. Needless to say, we did an abrupt about face and piled back into the car holding our noses.
We headed back toward the small town near our cabin. We Googled restaurants on the way and came up with two more possibilities. The first was called Lucky Louie’s Bar and Grill. I scrolled down to the last review of the place that had been left a couple weeks earlier. I swear I’m not making this up! This is the Google review verbatim:
“If you’re absolutely desperate and there is nowhere else open to get pizza (as it was for us tonight) take your chances and dine in this unfriendly restaurant. If you want an even more pleasant experience, call and place a carry out order. If you’re as fortunate as I was to have Jamie answer the phone, you have been awarded a chat with the most miserable human breathing. And if you get to see her, you’ll understand why her attitude is so ugly. Life hasn’t been fair too her on so many levels. Seriously the worst customer service one could experience. My recommendation would be to go to Sherry’s Fish House and Liquor Store right across the street. They are personable, the food is always delicious and the customer service is how it should be.” (Needless to say, it was a 1-star review.)
Well, I pulled up to Lucky Louie’s and let the others out. I ran across the street to check out Sherry’s Fish House. I walked into the place. It was dark and dingy. The bar and most of the tables were filled with what I presumed were locals. When they heard the door open and saw a stranger walk in, conversations stopped. Heads slowly turned to see who had entered their dominion. I felt a little like Ned Beatty in Deliverance. Thought I even heard Dueling Banjos playing on the juke box. I slowly backed out and walked over to Louie’s. To my great surprise, it was delightfully clean with a friendly feel. There were dead bears and deer heads hanging off the walls, a veritable taxidermy wonderland. There were video games for the kids to play. My wife and I walked up to the bar. A stout, serious looking woman walked over and said, “Whaddya want?”
We both ordered what any person would order in a Wisconsin bar up nort’. “We’ll each have a brandy old fashioned. Sweet.” (This cocktail does require some muddling, which means more work for the bartender.)
She rolled her eyes and said, “Sure.”
My wife said, “What’s your name?”
“Jamie,” she said.
My wife and I turned slowly and looked at each other, eyes wide. We tried not to laugh thinking about the review we had just read. And then, in an effort to flip the script, we decided we would kill her with kindness.
She was not the ogre described by the Google reviewer. We asked her questions about her work and her life. By the end of the night she was smiling and laughing, and our five-year-old grandson was her new best friend. He has that effect on people. The food turned out to be great and Jamie was the perfect hostess. It was a fun, memorable night.
On the way home, I went back and looked at the Google review the woman had left. Her profile picture was a cat. That explains a lot.
**Names of people and places may have been changed to protect the innocent...and the guilty.