Taking the uncommonly luxurious Cadillac XTS for a trip down memory lane
Author John O'Connor
For all practical purposes, South Haven is the southern terminus of the Blue Star, a.k.a. U.S. Highway 31. The stretch between South Haven and Douglas makes for some white-knuckle driving, and the XTS handles it nimbly, slaloming along like Bode Miller. At the Blue Star Antique Pavilion in Douglas (score: stuffed black squirrel, $40), the lady minding the register draws me a map to Ray’s Drive-In, 30 miles north in Grand Haven, even though I didn’t ask for one. At Ray’s I have a fried perch sandwich—the crispiest and sweetest I’ve ever sunk teeth into—plus fries and a milkshake for $6.95. An hour later I manage to pack in the excellent beef melt at the Old Hamlin Restaurant in Ludington (probably the only town in America where lighthouses outnumber people), and, not 40 minutes afterward, a decadent malt ball sundae at House of Flavors in Manistee.
Postprandial convalescence is taken at the Grand Beach Resort in Traverse City, with a view of East Traverse Bay. The shoreline here has a cosmic, supersaturated look to it, like an Albrecht Dürer watercolor. It soothes both nerves and digestive canal with equal efficacy.
Just north of Traverse City, the country opens up. And here’s something to know about northern Michigan: Nobody lives here. Even on the Fourth, the beaches up and down the coast are empty. I’m talking about one of the most pristine lakeside expanses in America practically vacuumed of people. From T.C. to Petoskey I saw maybe seven other cars, although, it being late summer, I passed farm stands practically every half mile: cherries, strawberries, peaches, asparagus and an unfathomable number of pies—as if every pie in the world had been gathered on this roadside to cool.
Once past Petoskey I leave the Blue Star to pick up the M-119, which from Harbor Springs to Cross Village is dubbed “The Tunnel of Trees”—a narrow, 20-mile blacktop ribbon shaded by a canopy of hardwoods that offers glimpses of Sturgeon and Little Traverse bays. The XTS springs past the dawdlers while the sun strobe-lights through the foliage. In Cross Village I stop at an old stone-and-timber tavern called Legs Inn, where I dig into smoked whitefish and bigos, a kind of Polish hunter’s stew.
On my last night I catch the tail end of a Hex hatch on the Au Sable, the best trout river east of the Rockies. (A Hex hatch, for the uninitiated, signals a fish feeding frenzy brought on by the annual hatching of mayflies.) At the fly shop in Grayling, the guy minding the register draws me a map, even though I didn’t ask for one. Thanks to him, I catch three brown trout and two rainbows—this on a river I’ve never fished before, way out in the sticks and in utter darkness. Without that map I would’ve been totally, irretrievably lost. And who knows? I might not have ever found my way back. Which, I think, basking in the quiet and breathing in that fresh air, wouldn’t be that bad a thing.
JOHN O’CONNOR, who has written for the New York Times, GQ and Saveur, learned how to drive in an ’84 Olds Firenza—which, as it happens, was also where he first heard Black Sabbath’s Technical Ecstasy.