In the Summer of ’69 (HA HA! Now you are thinking of that Bryan Adams song, nyah nyah) I was 7 years old, and we were invited to spend a week up at the lake house of a business friend of my dad’s in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Green Bay was “Up North” to us Southcentral Wisconsinites and was invariably referred to as such, unless you had a really strong accent in which case it was “Aaahp Nort.” Up North was where one would go deeeeer huntin’ an’ iiiiiice fishin’ and maybe even hang out in quaint Doooooooor County in the summer. So this little trip was a big deal to me, because as I have mentioned, we essentially never went anywhere on vacation. My general summer destination was my backyard sandbox, hopefully unsullied by cat turds for the season.

It was a long drive to Up North, I guess probably four hours or so, and of course it seemed like it took forever. There were no in-car movies or Nintendos or iPods to pass the time for kids then. You could read a book, color in a coloring book, eat the snacks Mom packed, play games like I Spy or the always-thrilling OMG Look An Out-Of-State License Plate competition, or Yes, I Can Spell This You Betcha or See How Many Lines You Can Count On The Road Until You Get Bored. When that would end, within the first 30 minutes, then it was time for Are We There Yet and Well, How Much Longer Then? After a few rounds of that, then it would degrade to HEY! My Brother Is TOO FAR Over on MY SIDE and POKE! POKE! POKE! and Stinkeye/Stare Wars. As a last resort, there was I HAVE TO PEE RIGHT NOW. Hopefully, Dad would pull over at somewhere with a bathroom where you could also score some candy.

You knew you were getting closer to your destination when the landscape changed to the dark tall spiky pine trees in the sandy red soil and the air smelled like Lake Michigan, which was a combination of fish and wet weeds and metal. Ooh, dat’s a big lake dere. You could just keep staring out at it and not see the far edge, like I imagined how the ocean was, this endless blue view. The lake house was nice and roomy, not grand but grand to me. It took about 2 seconds after greeting our hosts for me to start rifling through a suitcase for my swimsuit.

The week was spent playing on the beach, begging for speedboat rides, eating burgers and brats and sweet corn on the grill, and driving to various touristy spots around Green Bay. I only have two very distinct memories left of the trip past this. The first was that I was determined that I was going to learn how to surf. I did not tell anyone about my plan; I was going to secretly practice and surprise everyone with my new skill. Surfing was awesome, and I was going to be just like Gidget or Jesus or Jesus Gidget and ride the waves. Having no clue at all about basic physics, I could not look at the modest lake waves and know that surfing was impossible. But I grabbed a float board thinking “this will do,” and snuck away from the group to give it my first go.

Well. This was not the simple get-out-in-the-water-and-just-stand-on-the-board thing I thought it would be. I tried and tried to get on the board and it kept popping out from under me. The board would fly into the sky and I would get a nose full of water. But I really thought I could do it if I were just persistent enough. There were some odd large things floating in the water as well, but in my quest for my own perfect wave, I was ignoring them. Finally, I dragged the board over to where the speedboat was docked, and somehow while holding onto the boat managed to stand on the board. As I very delicately balanced, I looked behind me ready to let go when a wave would come. I felt something cross my feet, and turned my head back to see what it was.


That’s what was floating in the lake!! A bunch of giant dead fish!!!! AAAAAHHH! Thoroughly freaked out, I left the board to float away in the water and hightailed it back to the house, my surfing career in Lake Michigan cruelly ended by some pollution-induced fish kill. It was now Lake EWWWW to me.

The other thing I remember was that the hosts' teen girl had a great selection of 45s. She was very nice to me, and allowed me to hang out and look at her records and play them on her portable record player. This was so wonderful. I would get her case of 45s and spread them all out on the light blue rug of their rec room, staring at them all lovesick. I was so excited to hear some of the ones I knew from the radio but didn’t own, and I played them over and over.

At the end of the week, I was sad to leave. We packed up the car, waved goodbye, and started backing out from their gravel driveway. At the last minute, the girl ran out from the house with the two 45s I had played the most, “Let Me” by Paul Revere and the Raiders and “White Room” by Cream. She handed them to me with a smile and told me I could keep them. I was just thrilled, and thanked her, all stunned. Wow!

Another needed lesson in physics or at least thermodynamics occurred, however, during the ride home: Never place vinyl records on the blazing hot backseat shelf of a car for four hours. I fell asleep during the ride home, and when I awoke, “Let Me” had waves melted into it that would have done the North Shore of Oahu proud. In horror, I asked my mom if she could iron it flat again. She just shook her head kind of sadly at me.

So now in the Summer of ’09, that is still what Green Bay is to me: not the Packers, but scary floating dead fish, warped 45s, the sun and the water, and the unexpected kindness of a fellow music lover.