Friday, July 25, 2008

It's Hall So Grand

Whether it was the original intent of the first designers of that Grande Dame of the boundry waters to evoke a steamship or not, the effect of one is certainly achieved. The Grand Hotel rides the crest of the island like a cruise line coming into view on a tremendous green wave. She dominates the shoreline, and sets the scale for the rest of the buildings in the busy picturesque little village. Inside, the feeling continues, maintained by seemingly endless narrow hallways draped in gilt and ornament. Room after room reveals itself as you wander the levels, guided only by the lure of here, a sweep of staircase, there a beckoning door to yet another fantastically baroque interior. The end effect is quite dreamlike, and from the state of her inhabitants, a dream from which one would like never to wake.
When the happy traveler is informed that no motor vehicles are allowed on the island, his first thoughts might be, "And how am I to haul my valaise and my laptop and my garment bag, filled to the brim with formal clothes that have not seen the day since that last wedding I attended? Am I to be my own sherpa?" That was certainly the first concern that flickered across Mrs. H.'s brow two mornings ago, but with a wave of his hand, Mr. Hall summoned the shuttle to the ferry, who picked them up at the hotel in St. Ignace, and dropped them and their luggage at the dock. Bags were swiftly marked and whisked away, to appear later at the Hall's room at the Grand Hotel. The ferry ride was short and smooth; the weather was beautiful, even by the locals standards, and when the Halls rounded the bend in the bay and first spied the Grand Hotel on the hill, the entire occupants of the ferry seemed to gasp en masse. The Halls disembarked at the Shepler's dock, and proceeded, amidst the flurry of visitors and guests, to stroll up the avenues, out of the clash of cheap vendors and noise and northward towards the hotel. Mr. Hall snagged a horse-drawn taxi from the hotel, and they rode in solitary style up to the magnificent portico. A few quick steps up the stairs to the parlor, the feel of sea spray and clear breeze upon the face, and as they turned and viewed the harbor, it was clear the Halls had arrived.
Steamships and cruise lines have yet another thing in common with the Grand Hotel; a fascination with dining. There are three things the happy traveler is likely to be doing at any given moment: eating, finishing eating, or preparing to go to eat. The vista was so compelling that morning, the Hall's took their repast on the "world's longest porch". Then, after meandering about, they strolled over the grounds and partook of a bracer at the Jockey Club. Shortly later, they attended the tea in the parlor. A cursory examination of the day's schedule showed at least nine such dining events going on at the hotel at most points in the day and the Halls would have made every one if they could; it was their decided opinion that there was not a bad meal or even cup of coffee to be had in the house. Everything was perfect.
Sometime later in the afternoon, when the shadows grew longer and the horses seemed to move more slowly than before, the Halls retired to their suite to refresh themselves and dress for dinner. Though the dining hall could seat well over a thousand, the tables still maintained a sense of intimacy, and the service was leisurely and attentive. After dessert, the Halls, at this point stuffed to the gills, fairly rolled out of the dining room and landed in the library-themed wine bar. There, they encountered some other fellow sports enthusiasts, and wrapped in the glow of good company and blue cigar smoke, they digested their dinner and their day.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Weird Michigan Hall around!

There is much beauty in the North Woods and it is a constant source of wonderment to Mr. and Mrs. H. that each turn around the bend in the road produces yet another incredibly lovely vista; but the really fun reason to hit the road is to see all the strangeness that rural America can conjure up. The Mystery Spot is promoted so skillfully throughout the state, it should be required viewing for any MBA or advertising student. By the time the casual traveler gets to St. Ignace, he is so overwhelmed with a desire to see this local phenomenon, that he can scarcely drive while he struggles to get out his ticket money. Mr. H. patiently explained that he had been there once already forty years ago, and he doubted that it had gotten any more exciting or mysterious since then. Mrs. H. was working herself up to a disappointed pout til Mr. Hall relented and allowed her to visit the Weird Michigan Wax Museum instead. No spoilers will be revealed here, but suffice it to say, the happy traveler would do well to keep the expectations on the low side.
All expectations were met and exceeded concerning the foodstuffs, however. If the happy traveler strays just a bit from relative safety of the common franchise eateries, he is rewarded with some toothsome local specialties. Simply by asking the youthful waitstaffs serving across the state, the Halls were able to glean considerable knowledge regarding the whereabouts of said specialties. Of course, no trip north is complete without a visit to The Cherry Hut (Beulah, MI) for fresh, tart cherry pie or The Smoke House (Frankfort) for homemade beef jerky. The young hostess at the hotel provided the tip that sent them to Clyde's drive in, and their terrific chocolate malteds. That means the biggest mystery in Michigan is going to be how Mr. Hall is going to get into his tuxedo tomorrow night. Next post: Mackinac Island and The Grand Hotel- Stay tuned!

Monday, July 21, 2008

It's Hall about Michigan Art

Despite rising gas prices and fears of a spiraling economy, the roads were full of happy vacationers everywhere the Halls landed. Power boats full of fishing equipment and pickups with their hunting dogs dotted the highways, as far as the eye could see. Leaving the glorious skyline of Grand Rapids behind, the Halls moved on to Sand Lake, to Paradise Cove and their good friends, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Arntz. Friends since Methusela wore short pants, Mr. H. and Mr. A swapped stories over pizza and bonfires long into the night. The weather was moody but cooperative, and the happy crew was able to enjoy some pleasant moments on the lake and lovely starlight by the lagoon.
The next day, they pointed the big black car north and decided to trod some trails familiar to Mrs. H. for awhile. Grand Rapids is known for encouraging new artists; the last time the Halls were there, the city was host to a series of charming little whimsical sculptures, popping up at every turn. Manistee, MI, home to lumber baron mansions and opera houses is just as proud of its cultural heritage as well, and Sunday along the riverwalk, the Halls enjoyed a small but engaging art show. Juried art shows and city-sponsored exhibits are alright, Mrs. Hall explained, but the truly fun and creative spirit of Michiganers was more evident along the road itself. Mrs. Hall snapped shots of homemade robots, sandcastle like rock mansions and happy, frolicking fruit portraits; all examples of the artistic imperitive that drives this Midwestern state.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Hall over the road- it's that time of year again!

When Mr. H. starts to enjoy longer and longer periods of time looking out the window, and spends an excessive amount of attention to the shine on the big black car, then Mrs. H. gets out the valise and starts packing; she knows a trip to Michigan is surely on the horizon.

Thursday afternoon, when all the work was done and put away, the Halls pulled out of the hanger and took the handoff to Cleveland Center, and points west. The Cadillac put the miles behind them quickly, and it was no time before they were sitting in their favorite smoky environ, The Korner Bar, in Owasso.
The Halls are only there once or twice a year, and yet, the bartender knows them by name and pours a healthy glass. She's a Tigers fan like Mr. Hall, but she'll lend a sympathic ear (or at least the impression of one...) to Mrs. H's sob stories about her beloved Cubs. Theresa (the bartender) introduced them to one of the regulars, Dave, who, improbably enough, knew the same FAA examiner and flight instructor, Ray Rurork, who used to be a WW II bomber pilot. He gave Mr. H. his private, commercial and multi-engine rating, right there in Owasso.
A short night at the Comstock Inn and then back on the road. They traveled around Mr. Hall's old stomping grounds for a while, swinging past his old home on Big Pine Island Lake, past the Gratten Speedway and around some of the prettiest little cottages imaginable. Mr. H.'s own old home was for sale, and for a short time, they conversed with the real estate agent regarding the resale value and history. But, as Tommy Wolfe was want to say, you can go home all you want, but you're not going to like what you find, (or words to that effect...) It was time to point the big black car to Rockford. Nothing says Rockford, MI like a double dose of chili dogs (with onions!) and coleslaw at their own Corner Bar, a central Michigan institution in it's own right. It was Sidewalk Sale day, so after popping a few franks and some anti-acids, they decided to walk off their lunch around town. Mr. Hall is an organ fan, and there was a beautiful Classic Music shop with the delicious looking theatre organs in the window, but unfortunately, it was closed. Not to be stopped that easily, Mr. H. peered in the window and flagged the owner, who happened to be on his cell phone inside the darkened store. He let them in and gave them not only a guided tour of his wares, but an impromptu concert on the big organ in the center of his store! What a delight!
From Rockford, they continued south into Grand Rapids, and what a grand town it is! Last trip here, Mrs. H. had lamented the fact that she had missed out on a tour of the Gerald Ford Museum, so the Halls made a special point of spending the afternoon there. Their favorite overnight is the Hampton Inn off Alpine Road, north of the city, so they dropped their duds and made a bee line for Paunchy Pete's, for their Ultimate Margarita and some gooey fajitas. Diets are good things, in moderation, explained Mr. Hall to Mrs. Hall; and he resolved to go right back on his as soon as they returned to the Empire State.
There are lots more miles to go on this sentimental journey, so stay tuned to the Penguin Hall Monitor for further updates as we follow the Halls all around!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

(Mental) Health Food

What would summertime be without wacky food and old-time favorites? That was the uppermost thought in Mr. Hall’s head as he ran through the checklist, backed the big black car out of the hanger and cooled down the interior for Mrs. H. The weather for the Fourth couldn’t have been nicer if they had ordered it themselves, so the Halls hit the road and headed into the city. First stop: that Syracuse institution of indigestion- Heid’s Hot Dog stand.
While it can reasonably be argued (and many here argue it both unreasonably and incessantly) that the best Coney’s in town are at Heid’s, Mrs. Hall’s fancy leaned in the direction of something a little more continental, to wit: frankfurters mit kraut. And though that little gourmet voice inside her whispered the perfect pairing for this would be a light, yet flavorful lager; Heid’s has yet to procure a liquor license, so she opted for the onion rings instead. (The little voice emitted a low groan, and retired to some quiet corner to sulk.) Mr. H. towed a more traditional line and merely scarfed down two regulation hot dogs, sans elaboration, outside of the usual mustard and relish. The Syracuse Symphony Orchestra was still tuning up for their yearly bash at the NY State Fairgrounds, and the workmen were still making their last minute adjustments to the fireworks display, so the Halls decided to take a stroll along the walkway around Onondaga Lake. Two nautical miles and a hundred smiles later, they rounded the last corner of the parking lot, as the park started to fill up for the show. As the neighborhood became more crowded, Mr. H. remarked he had noticed advertising for a new restaurant and bar locally, yet had been unable to find it anywhere. Being the game sport that she is, Mrs. Hall said, it’s on!, and they hit the expressway, determined to find the mystery spot.
Quaker Steak and Lube had been salting the highways with tantalizing billboards, with the only clue to their whereabouts being an enigmatic banner proclaiming “Exit 5”. A cursory examination of Exit 5 produced nothing in the nature of a pub- but upon a second run down the highway, a distant green neon glow could be seen emanating from a freshly cleared cornfield, and after a few wrong turns and twisted necks, the big black car pulled up, face to face, with their quarry. Quaker Steak & Lube is a restaurant chain, known for its cute car and motorcycle theme as well as its atomic chicken wings, (they make you sign a waiver to order the hottest ones...) but the big draw that evening for the Halls was their deep-fried dill pickles and, according to the little gourmet voice again, paired with their signature Hard Lemonade. Neither the mind nor the stomach should fear the new, and both were satisfied Friday night; the pickles and lemonade passed muster, and it was a happy crew that toddled home and put the big black car to bed that night!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Brave New World: Congratulations to Colleen!

Sunday, June 29th, Mistress Colleen passed another milestone in the pathway of life and joined the ranks of high school graduates everywhere. Mr. and Mrs. Hall proudly watched as Colleen strode confidently across the stage and received her diploma from Marcellus Central High School. Also in attendance (and cheering wildly) were: her grandmother Mrs. Leo Pranitis, in from Chicago to witness the event, and her aunt, noted authoress, Gail Perry.
The school auditorium was standing room only for the pomp and circumstantial evidence of four years well spent, and after what seemed like hours of honorary speakers, the students were finally given what they were longing for: their walking papers.

The whole weekend had been one of joy and entertainment. Mrs. Pranitis and Ms. Perry had come in Friday night, and no sooner had they touched down, then the Halls had whisked them off to Daniel's for a refresher and some munchies. Then Saturday morning, joined by Mrs. Pranitis' sister Mrs. Kingston and her daughter Theresa, up from Waverly, they strolled over to Mirbeau for a leisurely gourmet all-girl lunch. Mirbeau is well known for its four star accomodations and menu, and the ladies took advantage of not only the fine cuisine but it's excellent wine list as well. The weather was particularly cooperative that weekend, and the clan was able to get in some swell shopping and swapping of stories before they headed back to Penguin Hall to pick up Mr. Hall for dinner. As the sun set slowly over the hills of Skaneateles the Halls and the Pranitis' lifted a toast to Colleen before dining at the club. The evening was topped off with a tag team version of cutthroat Scrabble; as usual Ms. Perry took the prize!
Sprinkles and a suggestion of thunder and/or lightning were predicted for Sunday, but the weather events held off until all were back under the cozy cover of Penguin Hall; for the graduation and the hour after on the campus shooting pictures, the sun shone brilliantly down on all the happy families. Colleen had invited a few of her friends to stop by, and from 7:00 pm until 11, they could be found milling about, either dining on the barbeque or ice cream pie, or joining into the craziest game of Twister ever seen in the state of New York!
Kudos all around to Mistress Colleen for a job well done! The Monitor shall be watching your progress with great anticipation!

Tell your friends!