Lisa got laid off exactly three weeks before I did. My best friend lost her job after 15 years at the same company; it had been only three months since I joined the company I recently left, and I was…jealous of her. The best break from work I could hope for at the time was a long weekend away from the city.
And then I got my wish.
Holiday weekend rental rates in the city were astronomical, but apparently no one in the suburbs needs to travel; they have backyards and grills and municipal pools and dogs and fences, and plenty of family to visit in the next town over.
So we rented a red sedan in Des Plaines for $29.99 a day, threw our bags in the trunk and loaded the navigation app on our phones, and started out toward Door County, where my mother had invited us to spend the weekend.
My family spent many summer vacations in Door County, the Midwest's answer to Cape Cod or the Outer Banks or Lake Tahoe (or so I'd imagine). It's a peninsula dotted with beautiful, quaint resort towns and flanked by Green Bay and Lake Michigan, connected at the northern tip by Death's Door.
I know my grandparents' condo like the back of my hand; I have a favorite spot in each sweet little town. We have our traditions — the buying of the fudge, the eating of the cheese curds, the laughing about "that time Paige sent Holly flying off the teeter-totter in Baileys Harbor" — that are fairly unwavering. But this trip was different. I knew it would be. Once we crossed the state line, Lisa and I became tourists of the lowest order. If there were a ball of twine big enough to warrant a sign, we would have stopped for photos.
If you find yourself driving through southern Wisconsin, it would behoove you to stop at the Jelly Belly Visitor Center (oh.my.god.candy.), which I didn't even know existed until that weekend. I will never be the same because of it. We skipped the video tour and went straight for the rainbow wall of death by sugar. I bought a pound and a half's worth, a quarter of which was gone before we hit Sturgeon Bay — and all of which were gone by July 5. I had to throw the entire bag in the backseat to keep from making myself completely ill as I drove.
(Whatever you do, do not buy the Coldstone Creamery–branded Jelly Bellys. No matter how brilliant the concept of ice cream in candy form seems. Birthday Cake Remix is your enemy, even if the little beans do look like tiny Funfetti bombs. They are bad. Just don't.)
We also had lunch at a Kenosha gem known as the Brat Stop, which has some of the best bratwurst I've ever tasted, plus an arcade game that's actually only kind of an arcade game in that you're trying to catch a live lobster with the big metal claw. And if you get one, they'll cook it for you for dinner.
That's not weird at all.
This is a hard weekend to write about because I feel as if I remember every second, and every second is part of this big story that I want to live (and tell) over and over again, but it's more the feeling I remember and not what actually happened. And feelings are harder to describe well.
It's not our sunny Saturday afternoon at the beach that I'll remember, but the hysterical laughter and woozy lightheadedness we couldn't shake after blowing up the cheap rafts we bought earlier that day at the drug store. The slimy slide of seaweed on our skin and the warm sun and frigid water washing it away.
It's not our trip to Washington Island that I'll remember but the gleefully spontaneous decision to run from the visitor center and down to the dock, where we bought tickets and boarded the ferry just minutes before it pulled away. We never considered that biking 12 miles might be a bit more difficult in sundresses and flip-flops, and we didn't care once we got started. (And it's not the bike ride around the island that I'll remember but exhilaration of the first 360-degree view of the island after climbing 200 steps — we counted — to the top of the observation deck.)
It definitely isn't the fireworks show in Egg Harbor on July 3 that I'll remember — we wound up on the wrong side of a huge building that blocked most of our view anyway — but the squeal of the children behind us, the barking of two obnoxious feuding dogs, the smell of kettle corn and the chill of the air setting in after a third glorious sunset over Green Bay.
Lisa and I are so different. She's tropical pink and purple; I'm red and navy. She's silver; I'm gold. She's platform wedges; I'm ballet flats. She's Stoli Blueberi and lemonade; I'm gin and tonic. But we shared a good friend we lost before we were ready. We've both had our fair share of pain but never stop looking for the good in people. And on this trip, we discovered we both loved the sky of a Door County sunset, which turns tropical pink before fading to star-studded midnight navy.
We also realized the best soundtrack to a impromptu weekend away can't be found on an iPod playlist or a single radio station.
As we sailed in our red rental car down the only road that led away from the ferry dock, back toward the condo, the music flickered in and out between townships as we impatiently scrolled through the frequencies. We caught the last half of "Summer Nights" from Grease and all of "Hotel California" before we gave up on the static.
Then we rolled down the windows and just enjoyed the breeze.