In Search of the Perfect Manhattan by Mike Richards

‘In Search of the Perfect Manhattan’

by Mike Richards, with permission

We began what was billed as a road trip around the northwestern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula on August 1, 2016, with a flight from National Airport in DC to Detroit. There Nancy’s brother Bill met us and took us to East Lansing, Michigan. On hand to greet us were Bill’s wife Diana and their dog Maz. We started what would be an ongoing theme of great food and drink with bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches. Later that day we had a steak dinner with baked potato and all the trimmings dinner. We topped dinner off by a very good Scotch afterwards. We got Bill and Diana started watching an HBO series, “The Night of.” They were hooked, but we stopped after episode one since we wanted an early start the next morning.

Harbor Sprints
A Home in Harbor Springs

Tuesday morning we started on the long drive across central Michigan to Harbor Springs. Along the way, we stopped for lunch at what turned out to be a very poor excuse even for an Arby’s. It turned out to be by far the worst meal of the trip. In Harbor Springs, we checked into the Colonial Inn, an interesting B&B that had spacious rooms but was a little short on air-conditioning. Told that the downtown district was just a few blocks away, we struck out along the Lake Michigan beach. Downtown turned out to be several blocks away. Hot and tired, we searched for a place to get a drink. Before finding a place, Bill discovered an ice cream store and we learned that Bill could seldom pass up the chance to have ice cream or, for that matter, a hot dog. Eventually, we reached the Pier Restaurant where we sat outdoors in the shade and enjoyed drinks. After drinks we walked back to the Colonial Inn, showered, changed clothes and set off for Legs Inn. This establishment, in Cross Village, which was 25 or 30 minutes from the Colonial, appeared at first to be a biker bar, but turned out to be a great restaurant with a large outdoor area fronting Lake Michigan where we could watch the sun set. I had whitefish polonaise in honor of being in Michigan (the restaurant was skewed toward Polish dishes).

View From Legs
A View from Legs Inn

On the 3rd (Wednesday) we headed off to Petoskey, in search of, among other things, the fabled petoskey stone. We had lunch at the Twisted Olive, where I had a terrific Croque Madame. Nancy purchased a petoskey stone and some jewelry. Bill bought several books on Detroit at an exceptionally good bookstore, McLean & Eakin. Then we headed to the ferry to Mackinac Island.

I was more than a little apprehensive about the ferry because of the huge amount of baggage Nancy and I had. It turned out, however, that everything was well organized. Our baggage was tagged and loaded on carts. We learned that when the ferry reached Mackinac Island someone from the hotel would pick up the baggage and deliver it to our rooms. The ferry ride was relatively short but scenic. We were on Lake Huron and could see the bridge from the Lower to the Upper Peninsula from the boat.

The Grand Hotel from the Ferry

We walked from the ferry landing to the Harbor View Inn. The downtown area was crowded with tourists, bicycle rental places, fudge shops, and other kinds of things for tourists. It was difficult but we managed to get Bill to pass up various opportunities for ice cream or hot dogs. We took a carriage tour of the island before dinner and got a good idea of where things were. We went past Fort Mackinac and the Grand Hotel and down Market Street, which runs parallel to Main Street. We heard a lot about life on the island from our driver, who lives on the island from May to October, then winters in Petoskey.

We ate that night at the Grill Room in the nearby Island House Hotel. I believe I had a lobster risotto. Diana ordered a Manhattan with an olive. She did not think it tasted right, but, then, as she noted, a favorite uncle used to make Manhattans for everyone and he set a standard to which all other Manhattans would be compared. This was, I believe, the beginning of our search for the perfect Manhattan.

Our first night on Mackinac Island we saw a notice for a Jamaican church service in the Catholic church next to our B&B. The Grand Hotel on the island has long been staffed by people from Jamaica. The tourist season on Jamaica is roughly from October to April and the season on Mackinac is April to the end of September, so seasonal workers can put together a full year of work. The service started slowly with only a handful of workers but eventually several dozen came in after their shifts had ended. A lot of enthusiasm and some great singing. And the following week was Jamaican Independence Day!

The next day, Thursday, we spent mostly at the Fort. We watched a display of weapons from the different periods, from muskets to rifles. The display featured loading and firing the weapons. We also watched a performance involving the many instruments soldiers might have had at the fort. After lunch we walked back to the Main Street area. Diana went off to ride a horse. The rest of us went to a museum where we saw an exhibition of the work of an artist (whose name I have forgotten) who worked and painted on the island for many years. Quite prolific, he never achieved much notice and apparently did not care about selling what he produced, but instead bestowed his work on friends and people who liked what he did.

View from Fort
View from the Fort, Mackinac Island

That evening we ate at the Grand Hotel. I cannot remember what I had for dinner, although I do remember the meal being quite good with several courses including a salad, soup, and dessert. This time, Nancy ordered a Manhattan and the person taking the order suggested the Grand Hotel Manhattan made with Makers 46. I decided that sounded good and I believe Diana ordered one as well. To my mind, that was the best of the several Manhattans we tasted during the trip.

The next day, Friday, we got the ferry back to the mainland. Diana and Nancy had the presence of mind to wade in Lake Huron (there was no place on Mackinac Island where we could go to swim in Lake Huron). We had lunch at the Weathervane in Charlevoix. From the restaurant we could watch boats going from Lake Michigan to Lake Charlevoix under the raised drawbridge. After lunch we drove to Traverse City and the Cherry Tree Inn. That evening we had dinner at Nine Bean Rows in Suttons Bay. I had ratatouille. I can’t remember whether we continued the search for the perfect Manhattan. To the best of my memory, I know I had a couple of beers. We noticed that there was to be an art festival in town the next day. We wandered around and watched people setting up. Nancy talked with a sculptor and I could see she was already thinking seriously about purchasing one of his sculptures.

Sculpture Finds a Home

There was much discussion about whether to swim in Lake Michigan from the beach at our hotel (some thought the water was too muddy) or from the beach at the site of the art festival (some were put off by the sign on that beach advising people not to pollute the water in any of several ways). In any case, Nancy and I both wore swimsuits the next day when we visited the art fair.

Saturday we spent a couple of hours wandering through the art fair. Nancy did buy the sculpture. Later we went over to the lakefront and went swimming. I only went in waist-deep and then retreated back to shore. Nancy, Bill, and Diana actually swam.

Beach Seton
Wonderful Beach Front at Seton

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped in at the Grand Traverse Distillery, which I had been lobbying for over the past couple of days. Bill, Nancy, and I had a tasting of some of the Bourbons, Ryes, and Gins produced by the distillery. The person conducting the tasting told us that originally the Manhattan had been made with Rye. After World War II, people had taken to drinking Bourbon rather than Rye and this led to Manhattans being made with Bourbon. Nevertheless, the authentic Manhattan was made with Rye whiskey. As it turned out, the Grand Traverse Distillery had a tasting room a few doors down from the restaurant we planned to go to that evening, so our idea was to go there before dinner and order Manhattans made with Rye rather than Bourbon.

The plan didn’t work, however, because the tasting room closed before we could get dressed for dinner and go downtown. So it was only after dinner at Red Ginger that we went to a nearby pub and ordered Manhattans made with Rye. There was no consensus. To Diana the Manhattan was still a little off. I thought the Makers 46 Manhattan at the Grand Hotel was the best Manhattan. I don’t remember if Nancy or Bill expressed an opinion.

Sunday, the last full day of the tour, we traveled from Traverse City to Dearborn and checked in at The Henry, part of the Autograph Collection of hotels, the nicest place we stayed during the trip. We went as quickly as possible to the Henry Ford Museum, which had originally been named the Thomas Edison Institute in honor of Edison, Henry Ford’s good friend. We toured the exhibits for a couple of hours, had malts at a reconstructed diner in the Museum, but arrived too late at the Dog House to sample their hot dogs. We could easily have spent the day at the Museum and the nearby Dearborn Village, but I’m glad we got there at all. That was a place I wanted to go to, but somehow never made it despite going not that far from Dearborn on the many trips I made to a small lake near Lake Michigan in my previous life. That night we had a Lebanese dinner at La Pita. The four of us ate a dinner that was supposed to be for two people –and we were not able to finish it. It was great food and ridiculously inexpensive.

Sentimental Billboard at Ford

Monday it was on to the Detroit airport and the plane back to DC, unpacking and catching up with mail. It was a great trip during which we sampled much of the best that the northwestern corner of the Lower Peninsula had to offer. The unexpected bonus was the quest for the ultimate Manhattan. I think I found it in the Grand Hotel Manhattan made with Makers 46. Ironically, perhaps, even though I thought it was very good, I’ve gone right back to my preference for Bourbon on the rocks. Basically, I’m immune to the craft cocktail craze. But there is a certain pleasure to be had in an extended taste test and search for an ultimate version of a classic cocktail. Next time we should perhaps have an extended taste test for either ice cream or hot dogs.

Reminder of Hot Dog at Ford Museum



An Olympian Feat of Engineering – Curiosity

Watching the Olympics over the past days has been inspiring to old and young. Everyone hopes the games will spur the next generation to engage in sports and see role models in their Olympic favorites. Likewise, seeing the joy and exhilaration on the faces of engineers and scientists at the NASA station on 5 August 2012 as they discovered that the Mars rover Curiosity had landed safely was just as compelling, even far more compelling in my mind.

Curiosity Team, from Washington Post

A problem is that you can’t find a Usain Bolt or Jessica Ennis in the control room – only a team of dedicated scientists and engineers. Perhaps that is the key inspiration that might come from Curiosity – the significance of team work in the new era. Of course this comes across in the Olympics as well when credit to a basketball or football team is assigned to them working like a team rather than a set of individual stars, but at the end of the day, we focus primarily on individuals rather than teams, and this might be a fault that Curiosity could help address.

Surfing through life is often – almost always – about the individual, but the surfer is one piece of a larger technical system of tools and techniques designed by people around the world to ride the waves. Congratulations to the team at NASA – a continuing role model for teams across the world.

Irreplaceable Maggie Whalley at Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary

Maggie Whalley, the warden of Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary, ‘passed away last month. She died aged 57 on July 23 at Sobell House Hospice in Headington, after suffering from liver cancer’. Her obituary has been published at thisisoxfordshire

I met Maggie when my wife and I started walking dogs at the Sanctuary. It was so apparent that she cared for each and every animal in the sanctuary – she will be absolutely irreplaceable, but she is supported by an incredibly strong and caring staff who are arranging a dedication. We are among the lucky people to have adopted a dog from the sanctuary, and it probably would not have happened without Maggie’s reassurance and advice.

Maggie protected and respected the dignity of all the dogs and animals and died with admiration from everyone who knew her.

Maggie Whalley with Ragamuffin from Oxford Times

New Surf Museum: The Prince of Wales Taking a Wave in 1920

Today, 6 April 2012, the Museum of British Surfing in Braunton, North Devon, opens. The Guardian provided a nice article about the opening, featuring the Prince of Wales taking a wave in 1920, arguably as one of the first photographed British surfers.The article is nicely titled: ‘A Prince is born to rule the waves – and to surf in Hawaii.’ Yes, and the article comments on his form, but he certainly caught a wave.

Edward VIII Surfing from Museum of British Surfing

Good Surfers are Strategic Thinkers

Can surfers learn from business leaders, or vice versa? Paul Shoemaker has written about six things that characterize strategic thinkers – things they do well: Well, think about it – surfers – these are all aspects of good surfing. They are:

Clark Little Surf Photos

1. Anticipate, focusing on what lies ahead. Well, all surfers sit with their eyes off-shore, looking for the next best wave.

2. Think Critically, not following the herd, but making your own judgements. Good surfers do not get lost in a pack of surfers competing for the same wave.

3. Interpret, synthesizing information from multiple sources. This of course is the art of surfing – taking in signals from the ocean, wind, the movements of other surfers.

4. Decide, rather than freese up and not make a decision. Good surfers don’t sit on their board all day, but take the best wave and go for it.

5. Align with others. Good surfers are not rouge surfers, they gain the respect of others, who know that they will be fair even if competitive in taking wave, and respect the other surfers.

6. Learn from success as well as failure, constantly. Surfers can always improve and all good surfers sense that surfing gets easier and easier, unless you push yourself to another level, given what you’ve learned.

Again, this short list demonstrates the premise of this blog: Surfing provides good rules to live by, and life provides good rules for surfing through life and wiping out with dignity. Apply them!

Pastygate: The Law of Unintended Consequences

Fascinating how a UK government tax change that effects whether or not VAT is charged on pasties became a national debate over whether the Chancellor and Prime Minister were in touch with their constituents.

    This has been a continuing media story that has had one clear impact, I am sure: More people are sampling pasties. I, for one, tried one the next day. They are great. So, despite VAT, the government might have given the Cornish Pasty advertising that you can’t buy.

Problems of Everyday Life

There are Many Problems with Everyday Problems

There are a number of reasons why our everyday problems don’t get solved. Let me note a few of the more common problems with everyday problems, but I am sure you might suggest others that fail to come to my mind at the moment.

The Single Point of Failure. You are working with a complex set of equipment or a system that experiences one simple point of failure, and all stops. I am about to use my smart phone, part of a global technical system, but find that my battery is too low. I’ve stopped doing home repair jobs because I continually find one aspect that fails, leading the whole job to be redone.

The Missing Piece. Closely related to the single failure is the missing piece. You have everything in place to accomplish something, but you are missing one piece. This could be the screw left out of the do it yourself kit, or when the phone runs out of power, you are missing the wire needed to recharge the phone from your laptop. Problems?

The Over-determined Problem. Here the problem is the result of so many failures that it is impossible to attribute the problem to any one or even a small set of failures. Many disasters are over-determined by many things going wrong simultaneously.

The Problem is Too Big. Some problems have a clear solution, which you are equipped to solve, but they are so big and time consuming that you can’t face it. I experience this problem in doing taxes.

The Problem is Too Little. In contrast, some problems are so trivial that you see not point in solving it right here and now. I always put off moving a dirty cup from the counter into the dish washer.

The Problem is not Immediate. This can be confused with problems that are not immediate. You could do it later. I often put my glasses in an odd place, because I can always move them to my desk or bedside later. Although that creates the problem of finding the glasses since the problem was not a problem in the immediate situation, but becomes a time consuming problem when you can’t find the glasses.

The Problem is Down Stream. Solving your problem often needs to wait on someone else solving theirs. A father and son pair of carpenters at my home used to always say “I have a dollar waiting on a nickel.” Until he father did his little bit, the son could not move ahead with the big job.

Not my Problem. You might recognize a problem, but not feel it is yours to solve. Someone else owns the problem. If someone cannot surf, it is not your problem.

It is a Genuine Problem without a Clear Solution. These are rare, but the fear of these often leads you to avoid them.

Surfing is a genuine problem, which is why it is one reason that it is so satisfying.