A Span of Lights 8/29/2011

Anyone even remotely familiar with this blog knows the story of how Ted and I came to the Island in 2000 and stayed at the Chippewa Hotel for two weeks while we explored the Les Cheneaux Islands (where Ted spent his summers as a little boy).  But, instead of falling for the “Snows”, which are incredibly beautiful, I fell hook, line, and sinker for the magic of Mackinac.  Thereafter, we returned to the Chippewa Hotel for two weeks every summer until we fulfilled our dream of buying a place on the Island in 2008.

When you spend as much time as we have at the Chip – both then (in their beautiful suites and the ever-hopping Pink Pony Bar) and now (in the restaurant and the still ever-hopping Pink Pony Bar), you get to know a lot of people involved in the running of the hotel – including the general manager, Brian Bailey, and the Benser and Nephew family, who own the Chippewa, and who – individually or collectively – own three other hotels, some fudge shops, a couple of clothing stores, and a variety of other businesses downtown.

Last week we were invited to join the majority of the employees from the Benser/Nephew family-owned businesses on a special dinner cruise under the Mackinac Bridge.  The cruise is an “end of the season” perk for this hard-working group, most of whom come aboard in April and stay until the season ends in October.  At that time, they return to their “other lives” – some as college students, some as resort workers in other states or countries.  Others are full-time employees and stay throughout the winter on the Island or work out of offices downstate.

The Benser/Nephew connection began with Frank Nephew and Bob Benser’s friendship in high school.  Together, they bought a restaurant called the Chatterbox on Mac Island in 1966, and the rest, as they say, is history.

From day one, the emphasis was on customer service and quality rooms, food, entertainment and clothing.  That emphasis has not changed today as Frank and Bob’s children have stepped into management positions in the businesses.  As much as they appreciate their customers, they appreciate their workers just as much – rewarding good work ethics and loyalty to the companies.  Employees return season after season to work for these families on the Island, and as we’ve gotten to know them, it’s easy to see why they would.

Almost 200 employees gathered at the dock Thursday evening and boarded the big Arnold “Straits of Mackinac” ferry for the dinner trip out to the Mackinac Bridge.  Below there was a buffet of food that ran almost the length of the boat, and a bar was available for the cruisers.  The dress code was “whatever”, and it ranged from the most casual of casual to a group who arrived with the young men in suits and ties and the young ladies in their best party dresses.  It was fun to watch this large group of “mostly” young people enjoy themselves on the trip out to the bridge and back.

Ted and I were excited to be included, and my main goal was to have fun AND get some hopefully good shots of the bridge – up close and dressed in her party lights.  Although neither of our cameras did very well in the low light situation, Ted’s photos turned out much better than mine.  I tried shooting mine with the setting on “nighttime”, and with the wave action of the boat, I just couldn’t hold my camera still enough – lots of blurry shots.  Ted’s did much better in “auto” mode.

The ride out to the bridge was pretty smooth. We were told there were some 3' waves around the breakwater, but I never felt them. As we approached the bridge, Ted and I moved up to the top deck and toward the front of the boat.

The Mackinac Bridge is five miles long, and when you're at one end - at the ferry docks or about to cross over in your vehicle - it really doesn't look that long. One of the first things I noticed though, as we approached the brightly lit bridge Thursday evening, was how much longer it looked at night from the water. I love that the lights are red, white, and blue!

You can see I have my hand wrapped VERY tightly around that rail at the front of the boat. A dip into Lake Huron was NOT something I wanted to add to my list of "clumsy accidents" for the summer! Was it cold out there? Let's just say that fleece jacket I'm wearing is covering two other layers . . .

. . . and It was a tad windy!

Absolutely Ted's best shot. It's amazing to be this close to that magnificent structure!

Almost there!

We're about to cruise under the bridge here. A few vehicles were on the bridge, making the crossing from the lower to the upper peninsula of Michigan (from Mackinaw City to St. Ignace) almost as slowly ON the bridge as we were motoring slowly UNDER it.

Looking up at a small section of the tons of steel that make up the bridge . . .

. . . and out on the other side.

On the trip back to the Island, we sampled all the food on the buffet line and enjoyed the good company.  What a treat!  Thanks again to the Benser and the Nephew families for including us!


Ted and I have been busy, busy for the last few days, and we have a busy week coming up.  All that “busy-ness” means two things – new stories and lots of new pics.  Here’s what we have going on:

  • Ted and a friend (along with his two boys) went “caving” Friday, and I’ve got the story and his pics to prove my hubbie is in pretty darn good shape.  He loved exploring places he’d never been on the island – even if he did have to climb cliffs and risk broken bones and avalanches to get there!
  • On Saturday, Frankie and I went over to St. Ignace to attend the Rendezvous at the Straits Powwow, a gathering of over 100 Native Americans.  The costumes and dances were unbelievable, and I can’t wait to share the event with you.
  • On Tuesday afternoon this week, Ted and I are driving up to Sault Ste. Marie and the Soo Locks.  One of my blog readers has invited us to meet her there for a “behind-the scenes” tour of how the locks operate.  So excited!

So, settle back and be prepared for lots of goodies – it’s going to be a great week!

Note:  I’ll be working at the Stuart House on Monday, Aug. 29 from 10-2.  If you’re a blog reader and on the island, I’d love to meet/see you!  Come on by!


19 thoughts on “A Span of Lights 8/29/2011

  1. Super blog tonight. Some unique shots too. We always see the bridge from afar at night, though we have been under it a few times on the 10:30am cruise to the island. Can’t wait to see your pictures of the last few days. The Pow Wow should be very colorful.

  2. Great blog. The trip under the bridge had to be so exciting. I can’t wait to learn about the caves Ted visited with his friend. I also love to learn more about the island.

  3. Great blog, Brenda. You are going to love the Soo Locks as well. If you and Ted could have spent the night in Sault Ste. Marie, I would have suggested going to Canada and going on the Agawa Canyon Tour Train. My mom and I took the train several years ago and we loved it. It’s an all day train ride, but we were able to go and see waterfalls when we stopped. The were beautiful.

    Here’s the website in case you and Ted would ever want to go and take the tour: http://www.agawacanyontourtrain.com/

  4. What a wonderful trip! I’ve done it once (more evening than night, though) and will never forget it. Your photos are magnificent!

  5. We often see the ” special dinner” trips out there but we were mid state and missed your trip my friend. Hopefully we can all visit around the fire pit once the season windes down. Miss all “4” of the Hortons.Isn”t “my bridge” amazing? 🙂

  6. Brenda,

    Apparently Chris Ann doesn’t know that the Mackinac Bridge is “my bridge.” I know it is because I watched it being built (part of the time from the Island), and I was in both parades (one in St. Ignace to celebrate the beginning of construction when I was the bass drummer in the Cheboygan High School band and the other in Mackinaw City for the dedication when it was finished and I was the bass drummer in the Cheboygan City Band). Of course, I was just a teenager then and didn’t appreciate the fact that I was participating in a part of history. But I do now and that’s, at least a part of the reason, why I think it would have been so awesome to take the dinner cruise. I also remember that before the Bridge was completely finished, the “locals” were allowed to drive out from Mackinaw City to a point south of the south tower, make a u-turn and return to town. My mother filled the old 1951 Nash (the upside down bathtub) with a bunch of us teenagers (and my little sister) and took us out on the Bridge. What memories!

    A special thank you for this blog and I’m going to be looking forward to the blogs for this week, especially the one about your trip to the Soo Locks.

    By the way, Chris Ann, I think the Bridge is big enough that we can share it. Don’t you?

    • What a great story, Lowell – especially the part about driving half-way out on the bridge – that had to be unbelievable! I think I would have been VERY scared!\ Ted remembers riding the ferries across to the UP on his way to his grandparents’ cottage in the summer. That bridge made the process a lot faster!

      • Brenda,

        I also went on the ferries many times. As a matter of fact, my friends and I went a few times just for the fun of it. I remember we saw our first 1957 Dodge on one of those rides. It was red and white and we all thought those fins were just it.

        My dad worked in the engine room of one of those ferries (I think it was the “Munising”). On one occasion, he gave my brother and me a tour. I decided then that it wasn’t a job I would ever want. One winter or early spring he was working on the “Vacationland” (it was the only ferry that ran in the winter) and, as they were approaching Mackinaw City, the wind started blowing strong from the northwest. It piled up the huge slabs of ice and trapped the ferry in the ice for 3 1/2 days about a mile from the dock. Finally, the wind direction changed and freed the ferry. I think the “Vacationland” was sold to the government of Sweden when the Bridge was opened and the ferries stopped running.

        I’ve rambled enough.

        If you or anyone may be interested, the Mackinac Bridge Authority has a page about the ferries: http://www.mackinacbridge.org/michigan-state-ferry-album-28/

  7. An optical illusion? Ted’s bridge pictures look like they were taken from above the bridge. If you had not told us you were on a ferry, Ken and I would have thought you were on a helicopter. Nice story! Looking forward to the rest of your adventures this week.

  8. What a special trip! You get to do the most awesome things and it’s so very nice that you share them with all of us here in cyberspace. Have a great time at the Soo-can’t wait to hear about it…

  9. Great pics. We spent five days on the island last week and loved every minute of it. My wife and son met you briefly downtown, but I ran back to the hotel with my daughter to get a jacket. We went to the Stuart house on Monday, but it was closed (you called off to be with your son – can’t blame you). We had a great time on the island as always – can’t wait to go back next year!!!

    • It was so nice to meet your wife and son, Dave – so sorry I missed seeing you and your daughter. Next year for sure!

      • We dream of someday spending more than just a few days on the island. You are truly living the ‘dream’ of many!

  10. Great photos as usual (thanks Ted). During our trip to the Island a few weeks back we enjoyed a sunset cruise one evening on Starline. It was our first time going under the bridge…what an awsome experience! We lucked out and it was a perfect night and a gorgous sunset as well. It’s something worth doing and they let the kids “drive” the ferry if they want too.

  11. Can’t wait to hear about the locks. It was nice the hear a good story about employers appreciating their employees. My husband & I also own a business so our employees are like family to us. Have a good day!

  12. I’m glad you had a great time on the cruise. The bridge is so pretty at night with the “Christmas” lights on. I’m excited to hear about the Soo locks. We were there a few years ago and it was fascinating. Happy Wednesday!!

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