The Sting

All I had wanted to do was adjust my throttle cables. I had been riding home from a DuKane A.B.A.T.E. meeting in West Chicago two nights prior, when my throttle jammed on me. Fortunately, I think, it jammed in the closed position, but it had jammed nonetheless, making it difficult to accelerate or decelerate in heavy traffic. With only a few centimeters of play in the throttle handgrip, I managed to limp along, slowly working up and down the gears as I moved on from stoplight to stoplight. Then about fifteen really long minutes later, the problem corrected itself and I was once again able to run Miss Scarlett, my Victory Vision Tour, under full power.


The most likely culprit, according to Randy Weaver at Randy’s Cycle in Marengo (my Victory Motorcycles dealership of choice), was a loose throttle cable bunching up inside the housing. This particular motorcycle utilizes two throttle cables, one pulling in each direction, which the cruise control unit uses to regulate speed. It’s a simple enough adjustment, which I won’t get into here. Suffice it to say that last evening I adjusted some slack out of the cables and needed to check the adjustment, under both manual control and with the cruise control engaged. So I took a short ride.

My throttle adjustment checked out just fine. Roll on and roll off were smooth, the engine responded better than ever, and the cruise control functioned without issue. Best of all, the throttle didn’t jam again, even when I tried to make it jam by abruptly opening and closing the throttle (while stopped of course). Satisfied with my results, I headed back home. That’s when the trouble began.


As is often the case when my family is at home, there were cars parked in our driveway, blocking the conventional path into the garage. When this happens, I usually just cut across part of my front lawn and get into the garage by cutting in front of the parked cars. So I jumped the curb and motored across the grass. About halfway across, I felt a sharp, hot pain in my left ankle, followed by another one in exactly the same spot. And another one.

I don’t remember all the words I uttered as I sped into the garage, but “Ow!” was probably one of them. The rest were probably a bit more colorful. As quickly as I could, I stopped the bike, set her down on the kickstand, and bent sideways to swat off whatever was attacking my ankle. I didn’t get a good look at the little bastard, but it was small and slender, with a body that looked more brown than yellow in the dim light of my garage. Too thin to be a honey bee, unless it was anorexic. Whatever it was (most likely a yellow jacket) stumbled about on the concrete floor a few feet away from me, then righted itself and took off. I wished my attacker a pleasant evening—maybe not exactly those words—and went inside to assess the damage.

The spot on my ankle was throbbing, but the sting site was barely visible at first. Just a red spot. Of course that changed soon enough, as the redness and swelling began to kick in. My wife looked at the spot to make sure there was no stinger present, even though I was pretty sure there would not be one, because it felt like that little bugger had hit me more than once. Okay, but how to treat it?


I pulled out my smart phone and began my research in earnest. According to Google, bee venom and wasp venom are not alike. One is acidic and can be neutralized with baking soda and the other is alkaline and can be neutralized with vinegar or lemon juice. Suddenly I wished I had been able to swat that bug and keep it for identification purposes, or at least detain it and conduct an interview, but no such luck. I tried the vinegar, but couldn’t tell much difference. I found an old bite stick and tried that; ditto. Then peroxide, figuring that I might bubble some of the venom out of the open wound. Nothing. I checked with my friend Ann, who suggested the baking soda route. I mentioned that to my wife, who suggested that I take the dog for a walk. I did both. By the time I got back from walking the dog, I had a nice, painful welt on my ankle, which the baking soda paste appeared to help. I ended up reapplying that a couple of times until I went to bed that night. I also began taking Benadryl to help curtail some of the reaction that would surely continue to evolve.


The sting site is the red spot on the left. The darker blotch to the right is an old (presumed) spider bite that doesn’t seem to want to go away completely.

By this morning most of the swelling was gone and the pain had been replaced by an annoying itch. A glance at my left ankle revealed that some of the redness had subsided, too, and as long as I could refrain from scratching that maddening itch, I could keep i that way. As I prepared to go to work, I brought out the arsenal. I took two Benadryl tabs and sprayed some Bactine on the site. Once that dried, I lathered on some hydrocortisone and immediately put a sock on over it. The antihistamine and the  topical steroid each helped knock the itching down some, but it never disappeared completely.

I made it through the day, took the dog for a walk, and set about looking for something else to try. When I was a kid, we always had calamine lotion in the medicine cabinet. At the mere mention of that goopy pink liquid, I can recall its distinct smell. Calamine has astringent properties, which I thought might help. There is now a preparation called Caladryl, which contains both calamine and hydrocortisone. I went and got some. Whether it’s actually doing anything or only in my mind, I can’t say for sure, but I think it’s helping.

I do know one thing: I made it through the day without scratching that blessed sting site once. And that took some doing. Thanks for hanging with me.


History, Memories and a Gastronomic Adventure

My friend Ann and I love riding together and cooking together. When we try to combine the two, unless the ride or the meal is particularly small, it makes for a long day—albeit a fantastic day. Well, you’ll see what I mean.

Bridge FrontBridge MarkerAnn in BridgeMGD Inside BridgeBridge Profile DistanceAnn Over CreekMGD w Bridge

As has often been the case lately, we were blessed with nearly perfect summer weather for our planned outing. Neither too warm, nor too cold, low humidity, and zero chance of precipitation from my little corner of the world to Ann’s. I was up and out early enough to pick up my favorite passenger/photographer during the eight-o’clock hour. She in turn favored me with freshly brewed coffee and a plate of fresh fruit, meats and cheeses (not a bad spread by any standards—and Ann is not even 1% Italian, so go figure). We sat out on her balcony, chaperoned by her feline bodyguards, Mona and Atlas, and planned our day. I probably ate more than I should have, but the food was really good.

Minutes later we were rolling across the heartland. I have no photos to offer from the ride itself, which was quite pleasant. Some of the greatest features Wisconsin has to offer lie not in her tourist attractions, which are in and of themselves formidable, but in her natural features, even along “ordinary” roads. Ann and I rode along Wisconsin Highways 83 and 60, plus a few lettered (i.e. county) roads in-between, and the scenery was beautiful. If you draw a rectangle around an area roughly from Oconomowoc to Cedarburg, you are capturing a portion of the Kettle Moraine region of Wisconsin. You don’t even have to be on the official Scenic Drive to appreciate the rolling hills and scenic views to be had on a ribbon of two-lane blacktop coursing through the area farmlands.

Ann w BridgeLaughter by the Bridge

Before we rolled into “downtown” Cedarburg, we headed north along Covered Bridge Road until we arrived at our first stop, Covered Bridge Park, home of the last covered bridge in Wisconsin. What a beautiful little spot! Ann and i spent some time walking the park, examining the bridge itself, and marveling at the fact that there were so relatively few people there on this beautiful Sunday. What I had expected to be nothing more than a token stop had turned out to be a joyful discovery. When in Cedarburg, make a point of checking this place out. You may wish to bring a picnic lunch along, as a number of tables dot the park, which runs along both sides of the creek there.


From there we motored down Washington Avenue into downtown Cedarburg. I’ve been coming to this town since my college days (shortly after the earth cooled), when my then-girlfriend (now wife of 30+ years) introduced me to this historic town filled with shops and galleries. Because, as Ann likes to kid me, I always want our outings to be perfect, I had done a little research and found many good things said about The Stilt House, a gastro bar specializing in small plates, craft beers, and wine—it says so, right on their sign. It was a pleasant enough little place, with (are your ready?) stilted tables and stools. From our perch near one of the windows, Ann and I enjoyed a couple of craft beers and a relatively light lunch. The beers were good, the food was well-prepared, and the waitstaff went out of their way to make us feel at home. I would go back there.

MGD Nose in Wine

We walked a few more shops. Not counting the newly discovered Covered Bridge Park, my favorite place to visit in Cedarburg is still the old woolen mill, which houses the shops of the Cedar Creek Settlement. This includes the Cedar Creek Winery, now owned by Wollersheim (my favorite winery in all of Wisconsin). That was not the case when I first started visiting there. Of course Ann and I had to stop in and sample a few wines. We both liked the Marquette red (we both attended Marquette University), made with Wisconsin-grown grapes. If you enjoy a medium-bodied, dry red, check this one out. I appreciated the pleasant nose and good flavor.


Not long after that, we headed back to Ann’s home, where we had planned on making ourselves a little supper before I headed on to my own home. In preparation for this part of our day, I had brought up a sizeable bag of fresh tomatoes, some fresh basil that I had picked from my yard that morning, some fresh mozzarella cheese from Caputo’s, a loaf of ciabatta bread, and a box of angel hair pasta. Ann supplied everything else we needed.

Ann and I were cracking jokes, trading barbs and laughing ourselves silly as we prepared our meal. She and I cut up many tomatoes and chopped a fair amount of garlic as well, in preparation for the two dishes we had set out to make—a Caprese variation on traditional garlic bread and our own interpretation of Shrimp Fra Diavolo.


Without getting into the entire play-by-play (that’s what my upcoming book is for), suffice it to say that Ann’s entire home was smelling quite fabulous almost as soon as we got started. Caprese garlic bread starts out much like any other garlic bread—with bread, butter and garlic—but then add slices of fresh mozzarella and tuck that under a broiler until the cheese melts and the edges begin to brown. To that we added slices of fresh tomato, shredded fresh basil, and a reduction of balsamic vinegar. Neither of us had created such a reduction before, but we were very pleased with the results.

Our version of Shrimp Fra Diavolo involved a fresco sauce, made from all the tomatoes Ann and I had chopped into little pieces. From this we created an arrabiata sauce, which relies heavily on the use of garlic, onion and cayenne pepper to produce the desired result. Ours was not so spicy up front, but produced a pleasant flavor and a nice after-burn. The shrimp itself was sautéed in olive oil with garlic, pepper and salt added. Right before removing the shrimp, we deglazed the pan with some Pinot Grigio.


The appetizer could very well have been a meal in itself (thanks, Ma, you trained me well), and the main dish was to die for. We ate and drank our fill in earnest, congratulating each other on how well this meal had turned out.

When it was all over, I helped Ann clean things up and then prepared for my run home. She seemed concerned—no, she WAS concerned—because I had already begun showing signs of fatigue. She had been clearly worried when I took off, and remained worried until I had arrived home safe. Me, I was touched by the concern she had shown for me as I motored home that night. As soon as I had arrived home safely, I messaged Ann to that effect.

After that, I slept. And soon after I had slept, I began planning our next outing. Why? Because I live to do exactly that, and I believe Ann also looks forward to our next outiing. Until next time… Thanks for hanging with me.

Not My Week 


Between an unscheduled motorcycle repair last Saturday and a whopper of an air conditioning system repair bill last Monday, I was already four figures deep into unplanned expenses this week. The last thing I expected—or needed—was to come home and have my wife tell me that water was pooling on and around our hot water heater, but that she couldn’t tell where it was coming from. So what could I do? I grabbed a flashlight from my collection and went down for a look.


I think what disturbed me most was that I, with my wooden hearing, could hear water running before I even got to the unit. It was exactly as Karen had described. Water was indeed pooling around the water heater, but was also dripping off the top of the tank. I looked up, expecting to see water dripping from a pipe overhead. Nope. Dry as a bone.

Then I saw it. Water was raining out of the flue directly above the little opening on top of the unit. I shook my head and looked again. Water was raining down from the little ductwork opening above my hot water heater. But that’s an air duct, I reasoned. How on earth was water pouring out of an air duct? I reached up and touched the duct about a foot up from the opening and felt the faint vibration of running water, which was still  very audible. Had I entered the twilight zone?


My eyes followed the duct up to the ceiling. Both the metal duct and the ceiling above it looked quite dry. The sound of that running water was maddening. What in the world had happened? I ran upstairs and checked two of our bathrooms, one on each floor, that were not quite directly over that spot in the basement. Both were dry. And while I could hear the usual telltale sound from our copper pipes announcing that water was running somewhere in the house, it was not loud like it was downstairs. This was maddening. I had water raining down from an air duct and no apparent source. I had visions of walls being cut open and unbelievable bills mounting up.

I shut off the water to the house and called a very handy friend of mine (I’m not handy—I break things). He came right over and I showed him where the water had been coming from. “That’s impossible,” he said, as he pointed upward, “This is just a flue. You see any exhaust from the hot water heater just goes up the duct work and…”

“I know what it is,” I said, smiling. Then I turned to my wife. “Karen, please turn the water back on, so Lee can see this for himself.”


By now some of you probably know exactly what had happened. My handy friend figured it out almost as soon as the water came back on. And yes, water was in fact raining out of the flue and all over the top of the tank, where it then ran to the floor, pooling until it went down the drain in the floor. What was not immediately obvious to me or my wife was that the water was spraying up into the flue from a rupture at the top of the tank—hidden from sight by the little hood around the bottom of the flue. The water was then running back down the flue, spreading out along the little round hood and raining down onto the top of the unit. I’m glad I didn’t have to pay for this discovery outright, although in all candor, I must take my dear, handy friend out for a nice meal sometime soon. He is always helping me look less inept than I actually am.

And so tomorrow morning, I will wash up with cold water as I get ready for work. A new unit has already been ordered and will be installed before I come home. This will undoubtedly put me at an all-time personal record for highest amount of unexpected expenses in a seven-day period, but at least I’ll be able to drown my sorrows in a hot shower.

Thanks for hanging with me.

Moments Captured


My first time was June 5, 2005. It was a Sunday. I had recently purchased a Honda ST1300 sport touring rig—my second-ever bike and the first one I’d bought new—and had taken it up to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin to see the AMA Superbike races. My wife and two then-small children had come up in the family minivan for the weekend. We had a great time together, but when Sunday came, I had in mind to linger a bit while they took the fast way home.

After having eaten a terrific breakfast at Schreiner’s Restaurant, which is somewhat of an institution in Fond du Lac, I kissed my family goodbye and they headed west to the Interstate as I headed east, to a county road that would take me through the Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.

Despite having been on a new motorcycle, bought less than a month earlier, with which I was less than 100% at ease, I had so much fun running the Scenic roads of the Northern Unit, I came very close to turning around and running the exact same roads a second time.

June 5 2005


At some point during my ride, I’d noticed a turn-off to some sort of local office/station. There wasn’t much there, as the office itself was closed Sundays and there were precious few, if any, people at this particular time and place. The quiet solitude was rather soothing. After walking around a bit, I pulled my motorcycle around to this spot in front of a sign intended to guide folks to a local trail head and some restrooms.I took a photo and moved on.

2007 Nope - taken 2010.jpg

In the years that followed, I stopped a few more times, occasionally retaking the same photo, just for fun. Apparently i did not take one there with my ’07 silver ST1300, but I’ll never forget stopping there with it on a cool, gloomy, drizzly Sunday. My son was riding along on his first motorcycle, a ’94 Kawasaki Vulcan 500. It had been his first overnighter on his own bike and having been just a little ill-prepared for what Mother Nature dished out to us that weekend, he was freezing. Another friend and frequent riding companion, himself a seasoned motorcycle traveler, was with us.

Leading our little group along a scenic stretch of Highway 67, I turned off at the same spot and once we had come to a stop in the little parking lot, my son glanced around and inquired, “Why the heck are we stopping here?”

“I’ve been here before,” was the only explanation I could come up with. My shivering son looked at me as if he suddenly realized that his father had just lost the last of his marbles. I looked back at him and smiled. “Someday you’ll get it.” Then I added, “Now put your rain gear on. It’ll block the cold air and keep you warmer for the rest of our ride.” He did so and discovered that his old man could be right about some things.

June 2013


Our trips to the AMA races became a regular thing for John and me, and every so often, we would take that same road and stop in that same little clearing.The only thing different was that after that, my son got it. He never questioned that stop again. He even took the photo a couple of times, so that I could be in it with my bike.



This past June we attended the AMA races again, just John and me, and on our way home,via the scenic route, we pulled into that place once again. John was grinning from ear to ear as I positioned my bike in front of the wooden sign and inquired, “Would you do the honors, please?” He was only too happy to oblige because he gets it now. This photo moment has become a thing of mine, just as these annual trips to Fond du Lac and Road America have become our thing.

As I look at these photos, I see that the trail head sign has changed colors over the years, as has my hair. Thanks for hanging with me.


I Was Once Young


Today I attended the wake of a man who died far too young. I don’t want to dwell on the specifics of that, but such events always give me reasons to pause and reflect on my own life. And so I offer you the following thoughts, in no particular order. For whatever it’s worth… 

  • I hate wakes. I attend them because it’s the right thing to do. I pay my respect to both the deceased and to those left behind. But  I hate these things! I promise you, if I had any say in the matter, I would not attend my own. And if I had to be there, I’d make sure there was entertainment, and maybe even an open bar. I thought it might be cool to make a video in preparation for this eventuality. Can’t you just see it?
    “Hi! I’m Michael D’Aversa. If you’re watching this video, I’m dead!”
  • The first wake I ever attended was for an 8th grade classmate of mine who succomed to a brain tumor back in 1975. He was a good guy and an altar boy. I still think about him to this day, as well as other people who died before me and in each case, for the life of me, I cannot tell you why they’re gone and I’m still here. 
  • I am going to die, eventually. I don’t know when and I don’t know why. But understand this, if you can: When I die, go ahead and cry about it; but then pick yourself up. In the end, I don’t want you to think about how I died, but how I lived. 
  • If I die in a firey motorcycle crash, know that I died while doing something I loved. That’s not a tragedy. A tragedy would be for me to suffer a fatal stroke while seated at a desk, sruggling to find a way to save a few cents off the cost of a given thing. 

I know, strange odds and ends. Thanks for hanging with me.

A Rather Heated Situation

The trouble began last Saturday. No, that’s not quite right. The trouble probably began months, if not years ago, but it became painfully apparent last Saturday. I had been out a good chunk of the day, getting my motorcycle repaired. When I got home around mid-afternoon, the house felt refreshingly cool. But then again, I had been hot and sweaty at the time. All I know is I ate a late lunch, sat down in my recliner, and promptly fell asleep for two hours.

When I woke up, the house felt neither refreshing nor cool any more. I walked past a floor register and placed my hand over it. I felt precious little air moving—a bad thing, since we keep our fan set to constant on—and what little movement I could discern did not feel cool at all. I walked over to check the thermostat, which confirmed that something was indeed wrong. The system was set to 74 degrees Farenheit, but the ambient temperature was 77, and climbing.


I could hear the A/C unit running outside, so I went into the basement to see if the furnace blower was running. It was. As I have said in the past, I am not mechanically inclined. Still, I tried to figure things out before calling my local HVAC shop. I pulled the filter’ couldn’t see through it. I replaced the filter, then went around feeling vents again. Air flow may or may not have been marginally better, but coolness wasn’t happening. The thermostat read 78, then 79, then 80. This was a bad trend.

Under other circumstances, I’d have stripped down to minimal clothing, poured myself a cold drink and waited until Monday, to avoid paying emergency service rates. But we have pets in the house, including a somewhat elderly cat (she lies about her age) and a rabbit, both of which are adversely affected by heat. People? Bah. My own children? Lett’em cook. But my animals? I picked up the phone.

The shop’s answering service had the tech on duty call me. I told him what I saw and what I had done so far. He suspected a few possibilities, but wanted to try the path of least resistance, to save himself a trip and save me a $180 house call charge: Shut down the A/C, but let the fan keep running. If the system is iced up, let’s try to defrost it. I did as instructed and thought air flow was improving, but after turning the system on some hours later, it was apparent that cool was still not happening. Fortunately, the outside temps had dropped overnight and between fans, shades and windows, we were able to limp along until Monday morning.

My local shop has always been responsive, though not necessarily cheap, and they were able to get a tech out the same day. The news wasn’t good and by the time the final bill was tallied, I was only happy that we hadn’t endured an emergency service charge on top of everything else. The system had lost most of its refrigerant and fried its contactor. So while it gave the appearance of working, it wasn’t actually accomplishing much—just like a number of people I have known over the years.

On top of all that, the system itself is over 20 years old. It probably got installed when the house was built—along with all the other contractor grade garbage the builder had used. But I digress. The point was that parts for this thing are no longer easy to come by. So along with the sizable bill that for this visit came the advice to start thinking about replacement.

As I sit here writing this, my family sleeps soundly, humans and pets alike. My thermostat displays the happy news that the intended temp and actual temp are one and the same again. My bank account, on the other hand, is many hundreds of dollars lighter than it had been when this story began. Three pounds of refrigerant, some sort of stop leak product/process, a new contactor (whatever that is), and the services of a guy named Bob all contributed to this intense lightening of my finances.

But my house, my family and my pets are all quite comfy tonight. Who am I to complain? Thanks for hanging with me.

I Prefer to Laugh


I want to share a bit of my personal philosophy with you today and hopefully make you smile once or twice in the process. I’ve always felt that God endowed us with a full spectrum of emotions and as such, we are entitled to experience every one of them. Without naming them all, let me just say that during the time I’ve spent on this earth so far, I have experienced things that made me weep bitterly and things that made me laugh my ass off. Me, I prefer to laugh. I look for the humor in things, often finding it, and am not above going out of my way to get a laugh. It’s who I am. It’s what I do.

Photo opportunities can sometimes provide a laugh or a smile, depending on what you do with them. Take the three Ducati models above. I was walking around at the International Motorcycle Show in Chicago one cold day in February, when I came across these three beauties standing around a new motorcycle on a raised platform. One of them made eye contact with me as I walked toward them. I pointed to myself and then up at the ladies with my eyebrows raised questioningly. The model who had seen me smiled and waved me up. I handed my camera (this was before smart phones) to my wife and hopped onto the platform. I greeted the ladies and circled around behind the bike as they struck their respective poses. It was a fun shot. Some people don’t even notice the motorcycle right away.

This one was taken at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum down in Springfield. I’m sure plenty of people stop for a photo with the Lincoln family, but for some reason it’s funnier when I do it. Maybe that’s because people expect antics like this from me. And maybe that’s why I keep delivering.

Some things just strike me as funny and since I don’t like to laugh alone, I tend to share them with others. An oddly written or oddly placed sign, for example, might have giggling on sight.

It should come as no surprise, then, that those closest to me have a similar affinity. Indeed, the person who married me over 30 years ago claims she did so because of my ability to make her laugh.

Good heavens, our children never had a chance to become serious, glum types. They are so different from each other, personality-wise, yet each has a humorous streak a mile wide. I appreciate that.

To see the humor in everyday circumstances is a good ting, I think. Take this cucumber shot, for example. Just me and a vegetable, right? I’m not doing anything unusual here. A few days after I posted it, I was with some friends and somehow this photo came up in conversation. One friend commented, “It almost seems suggestive.”

To which I replied, “But not outwardly so? That’s exactly as I had intended it.”

Suddenly another friends lit up and exclaimed, “I knew it! I knew it!” Such are my friends.

And such is me. I don’t want to be a dark, begrudging, or angry individual. I prefer to laugh. Thanks for hanging with me.

Land of Tee Shirts, Tattoos and Salt Water Taffy

It seemed like a mission of mercy. Despite being the same youthful age as me (stop laughing), and despite having been born and raised in Wisconsin, my longtime friend and pillion passenger of choice, Ann, had never been to the Wisconsin Dells. That’s right, never been there. Of course this meant we had to go there for a few hours of fun and adventure. So I bribed her with the promise of a genuine rubber tomahawk if she agreed to go there with me and on a beautiful Sunday morning, I motored up to her place on Miss Scarlett and we headed west on Wisconsin 16 to a place I have known since early childhood.


For as far back as I can remember, folks could always gauge how close they were getting to the Dells by the quantity and frequency of billboard advertising along the road. Down in the Chicagoland metro, for example, you might see one such billboard as you head from point to point, nowhere near the Dells. If you follow Interstate 90 out of Illinois and into Wisconsin, you’ll see more. And more. And more, until you finally arrive in a touristic frenzy to go and experience different ways to spend your money.


It’s like that along the state highways, too, only a lot less crowded and a lot more scenic. Also less stressful. Our fellow drivers/riders seemed happier and more courteous than did their Interstate-running counterparts. Even the billboard advertising seemed less aggressive, although they still increased in number and frequency as we got closer to our destination.

When we arrived, we weren’t exactly in a touristic frenzy, but I was anxious to show Ann around. We found an open parking space just off Broadway, which is the main drag in downtown Wisconsin Dells, shed our riding gear, and set out on foot. Ann had carried along a comfortable pair of walking sandals, which seemed like a really smart idea to me as I spent the day walking around in leather boots. In nothing flat we were assaulted by the sights, sounds and smells of downtown. Frenzied tourists scurried in every direction. There were many families, but also couples, young and old, and the occasional group of teenagers and twenty-somethings.

When I was quite young, I had an aunt who had never married and worked in a public school system. During the summers, she would regularly toss me and my sisters into her station wagon and take us places. Sometimes we would be gone for two or three weeks, but sometimes only for a day or two. Such were our trips to the Wisconsin Dells. We never went to the downtown shops or attractions, which my aunt collectively referred to as junk. Instead we always did three things: the Dells Boat Tours, the Tommy Bartlett Water Show (as I believe it was called then), and the Stand Rock Indian Ceremonial. Just about everything else was declared too dangerous (go carts, roller coasters, WWII Ducks, etc.) or fell into that junk category. The Indian Ceremonial was discontinued in 1997, but even if it hadn’t been, the show began at sundown, way too late for this Sunday outing.

I would really have loved to take Ann to the Tommy Bartlett Show, because even though she had never seen it, in a previous life Ann had known Tommy Bartlett. How cool is that! But alas, somewhere along the line, they stopped offering an early afternoon performance. The earliest show was at 4:30 PM, which after allowing for show duration, parking lot exit, travel back to Ann’s, eating something (one would hope), and traveling back to the other side of Chicagoland, would have had me getting home well after midnight. That wouldn’t have left me in very good shape for work a few hours later. So with that option gone, our agenda was fairly easy. We were there to eat, take a boat ride, and walk some of the downtown shops.


As it was already approaching noontime, we opted to start with lunch. I had heard good things about a place called Monk’s Bar & Grill. Well let me tell  you, those good things were well founded. The service is prompt, the staff is as helpful and friendly as any you will find, and the food is quite tasty. Ann and I both ordered the bacon cheeseburger. Hers was medium rare and mine medium well, but both were as juicy as all get-out, and flavorful, too. It’s nothing fancy, mind you—it is, as the name implies, a bar and grill—but I wouldn’t hesitate to go back or to recommend this place to friends.


With full tummies we headed out and began walking toward the west end of downtown, toward the Dells Boat Tours docks. We passed many tee shirt shops, candy stores making and selling fudge and taffy, arcades, tattoo parlors (I don’t recall seeing those when I was young), fun houses, haunted houses, and more. Most of the people we passed on the street seemed happy to be there. Some of the parents looked a little tired. I’m sure there was also an angry tourist or two somewhere in that sea of humanity. There always is.

The angry tourist hadn’t expected to spend so much money, didn’t think it would be so crowded at a major tourist attraction in the middle of summer, doesn’t know why they had to sit in traffic just to spend more money, and on and on and on. And it isn’t enough that they are miserable. They want everybody to share in their misery, too, especially the people who are working their tails off at all the establishments. I once watched a father with two small children in tow give a restaurant cashier the riot act as she rang up his bill—the food wasn’t worth the money; the rolls were stale;the service was slow—all at the top of his lungs, as his two very small children looked on and an entire restaurant full of people did their level best to pretend not to notice. Just go home, angry tourist. Thank God they are so few and far between.

We soon reached the west end of downtown, we bought tickets for the Upper Dells Boat Tour, descended a long stairway to the docks, and after a brief wait, we boarded our boat, the Red Cloud, for a two-hour tour of what had originally brought people to this area, the natural beauty of its land and water.


It seems to be the same at beautiful vacation destinations across North America. Wherever people flock to see Mother Nature’s greatest hits, somebody will be there to sell them tee shirts and a vast assortment of genuine souvenirs, many of which are probably made in China.Then come the fun houses, fudge shops, wax museums, water parks and so forth. Not that those things aren’t fun, but aren’t they the wholly fabricated polar opposite of why people began going to places like Wisconsin Dells, Niagara Falls, Gatlinburg, and Myrtle Beach in the first place?


We made our first shore landing at Witches Gulch. We walked through the cool air of the narrow canyon. Whirlpools and rushing water could be seen and heard beneath the walkway. There is a particularly narrow point that used to be called Fat Man’s Misery. The narrow place is still there, but the sign is gone. I can’t help but wonder if some fat person, or maybe an organized fat people’s rights group of some sort, got offended and embarked upon a crusade to have the sign removed and the name banished.

At the end of Witches Gulch lies a snack bar, souvenir stand and restrooms. People were lining up at each of them. When I came out of the men’s room, I spotted Ann leaning on a rail, looking across the way at a flowing stream and a sign that read “STAY out of the WATER!” She was smiling fiendishly and suggested that we needed a photo. I laughed nervously and offered to take the picture. For the record, her foot never actually touched the water.

Our second shore landing was at Stand Rock, a towering sandstone formation several feet away from a ledge. For years, tourists have come here to see a trained dog leap from the ledge to Stand Rock and back again. The photographer H.H.Bennett, whose photography of the Dells area first drew tourists—to whom he then sold postcard souvenirs—photographed his son making that leap, in order to promote his new shutter technology. As I understand it, that image is now in the public domain, and I share it here (below Ann’s video clip) with that understanding.

This photograph taken and published in 1886 by Henry Hamilton Bennett.

After seeing the dog leap, we followed a different and very beautiful path that led us back to the boat, but not before leading everybody to a snack bar, walk-in gift shop, and restrooms. By now you may be wondering whether or not I made good on my bribe and got Ann a rubber tomahawk. Truth be told, we never saw one. We saw plenty of rubber-tipped spears, but she showed absolutely no interest in those, so we just continued on.

All shenanigans aside, we enjoyed the Upper Dells Boat Tour immensely. Both Witches Gulch and Stand Rock are very beautiful places. I enjoyed seeing it all again, but even more so, I enjoyed bringing Ann to see it for the first time in her life. She saw things that made her smile and that smile just made my day.

By the time we returned to the downtown area, it was time for me to take Ann home, so that we could enjoy a quick bite together before I continued another 150 miles to my own home (for a round trip total of 461 miles for the day). In case you’re wondering, those miles mean nothing to me compared to what our friendship means to me. Besides, nobody shoots better photos and videos for me than Ann does.

Did she like it? Yes, Ann liked it, but she also said that she didn’t feel deprived for not having gone there as a kid, because the places she did go to in the summertime were (and still are) golden to her. But what about all that neat touristy stuff? I think Ann said it best.

“You know I loved Witch’s Gulch and Stand Rock, along with the boat ride. That boat ride is so much more than a tourist thing. It really brings nature to the masses.”

And she is exactly right. People originally came here to see the area’s natural beauty. The tourist trap components came later and have evolved over time. For many, many years now, the Dells Boat Tours have taken people to see why Mother Nature has drawn people there since the beginning.

It had been another awesome day of fun and adventure. Thanks for hanging with me.