Monday, November 16, 2009

COLUMN: Door County, Pt. 2 defines vacation as "a period of suspension of work... usually used for rest, recreation, or travel." I now realize the importance of the word "OR" in that definition. On my recent vacation, I didn't do a whole lot of recreating, and I certainly didn't rest. But oh, did I travel.

My girlfriend and I traveled, in fact, to northeast Wisconsin's Door County. We just made the misfortune of doing so on the coldest weekend to ever grace a Midwestern October.

Door County is NOT an easy place to get to from the Quad Cities. There's no express autobahn. There's not even an interstate. There IS, however, a six-hour journey snaking up state highways past such epic Wisconsin attractions as the Troll Capitol of the World and the World Famous Mustard Museum (hint: you can not make something "world famous" just by putting "World Famous" in your name. If that were the case, I would call this Shane Brown's World Famous Newspaper Column of Global Awe-Inspiring Awesomeness.)

Still, I was in a relatively good mood upon our arrival at Sturgeon Bay, the southern-most town in Door County. As I parked the car at our hotel, there stood one of the greatest romantic brownie-point earners of our era: a horse-drawn carriage.

Now, keep in mind that the girlfriend had recently accused me of neglecting my boyfriendly duty of romantic woo-ing. This was about to change. We hadn't even brought the bags in from the car when I grabbed her hand and said, "Follow me." I took her straight to the carriage. This thing better have a seat belt, I thought to myself, 'coz girl, I'm about to rock your world. It was time to get my woo on.

The driver explained that we could choose a fifteen-minute ride through the historic district of Sturgeon Bay, or a thirty-minute ride down to the waterfront. Seeing as how I was the newly-elected Mayor of Wooington, fifteen minutes wasn't gonna cut the world-famous mustard. She was getting the full thirty minute woo-down. Next thing I knew, we were being introduced to Lucas the Horse, a seemingly charming animal with no outward appearance of being an equine killing machine. How wrong I was. But more on that later.

Here's two things I learned right away about Sturgeon Bay. (1) Our hotel was indeed within trotting distance of the waterfront. But inbetween hotel and waterfront was a 3-block stretch of one of the more unpleasant warehouse districts you could imagine. That equals 10 minutes of waterfront sandwiched between 20 minutes of creepy industrial wasteland. (2) When it's already unnaturally cold out, the best place to go is NOT the scenic waterfront. By the time we saw water, my concerns had turned from wooing to frostbite. I hope that my girlfriend didn't realize that my best "aww-let's-cuddle" moment was more "aww-please-let-us-huddle-together-so-that-feeling-may-return-to-my-ears."

But it was tough to focus on the cold. No, not with the smell. It turns out that Lucas was having a touch of gastro-in-horse-inal distress. Let's just say the sound effects were as such: Cloppity, clop, clop, stop... splat. Yes, nothing says romance quite like a horse in dire need of Kaopectate. And in case you were concerned, Lucas wasn't leaving unsightly presents on the streets as we clomped. Instead, Lucas had a little bag under his nether-regions, making us passengers in a mobile equine outhouse -- with all of the rich fond aromas you can imagine.

We looked up to the porch of a nearby upstairs apartment, where a little yip dog was parading around in all kinds of fluster, barking with all its wee yippy might as if to say, "Omigosh, horsey, horsey, WOW, a horsey, OMIGOSH!" We laughed at how cute it was... but not for long.

"It ain't funny," said Kenny the Carriage Driver, "Lucas would kill that dog."

That's when Kenny added that extra touch of romance lacking thus far on our voyage. For the next ten minutes, we heard charming stories about how Lucas hated small animals and would take it upon himself to stomp the life out of any critter that dared venture near him.

"I tell people with dogs all the time to stay away," Kenny said. "Some folks listen, but others..." and he trailed off, leading us to believe that Lucas had smited a countless number of hapless beloved Sturgeon Bay pets.

"One time, this little farm cat wandered over to check him out," said Kenny with what I'm pretty sure was a chuckle. "Lucas kicked that cat so hard he musta flew about thirty feet in the air. We naturally assumed it was dead, but when we went to get the body, it was gone. Sure enough, a couple months later, we saw that same cat good as new. Of course, his neck was a touch crooked and he done walked funny ever since, heh heh."

Greeeat. So our fate was in the hands of Flatulent Lucas the Death Horse. As we stopped for Lucas to do his business yet again (and oh, yes, business was good,) I'm pretty sure I heard the horse mutter a Satanic chant. Or maybe it just whinnied. Either way, I'm pretty sure it took us to the waterfront because Lucas preferred his human-meat slightly chilled. We headed back towards the hotel and passed a yuppie couple out walking their dog, noticably giving the horse a wide berth. They knew. Or maybe we just smelled THAT bad.

"Get away, doggie," I muttered under my breath, "I think Lucas just spotted dinner."

Amazingly, Kenny heard me, spun around with a deadly serious look in his eye, and proceeded to lecture to me as though I were the stupidest man alive.

"Lucas doesn't EAT the dogs," he said with a deliberate grade-school-teacher voice, "he just KILLS them."

Ahh, yes. Good to know. Thanks, Kenny, because we don't have horses in Illinois. Lucas doesn't kill for food, simply for SPORT. Refreshing.

Eventually, we made it back to the hotel and disembarked from Lucas the Devil Horse. Bravely, my girlfriend even posed for photos. As for me, I held the camera far away from kicking distance, bravely surviving the icy cold stare of Lucasatan.

Our vacation was off to a riveting start. Now all we needed was a quick change and a visit to the local pub to bond with the locals. It couldn't go wrong, right? How wrong it went -- next week.

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