Through the Land of Craft Beer, Jesus and Family Fun

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I’m not going to lie to you: We are not road-trip people. Packing up the car and exiting the house for the open highway is perhaps our most direct route to marital discord. Inevitably, someone’s beloved attachment object gets forgotten. Then there’s that pesky last-minute search for the kids’ DVDs.

For many years, we considered the 284-mile stretch of Interstate-94 from Chicago to Detroit as merely a means to an end, trying to make the fastest time without getting ticketed (damn you, Indiana, for your 55 mph speed limit and omnipresent police officers lying in wait).

Occasionally we would caravan to Detroit from Chicago with our other then-exiled friends (shout-out to the Kleins, Freedlands, Loewenthals, Slaims and Polakoffs). These tandem trips — choreographed with messages passed through various tollbooth attendants — included a prescribed stop at a certain soulless Arby’s in Paw Paw.

Left to our own devices, my husband Dan and I didn’t have any real traditions about the trip, though there was a certain TA gas station in Sawyer, Mich., which fascinated us for a time.

For those of you who don’t know the pleasure of the TA, it’s a virtual small town under one roof (albeit, a town where neither I, nor anyone I know, would want to call home). You can buy snacks, apparel, plumbing parts, home decor — all emblazoned with a classy Budweiser logo — and more. You can even take a shower.

Thankfully, I’ve never had occasion to hear the following uttered from the service station PA system: “Reva Nelson, your shower is ready.”

Of course, the drive comes complete with its own reading pleasure, too: roadside billboards. As best I can tell, the battle for the hearts and souls of I-94 drivers has two distinct sides: Jesus devotees, with their hand-painted “Jesus saves” signs and mega-churches, and the late-night Asian “health spa” crowd.

But the more seasoned we have become with the route, the more we venture off it (in no small part thanks to our trusty GPS). It’s what is off the freeway, and out of the fray, that we like best about this trip.

GPS enabled, we’ve found a playground in New Buffalo where the kids can play at the public beach before stopping for dinner at Brewster’s (Exit 1; 11 West Merchant St.). We, too, now have a favorite antique dealer in Michigan City, Ind. (Exit 34B; 3707 Frontage Road), where we envision how great the antiques would look piled with our kids’ endless toys. This, while warning the boys, “Don’t touch anything!”

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also include the pursuit of good Michigan beer that has found its way into our trips, courtesy of Dan’s new-found love for craft beer; much of it is conveniently located within a couple of miles of I-94. (We get a growler to go since we are driving.)

Dark Horse Brewery in Marshall (Exit 85; 511 S. Kalamazoo Ave.) is our fave. The place has the charming feel of a small-town dive bar — in the best possible way. Bell’s in Kalamazoo (355 E. Kalamazoo Ave.) has surprisingly yummy veggie sandwiches, too.

Arcadia Ales (Exit 98B; 103 W. Michigan Ave., in Battle Creek) is slated for a future trip. Rumor has it they have good brick-oven pizza, but I can neither confirm nor deny. I’d tell you our picks for Indiana brew pubs, but I’m still too bitter about a certain speeding ticket and that state’s extortionist fees.

The drive can be drudgerous, no doubt. But if we time it just right and the weather cooperates, catching the sunset over Lake Michigan is worth far more than the time for the brief detour, speeding tickets notwithstanding.

Reva Nelson is a freelance writer who lives in Chicago with her husband, Dan Kaplan, a psychologist, and their two sons, Levi and Izzy. She is originally from Southfield.

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