My grandma used to say, “If you place your left hand, palm down with fingers slightly spread, that’s the shape of Wisconsin. Your thumb’s there for a reason—why, it’s Door County.” I found another use for my thumb when, in my teens, I hitchhiked all the way up to the tip of that infamous county and back home again. That was in 1963 and was the dumbest thing I ever did.
Since then, I’ve gotten older and somewhat wiser. Twice a year, I hop in my jade green Jeep Liberty and leave my home in Two Rivers, Wisconsin—which sits south of Door County on Lake Michigan, right where (if you place your hand like grandma said to) the lower joint of your left thumb juts out—to hunt down bargains that beckon to me from the unique shops along the bay side of “The Door.”
I travel up Highway 42 to Sturgeon Bay and head across the thumb to Egg Harbor on Green Bay. Quaint little towns dot the shoreline as I mosey up the peninsula. After Egg Harbor, I reacquaint myself with Fish Creek, Ephraim, Sister, Ellison Bay and finally Gill’s Rock. That needn’t be my final stop if I opt to take the ferry to Washington Island from Northport Pier. Washington Island is like an elusive jewel—just out of reach—yet tempting the thumb and forefinger of Wisconsin to pull it down into the safety of Green Bay.
Six miles across, Washington Island often succeeds in enticing me to cross the waters via the Washington Island Ferry Line which passes three small islands: Pilot, Plum, and Detroit, on its crooked trip.
Shops bearing the names: What’s Next, Blue Willow Shop, The Magic Jacket, Maxwell’s House, and Chelsea Antiques nonchalantly display their wares. During my most recent trip in January, inside the What’s Next shop, I chanced upon and fell in love with a red shoulder bag by Baggalini. I knew it was just what I need for my upcoming trip to Boston in late September; it has a cute pocket—perfect for my Sony Cyber-Shot camera. I pulled plastic from my pocket and plunked it on the counter to make my purchase. “Please put it in a pretty bag,” I pleaded.
The Bluefront Café, Double Delites, Blue Horse Bistro & Espresso, Whistling Swan Restaurant, Chef’s Hat, and Fred & Fuzzy’s Waterfront Bar & Grill casually offer food and drink to those who need to wet their whistles or sample excellent cuisine. At noon, toting my new red bag, I chose to enjoy the water view from a table at the rear of the Blue Horse Bistro & Espresso. I rejuvenated myself with a panini grilled sandwich and a serving of “Fair Trade” organic coffee presented in a miam.miam “whimsical neo surrealistic” mug. I absolutely couldn’t walk out of there without purchasing my own whimsical mug which comes with a promise to inspire and amuse me whenever I need stimulation.
Galleries are plentiful including Popelka Trenchard Glass, Gloria Hardiman’s Maple Grove Gallery, PKJ Designs, and Turtle Ridge Gallery, to name a few. Fine art glass, oil paintings by internationally known artists, handcrafted jewelry by J. Jeffrey Taylor, contemporary art furniture by Michael Beaster, neon sculpture by Jeff Coan, and original leather handbag designs of artist Mary Ellen Sisulak comprise a short list of indulgences displayed by business owners in places both on and off the beaten path.
A voice within me whispers, every time I meander over the winding, hilly roads, lined with my favorite places: it’s time, splurge now and/or regret it later.
I’m still a dummy when I encounter discounts and deals. I’m dumb enough to think that I’m truly saving money, that I’m a wise shopper when I get something at half the regular price. It’s only when I return home and can’t find room for my purchases that I pause and wonder at my frivolousness. By then, I’m in love with all my new stuff and we’re hopelessly inseparable.
The drive from Sturgeon Bay to Northport Pier takes approximately one hour, that is, if you don’t stop to shop, gawk or talk. That piece of trivia came from a ferry brochure, certainly not from my own experiences.
Now that you’re no longer dumb about the county of Door, you’ve still no reason to be smart and conservative with your time and resources. Follow my example, being dumb is a choice you can make, and enter the artsy and relaxed atmosphere that belongs to Door County, Wisconsin.
P.S. The parts about hitchhiking and living in Two Rivers are fiction. I wrote this for a writing class last year so I jazzed it up a bit. Everything else is spot on.