While visiting Bowling Green, Ohio, I met a young fella who told me that he had recently "moved off the island." After inquiring more and finding out that there is a community of year round residents on a small 3-mile island in Lake Erie, I had to go check it out for myself. For those of you that don't know, I'm on some sort of adventure, or "walk-about," right now and am working my way along the northeast of the United States. I haven't made it very far from Nebraska yet, and little did I know that I would end up spending an entire week on this small island. I definitely wouldn't have been able to predict this after Bella and I ferried over and discovered the island to appear as a ghost town. "Well, that was a waste of a $44 ferry ride," I thought to myself. Since we were already here, I decided that we'd better drive around and scope it out. We passed the empty bars and the eerily uninhabited miniature golf course, and found ourselves at a small state park. It, too, was empty and it was absolutely perfect. It was there that Bella and I connected and I was reminded what this trip was about. If you've followed along, you know that Bella is a tripawd, having lost her front left leg to bone cancer, and was given 3-6 months to live due to the advanced cancer in her lungs. A large portion of this trip is a "farewell adventure" with Bella, and yet many of the photographs I had been taking of her previously were more along the lines of me posing her in front of recognizable objects. It was here, watching the sunset on the cliffs, that I remembered the importance of connecting with her while she is still here, rather than just collecting photos along our journey.
I took another drive around the quiet island and found a Restaurant/Bar that had a couple of cars outside and a few neon beer signs lit up in the windows. I popped in to see if they were serving food and sure enough, "Tippers" does serve food in the off season and is basically the only restaurant open throughout the winter. This, is where the unfortunate timing of coming during the off-season turned into the most fortunate. See, this island has anywhere from 10-15 thousand people having a party of their lifetimes during the summer season, and only about 300 locals stay through the winter. It was at Tippers that I met the local people. The townsfolk who stay year round. The true islanders. It was at Tippers that I met Steve, and was offered a place to stay in one of his rooms at "The Bird's Nest" so that I didn't have to sleep in the 4Runner in the park, and allowed me to trade a little labor for rent for the past week. It was at Tippers that I was invited to come back on Wednesday night and play Euchre, which I still have no clue how to play. It was at Tippers that I was able to see the "The Longest Bar in the World." Truly, it's in the Guinness book of wold records. It was at Tippers that I met Rob and Marie, the owners of "The Black Squirrel" who opened the doors to their bed and breakfast dining room to allow me to come have a coffee while I used their wifi. It was at Tippers that I met a man named Pinky, who I would later see dressed as Santa Claus at the community gathering at the lighthouse. The gathering which I was invited to after simply being at the lighthouse to capture a photo of the sunset. There was a potluck at the gathering and my contribution was to email the photo I took of the lighthouse. Hardly a fair trade for the amount of delicious goodies I stuffed down my gullet as I made new friends with Ed and his family. It was at Tippers that I met Patty and Molly, the friendly faced employees, tending bar, running food and I'm sure more things than I know. It was at Tippers where I met Susan, who added me on Facebook so she could give me pointers on places to visit while traveling through the northeast, as she told me great stories of camping adventures from years past. I met the mayor at Tippers, heck I even met Mr. Tipper himself, who still comes into the restaurant to cut the steaks every morning, and I must say he cuts a generous slab of beef. I blew my entire month's food budget here at Tippers this week, because I just couldn't stay away. In fact, when I finish typing this up, I'm headed back there for one last hoorah for the second half of Thursday night football. The Vikings are playing the Cardinals....and I can be glad it's not the Browns, because I learned quickly that's a sore subject in these parts. Oh, how I truly do know I hail from a small town when I feel right at home in a bar where everyone truly does know your name.
Now, this may seem to be a story about Tippers, but really it's about the community. It just so happens that Tippers is the heart of it.
I'm leaving for Buffalo, NY in the morning, and though it's only been a week, I feel like I'm saying goodbye to family. So, for that, I thank you Put-In Bay, and to Tippers, because only a great community can make someone feel so welcome and so at home so quickly and effortlessly. I'll miss you all, and will never forget this week that I spent here with such incredibly friendly people, and friends you're all now considered.
Until next time,
-Rob and Bella
P.S. Chris...if you get a chance to read this, I truly did mean to get a pic of your pup! If I make it back up here, I know I owe ya. To Rob and Marie, I replaced the banana that I ate on day one, in case you're wondering where that banana on the counter came from. Oh, and Patty, I said I'd leave info to follow along. Obviously you now have the website, but my Instagram is @robkugler I post on there quite often.