The other day someone asked why I picked on tourists as targets of fun. Fortune was on my side because near enough not to be missed was the perfect topic clincher. I looked at my questioner and said, “You mean like that guy who looks like he came here intending to go on safari?” A “leopard” band around a bwana hat isn’t at all north woods. It’s not that we have a dress code for visitors (an idea that may be worth considering), but some garb looks about as woods ready as an opera cape or as a sombrero would look on a sky diver. It’s not a big deal, but as people we often make choices based on style or a fantasy role at the expense of utility and practicality. But who am I to say a person returning from a canoe trip looking like they went through a flogging didn’t make perfectly sound and solid choices about what to do and wear out there in the bush?

Actually, I pick on locals equally with outsiders. The trick to successful insider needling is do it in a way they won’t easily catch. I told one aspirant up here their recent political dabble was “interesting as a nun with a bazooka.” They didn’t know what that meant. But then neither do I, at least for sure. A local with a nickname (we’re big on those) like “pickles” won’t be too upset if called “cuke,” short for cucumber. Both names are in the same food group and therefore subject to some exchange. “Cuke” does not have to know you picked the name because it rhymes with puke or that cucumbers give you gas. He’ll be happier not knowing.

Before I go on I should say a brief bit about nicknames. I know a number of people who have first names that are essentially unknown because they got tagged with a nickname in Third Grade that stuck like India ink. You can use their real name, but no one will know who in hell you’re talking about. That can come in handy. It’s a lot of fun to use a fine first name like Camille and see the blank expression until you fill in the space with what she was known for in High School. A name like Harry is already almost a nickname because it’s not a particularly formal and could be construed as description. If I recall correctly about 90% of the time in Grade Eight the intent was descriptive. I got used to it.

Another way to look at a drive along the North Shore from Duluth beyond Grand Portage is a three hour run through a much-elongated strip mall/asylum with Lake Superior blue on the southern fringe balanced by Balsam and Birch-green trim along the northern edge. See, doesn’t that sound pretty? Well it is. The divided freeway part of 61 isn’t much. Closed eyes then open them you have to guess location because every stretch of freeway looks pretty much like any other. Two Harbors is nice. Highway 61 doesn’t do it justice unless a traveler detours in town. The waterfront has one of the great Mallet Locomotives, huge complicated steam engines able to move massive loads of ore. Sensibly, Two Harbors does not advertise this much, I suppose to protect the steel giant from being over appreciated, except by seagulls. Two Harbors is also the place where Pearl Maki got bombed in early December of 42. Further along is Split Rock, an attractive lighthouse from the turn of the past century. It is no longer in use except as an attraction. If you want to bump into locals that’s not the place. The Split Rock light was no use to the Woo which was once moored at Beaver Bay a little further along.

That’s because when the Woo became famous it was outside Grand Portage which would put us at the other end of strip mall. Well, too late, we’re there now. The Woo was anchored off Gagnon’s Island with its screws (propellers in plain talk) removed for repair when Lake Superior began to storm. The Woo broke its mooring. Seeing this, the owner and his captain went after it. What they intended to do on an unmanageable ship is as interesting as you can get from nothing. With the generators running they’d have light as they drowned, which they didn’t because the Coast Guard and a bulk freighter risked themselves to get the pair out of the hopeless spot they alone got themselves into. The Woo, as an experienced hand knew from moment one, was doomed. It smashed on Isle Royale where spilled oil and debris meant the owner and captain were banned forevermore. Isn’t that interesting?

Between Two Harbors and Portage the bigger map dots are Silver Bay and Grand Marais. Silver Bay has Rocky Taconite, an oversize pellet with arms, legs, head and mining helmet. It’s not bad actually, and I say that having come from Hoyt Lakes where our mascot was Freddie Ferrous. (You’ll get it, but it takes a little stretch.)  Grand Marais has Pierre the Voyageur who looks pretty much like a tree trunk. Guess why. But it doesn’t matter because Grand Marais is too cool to be bothered. It is a little bothered, however, by loss of the Dragon Boats. What North Shore community with Native American and Scandinavian heritages would not bleed losing a weekend devoted to Thai Dragon Boats? I suggested replacing it with a salute to Pascal Mayonnaise; the inventor of guess what. Local stores would sell mayo in different color to go in custom designed Mayo Ball Guns. People shot with more than ten colors win prizes. We’d beat a lot of drums and be noisy, too, just like Dragon Boats but without the afore mentioned. Think of the boost to clothing sales and the part-time job washing mayo from village streets. Good stuff! Next time I tell my family’s early contributions to the asylum. More good stuff!