The ginger ale trail
Portland, Maine— My wife Sharon and I just completed our first road trip since the start of the pandemic. The distance between South Portland, Maine and my sister Dianne's house in Eau Claire, Michigan is 1,016 miles. We are always welcome at their door.
We took the trip to join a couple family reunions, but also to pick up a case of the unique Vernors Ginger Ale for our treasured friends, the Monats, here in Maine. Vernors is not available in the northeast.
Our route picked up Interstate 90 north of Boston and we took that all the way to South Bend, Indiana, where we would take 131 up to Eau Claire.
I've always loved road trips. A good trip should have a great companion and great radio programming.
My first road trip was when I was in college. My friend and fellow bandmate, Gordy Wildman, and I drove nonstop from Berrien Springs, MI, to Oakland, CA. It was fun seeing all the far-away radio stations we could pick up at night, like getting Detroit's 50,000-watt WJR, broadcasting from the golden tower of the Fischer building.
Great road trips don't have to be lengthy. One of my most memorable trips was on Guam. After meeting my assistant Paul, a Navy veteran, at Infusions for fresh scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream, we headed out toward the War in the Pacific National Park and its wonderful Museum on World War II. Neither of us had been aware that Guam was attacked by Japan on Dec. 8, 1941, one day after the Pearl Harbor Attack.
The hardships endured by the people of Guam during the 32-month occupation were significant.
Paul and I were moved by our visit that was complete when we located the FM frequency on my radio that played the speeches of General Douglas MacArthur, who famously led the U.S. Army in the Pacific region during WWII. I never tired of hearing his speech to Congress where he said: "Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” MacArthur was revered and beloved in the Pacific Region for his promise and commitment to the Philippines when he said, "I shall return.”
On this trip to Michigan, the Beatles Channel on Sirius/XM radio would be a tremendous asset. Sharon has always been a Beatles fan. During my Ubering days, I came to appreciate and love the Beatles, as well. They were my driving companion.
By the time we crossed the Massachusetts-New York border, Paul McCartney's
“The Long and Winding Road” came on. Its words resonated with us.
Its poignant melody comes with timeless lyrics that are interpreted in several ways. Some suggest it’s about romance, others think it refers to spiritual relationships.
Entering the Finger Lakes region of New York, I began to think that the lyrics reflected the life-long trip we all strive for to have cherished friendships, sometimes unsuccessfully.
Many times I've been alone
And many times I've cried
Anyway, you'll never know
The many ways I've tried.
As we left the rolling hills of western New York and entered Pennsylvania, we pondered about many friendships we thought we had. We later learned some of them were based merely on self-interest. When I was the CEO of a hospital, I had several so-called “friends,” who quickly disappeared when I no longer held that powerful position.
Crossing the border into Ohio as McCartney's song came on again:
Don't leave me waiting here
Lead me to your door.
We began to reflect on the wonderful true friends we are fortunate to have— those who always have a welcome mat out for us at their door, no matter how busy they are. True friendships are something we all strive for.
So, after settling into my sister’s guestroom, and having breakfast at The Mason Jar in St. Joseph, our next priority was to secure the treasured Vernors from Meijer's Thrifty Acres for our friends, the Monats.
Vernors was one of the nation’s first softdrinks, and was first served in Detroit in 1866. James Vernor, a Detroit pharmacist who invented this unique drink, was meticulous about each ingredient, including the carbonated water mixed with extract. The syrup was aged in wooden barrels to enhance the taste and flavor.
The look and taste of Vernors is quite distinct, with a golden color, flavor that balances vanilla and caramel with mellow ginger and, of course, fizzed carbonation.
The plant for this cult classic was for many years located at 4500 Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit. It featured a block-long glass front where you could see the bottling process. There was also a retail soda fountain where you could get fresh Vernors right from the tap. When I was a kid, I fondly remember my father taking me there for a Vernors Boston Cooler after a game at Tiger Stadium. A Boston Cooler (named after Detroit's Boston Blvd.) is simply Vernors combined with vanilla ice cream.
As we delivered the treasured Vernors to our good friends, Paul asked if we had thought of where we would take our next trip. After a pause, I replied, “At this point, we're just dreaming of the next journey, not the destination.”
Theodore Lewis is the former CEO of Guam Memorial Hospital and has a health care consulting business based out of Portland, Maine. He is collecting stories about lessons learned in life and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.