Polar opposite experiences provide food for thought

October 12, 2009
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My wife and I spent Labor Day weekend at our farm near Cheboygan. Three dining experiences that weekend illustrated problems and solutions to what ails Michigan.

I am going to start with the happy story.

East of our farm is the Black Mountain Recreation Area. On the edge of the recreation area is the Black Mountain Resort, formerly known as Chateau North. What was a little bar and restaurant featuring good food and a beautiful view of little East Twin Lake is being transformed into an impressive resort.

The new owners are investing a substantial amount of money in the middle of the woods in a depressed state and local economy. The Web site, blackmountainlodgemi.com, cannot really give you a feel for the place. You have to walk into the open air bar to pick up the atmosphere.

Why would anybody invest substantial amounts of money in a small resort on a rural road in a depressed state? The place is exceptional and the owners believe that a first-class destination will attract customers. I agree. My belief is that their contrarian approach will pay off because the project is unique to the area.

Then there is the other concept. At a federal and state level, the politicians currently in charge believe that government is best equipped to rebuild our economy.

From the deck of the Boathouse Restaurant in downtown Cheboygan, you can see the twin towers that will be the foundation of a footbridge across the Cheboygan River, leading from Washington Park to a softball field on the other side. The towers are about three stories high and will contain elevators to get to the walkway level.

Why would you invest a substantial amount of money in a bridge with no attractive destination on the other side? It is simply because it’s nobody’s money. It is money for free. Results not required.

The investor at the Black Mountain Resort is risking his hard-earned money. The state is investing its free money for which nobody is really held accountable.

And now the final dining event. The day after Labor Day, my wife and I went to a restaurant named Mulligan’s in downtown Cheboygan for what we thought would be a peaceful lunch. Mulligan’s is a good restaurant with excellent, reasonably priced food.

I was about to have my anger management lessons tested to the max.

My wife and I found ourselves in the middle of a Michigan Education Association retirement celebration. The retiree looked to be about 40 and was loudly proclaiming the wisdom of his retirement decision, considering the largess of his pension and the lifetime health care. The Teamsters would have been embarrassed by this demonstration of public rudeness and lack of consideration for other diners.

Then it happened. One of the revelers came to our table expressing his displeasure at their tables being crowded. He moved our table about five feet up against another table and then returned to his seat. My wife and I were left sitting in the open with our lunch several feet away.

Had my wife not been there to inhibit my anger, there would have been unpleasant words exchanged. A very nice waitress who saw the event saved me from embarrassing my wife by reacting to the intrusion. She asked me to consider my wife and other customers and not react.

So what did I learn during our Labor Day weekend restaurant visits?

From the Black Mountain Resort excursion, I was able to see the future of Michigan if the small business community is allowed to prosper. There was money being invested and jobs created in a plan that will provide a reasonable chance for success.

From the deck of the Boathouse Restaurant, I saw the future that Barrack Obama and Jennifer Granholm offer. They promote mindless spending to give the impression of doing something, even if it makes no sense. I saw a bridge to nowhere, and there was no Sara Palin to protest it.

At Mulligan’s, I saw the future of Michigan education. Teachers are supposed to be professionals. The people acting up in Mulligan’s were anything but professional.

Michigan’s decision makers are trying to figure out how to continue the education community’s bountiful existence. I don’t think loudly bragging about early retirement and excessive benefits while rudely interrupting hardworking peoples’ lunches is the smartest thing to do. Does the term “clueless” come to mind?

Education is destiny. Look at whose hands hold the future of Michigan.

I wonder what normal people think about when they take their spouses out for an evening?

Paul A. Hense, CPA, is president of Hense & Associates, a local accounting firm. He is also past chairman of the National Small Business Association and the Small Business Association of Michigan.

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