I don't want to go to Chelsea

For days, I couldn’t get the Elvis Costello refrain out of my head. But the thing was, I did want to go to Chelsea. I was, in fact, pretty excited – as only a truly dedicated knitter would be – to check out the Fall Fleece Fair I’d seen advertised for this weekend months ago when we came here for Chris’ interview. The ad promised fleece, naturally, and a wealth of hand-spun and hand-dyed yarns and I promised myself I’d go. For the record, no matter what you may think, it is no feat to get Chris to go to these things with me. On some level, I think, he is merely being nice and supportive and, as he’ll sweetly put it, he’d prefer to be with me than without. But if you were to ask me, I’d suggest that perhaps Chris has developed a somewhat secondhand affection for yarn since I started knitting again six or seven years ago. I think he quite likes to pick up each ball or skein and gauge its feel and weight.

Thus, we headed out on Sunday morning to an area called Chelsea, a 20-odd-minute drive northwest of Ann Arbor. There isn’t much to recommend the drive. In fact, I was struck by how homogenous America’s highways can be. We could have been traveling on any strip of asphalt outside St. Louis or Indianapolis or Louisville. Billboards. Road signs. Big block retailers. Water towers. (Note: there seems something particularly desperate and ironic declaring yourself “Scenic Scio Township” on the side of one of those gigantic eyesores, no matter how pretty a typeface you chose.) My favorite sign, by far, was the one advertising the Teddy Bear factory outlet in downtown Chelsea. I pictured all the poor stuffed animals that didn’t quite make the cut. How horrific of a mishap would have to take place before a Teddy Bear is deemed unfit? I imagined shelf after shelf of bears with hideous disfigurements, like extra limbs, massive bald patches, four coal-black button eyes or missing ears. Couldn’t they just give them to disfigured children? Or, better yet, give them to pretty kids and watch them try to cope.

At the turn off for Chelsea, a gravel parking lot filled with RV’s boasted the sign Lloyd Bridges Travel Land and we half-prayed it wasn’t that Lloyd Bridges and half-prayed it was. We drove through the back streets of Chelsea in search of Beach Middle School, amazed at the number of McMansions set across narrow roads from modest ranch homes.

The Fleece Fair itself turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, for us at least. The school cafeteria was packed with tables piled high with giant beach ball size spheres of brightly colored wool fleece ready for the spinning. I spin not, and the selection of ready-to-go yarn was a lot more meager than I’d hoped. I did learn a couple of things. Instead, I just wandered around dipping my fingers into baggies filled with unbelievably soft angora, cashmere and alpaca and discovered that yak and camel is much more pleasing to the touch than you’d imagine. I also discovered that if you’re crazy enough to learn how to spin, these “luxury” fibers cost a hell of a lot less to buy as fleece than yarn shops charge for neat little skeins.

Chris was deeply disappointed that it wasn’t an outdoor fair and that there was no face painting or funnel cakes. Thus, I promised him we’d find him a nice brunch instead and, on that count, we succeeded nicely. We found our way down idyll streets with beautifully painted homes, a scene straight out of Thornton Wilder, a slice of time gone by. The two or so blocks of downtown Chelsea with its small shops and quiet grace kept the tone. It’s similar to a hundred small American time Main Streets I’ve walked but it’s precisely that charm and predictability that makes it so pleasant, so effortless. (I actually remembered to bring my camera with me for the first time since I moved here but, of course, the batteries didn't work...)

That said, we were not prepared for the quality of brunch we enjoyed at The Common Grill, which we stumbled upon by default – it was the only full-service restaurant we found in downtown Chelsea. (In fairness, others may have been closed and we may have been too weak with hunger to notice….) It’s a beautiful, open and airy place with shining wooden floors and crisp white table cloths. Our waiter was a delightful young man who seemed to be doing a perpetual audition for a stage play with his overdrawn gestures and precise pronunciation. But he quickly brought us a basket of warm, buttery, yeasty poppy seed rolls, at which point anything could have been forgiven.

It seems that The Grill specializes in seafood dishes and I chose a concoction involving Maryland crab cakes on an English muffin and Chris got a lobster and shrimp omelet. Both were outstanding and we salivated over the regular dinner menu and dessert selections with a future visit in mind. Yes, it seems, that not only did I want to go to Chelsea, but I may just want to go back again.