8 Things to do in the Zoo this Fall

(For little or no money)

We’ve all seen those Best of lists—The 10 funniest comedies of the nineties, the friendliest town in every state, quirkiest museums in Michigan, even best dysfunctional-family books to read with wine (Full discloser – I wrote that last one). It’s what the social media world calls Clickbait, and yes, we can’t help but click. Sometimes these online articles pull us into a rabbit hole of ads, but occasionally we actually discover new places to visit or cause us to shake our heads, saying things like, “How could they not mention Tahquamenon Falls as a best state park?!” The simple fact is that many of us feel a sense of camaraderie when a Best of article reflects our own opinion.

But seriously, why should Saugatuck get all the credit for being the best (fill in the blank) town on so many favorites lists? Best artsy town, yep. Best beach town, natch. Best small town, kinda vague but sure. But why should our beach towns have all the fun? One has only to travel a little inland to discover what we in the Zoo already know is the best kept secret on any Best list. That little city whose name would fit in naturally in any Doctor Seuss Book—Kalamazoo.

Of course, I could list off the obvious places everyone should visit at least once, like the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, where visitors are greeted at the front entrance by a magnificent Chihuly and can browse the KIA gift shop for beautiful affordable artwork and gifts. Or the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, which pays homage to the Checker taxicab company known as Checker Motors. Under the ownership of Morris Markin, Checker became the first cab company to hire black drivers and the first taxicab company that instructed drivers pick up people of all races. Some speculate this is why the cabs have the black and white checker stripes. And of course, Kalamazoo is also home to the Air Zoo where one can check out the world’s fastest air-breathing aircraft, the SR-71B Blackbird.   

But there’s so much more to do in the Zoo …

If you think you’ve done it all, here’s a list to prove you haven’t even scratched the surface. Or at least provide you with the argument that yet another list has failed to mention one of your favorite, “Things to do in the Zoo…”

  • Attend the monthly Art Hop – While we’d like to think we invented Art Hop, it’s likely we didn’t, but we sure have perfected a perfectly good reason for visiting the downtown area. Kalamazoo is rich in the world of arts, and wine, shopping and great local art just go hand-in-hand. Taking place on the first Friday of every month, Art Hop invites shoppers and art lovers to experience downtown in fun fashion. Do yourself a favor and visit the participating merchants that are located off of the main busy streets. It’ll be a win-win for the both of you.

Speaking of Downtown …

  • Did you know that you can now stroll the downtown area with a drink in your hand? What started out as a solution to the challenges of the Covid pandemic has evolved into a standard rule and one more reason why Downtown Kalamazoo is the place to go for dining, shopping and hanging with friends. Beverages must be purchased from one of the designated Downtown establishments and must remain within a defined area. Finally, you don’t have to go to Vegas to stroll the shopping district with a drink in your hand!

Since we’re on the topic of drinking …

  • It’s no secret that West Michigan boasts a great assortment of wineries that will placate the palate of the sophisticated wine enthusiast and the casual admirer alike. But once again, don’t be afraid to step off the well-traveled path and experience a winery tucked away on winery trail less traveled. Have you been to B 52 Winery in Paw Paw, featuring photos and stories of the female aviators of WWII? If not, we suggest, you start there.     

But you’ll need to work off those wine calories …

  • Fun fact – Pickleball acquired its name from Joan Pritchard, wife of co-founder Joel Pritchard, and is a reference to the group of non-starters in the “pickle boat” of crew races. There’s an internet story circulating around that claims the sport is named after the family dog, but the lucky dog was actually named after the quirky sport. Anyway, there’s still time to purchase your paddles and balls to join in on the party that is catching fire, and curiously exploding with mature adults. This is an interesting phenomenon since the sport is not exactly for those with a weak heart. But if you’re looking to burn off some serious calories while laughing at the shot you just made, this is your game. You should have no problem finding a court near you, but here’s a list to get you started … https://www.discoverkalamazoo.com/blog/post/10-ways-to-experience-pickleball-in-greater-kalamazoo/

And if pickleball ain’t your thing …

  • How about a walk or bike ride down the Kal-Haven Trail or any one of the many trails in the area. Repurposing what was once a railroad bed, this unique linear state park welcomes many walkers and bicyclists, leading them from Kalamazoo to South Haven. Visitors will pass through a delightful collection of small towns and villages dotting the trail. As you pass through Alamo, take note of that barn located on the northeast corner of 6th St. and Hart Dr. Back in the late 1800’s that barn functioned as the Alamo Valley Creamery and was the largest employer in Alamo.       

And if you really enjoy learning about history on your walks…

  • Put on your sneakers and take in one of the Kalamazoo Historic Walks sponsored by Discover Kalamazoo, Gazelle Sports and the Zhang Legacy Connections Center. These 90-minute walks take participants through areas of Kalamazoo rich in history. Learn more at  https://gazellesports.com/pages/kalamazoo-historic-walks.

Or maybe you just want to sit back and take in a little music…

  • There’s no shortage of music available in the Kalamazoo area. Whether it’s local and regional bands playing at familiar bars like Old Dog Tavern and Bells or bars that maybe you haven’t taken a look at, like Lucky Girl in Paw Paw or Liquid Note in Otsego. Many of these spots offer outdoor dining while taking in the music.

And because it’s that time of year …

  • Take in a football game—any game. Kalamazoo is the home of Western Michigan University Bronco Football, and you don’t have to be a former student to appreciate and enjoy great football. But there are so many other teams to root for from the stands. When was the last time you attended a football game at your old stomping grounds at the high school you graduated from … never?! Come on, grab your husband, kids and old friends and make it an evening of hotdogs and touchdowns.       

Did I leave anything out? Of course, I did. This list can be so much larger but let’s call it a good start.

Heidi McCrary is a contributing writer. Her novel, Chasing North Star is available at Kazoo Books, This is a Bookstore, and online wherever books are sold. Follow Heidi at heidimccrary.net and facebook.com/HeidiMcCraryAuthor

Was There an Upside to 2020?

To say the least, 2020 has been a rollercoaster that seems to be traveling in only one direction…down. It might be easy to simply wish this year away, and hope that on January 1, 2021, we all wake up from what we can collectively call, “a year that sucked.”

But as I walked through my neighborhood this past autumn, a family pedaled past me, and the young boy laughed at his sister who was proudly riding a bike just recently void of training wheels. As I passed a house, I pick up a tomato from a table set in the front yard. On the small stand, read a sign, Please take one. An elderly gentleman waved to me from his front porch as I continued my walk.

Good or bad, this year has changed us all. While I don’t pretend it hasn’t come without serious consequences, it also came with a positive wave that we cannot ignore. We’re strong, and we will rebound from a global event that has knocked us off our feet. As I set down my rose-colored glasses, I can still see the upside to 2020.

  • This is the year families rediscovered their local golf course, introducing their children to an outdoor activity that had been on the decline in recent years. 
  • This is the year neighbors reconnected, setting up chairs on the front porch and actually sitting in those chairs.
  • This is the year we elected our country’s first female Vice President.
  • This is the year many people found time to pick up a book again, and discovered the delightfully quirky Schitt’s Creek or enjoyed binge-watching all seven seasons of The West Wing on Netflix.  
  • This is the year many women found their roots—literally. And decided to celebrate their natural grey.

Perhaps, as we look back, we can say, “I lived through 2020 and I’m a better person for it.” Here’s to 2021. Let’s all hope it’s a little less… surprising.

Heidi McCrary is a writer and a regular contributor to Moxie Magazine. Her debut novel, Chasing North Star is now available at Kazoo Books, This is a Bookstore, and Schuler Books. And online wherever books are sold.

Follow Heidi at heidimccrary.net and facebook.com/HeidiMcCraryAuthor

To Walk in her Shoes …

“Maybe you can go over and talk to the mother and son ahead of us,” the golfer called out to me as I started to drive the golf cart away from the couple, who are regulars on the course and not used to waiting for others. “They’re playing really slow.”

woman putting“No problem,” I said. “I’ll ask them. I’m sure they’ll be OK with it.” As etiquette dictates on the golf course, slower players generally allow faster golfers to play through. This is going through my head as I pull up to the mother, and together, we watch her ball careen across the green, before bouncing onto the rough on the other side. I smile before asking her if she doesn’t mind letting the twosome behind them play through on the next hole.

“You know what?” the mother says, watching her son putt. “We were planning on letting them play through because they’re pushing us. My son and I were playing just fine until  this hole. But yes, we’ll let them play through.”

I thanked the mother for her graciousness, and went on my way. It wasn’t until an hour later, as I spotted the mother and son walking off the ninth green, that I thought about the favor I asked of them. “How’d you do,” I asked, expecting an answer falling somewhere in between We had a great round and I just couldn’t hit a ball straight today.

But this mother’s answer was quite different. She stopped and put her hand on her son’s shoulder. “You know,” she said. “This has been a pretty rough day for us.”

“Our dog died today,” the boy added, bowing his head.

“It’s just been a hard day for us,” the mother sighed, packing up their clubs.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “As a pet owner, I know how heart-wrenching that is. Would you like to go another round … on us?”

“No, but thank you,” the mother said, with a slight smile I hadn’t seen until that moment.

As they walked off the course, I thought about the day they must have had and how we all contribute to making someone’s day worse or better. Let’s strive for better.

Heidi McCrary – Author

What day is it?

Standing behind the counter at a local golf course on a beautiful summer evening, I accepted the cart key from the golfer and wished them a pleasant evening just as the phone rang. Answering the call, expecting the usual questions regarding tee-times and leagues, I was suddenly caught off guard.

“Hello,” a voice, obviously an older woman, said on the other end of the phone. “I’m afraid I slept in. Please tell the other ladies on my foursome to start without me. I’ll be in as soon as I can.”

I paused, not sure how to answer this request since there wasn’t a league in progress, and I assumed she must be talking about the league scheduled for the following morning, and included older women golfers. But I was confused how her sleeping in this evening affected her playing the next morning. Before I could respond with something resembling, What?, she thanked me and hung up.

Setting the phone down, I chewed on this one-sided conversation for only a moment before another golfer walked in, diverting my attention back to getting people on the course.

It wasn’t until a half-hour later, an older woman walked into the pro-shop, and I greeted her with a smile.

“Did I miss league?” she asked.

“I’m sorry,” I said, recognizing her voice as the one on the phone from earlier. “I’m not sure what league you’re talking about? Which league are you on?”

“What day is it?” She asked, as I saw her smile diminish, replaced with a look of confusion.

And that’s when, together, we untangled the mystery. This lovely lady had taken a catnap, and upon waking and seeing the clock showing 7:45, thought she had slept through the night, not realizing that it was 7:45 in the evening, not the next morning.

Embarrassed, she thanked me for clearing up her confusion, and sheepishly explained that she was 90 years old. I smiled and told her that it was a mistake anyone could make, and the fact that she was still golfing at 90 was a testament to her strength.

Let’s lift everyone we encounter. A smile with a guiding hand goes a long way.

Heidi McCrary – Author