In the cold, pin­ing for Mar­gar­i­taville

March in Wis­con­sin feels like a hang­over.

Boating - - CONTENTS -

For weeks, the sky can re­sem­ble a dirty felt blan­ket draped to the tree­tops. The snow that sparkled the land­scape in Jan­uary melts into chisel-plowed fields and har­dens into an ugly-gray salty crust along the curbs and ditches. If it snows in March, it will be wet and heavy and sag the blue shrink-wrap on your boat. A bone-chill­ing rain is just as likely.

The 31 days of the third month are es­pe­cially hard on habitués of the Lake View Inn. State reg­u­la­tion man­dates the re­moval of ice-fish­ing shanties from the lake, and the snow­mo­bile trails close, and foot­ball sea­son is a dis­tant mem­ory, and the tax re­fund is spent. Con­ven­tional wis­dom dic­tates one should hun­ker down in the bar and wait for April — or May, if you’re a pes­simist. Those with young children find them­selves drink­ing from a cooler in the chlo­rine fog of the Holidome in Green Bay. Non­drinkers re­tire to the base­ment to spool fish­ing reels with fresh line or study the Garmin owner’s man­ual. Or to sim­ply crack a few hick­ory nuts.

In other parts of the coun­try, they call this mud sea­son, or breakup, and folks sim­ply leave for a week or two un­til it clears. Alaskans, like my sis­ter, jet over to Hawaii. Friends in Colorado head for Moab. The Lake View crowd finds all this self-in­dul­gent and weak. Only Dan the Out­board Man had March cov­ered with a game plan we could all re­spect.

After win­ter­iz­ing ev­ery boat in the Lake Win­nebago basin, Dan would rinse the an­tifreeze from his hair, load up some tools and a cooler, and point his F-150 south. Des­ti­na­tion: Duck Key.

Dan’s Un­cle Lester had a mod­est abode on the water, the per­fect spot for a sin­gle man to hole up for the win­ter. Shorts and flip-flops ev­ery day. The ham­mock. A Corona for lunch. There was a skiff for fish­ing and plunk­ing about. Dan would fix out­boards for cash and sent the oc­ca­sional post­card back to the Lake View, just to let us know he was get­ting along fine. The cooler was laden with Wis­con­sin con­tra­band es­sen­tial to Dan’s econ­omy: John­sonville brats and Jim’s Blue Rib­bon sum­mer sausage. The Keys were pop­u­lated with a num­ber of ex­pats from Badger­land, and Dan dis­cov­ered that a gift of sum­mer sausage might earn him a dis­count at the parts counter or the bait shop. And when he needed a taxi late at night, it was there in a flash. Dan would head north in April, tan and rested and ready to wrench, with the same cooler loaded with frozen fish.

The past tense of the pre­vi­ous para­graph is meant to fore­shadow. Hur­ri­cane Gor­don flat­tened Chez Lester, which was un­der­in­sured and not re­built, and thus blew away Dan’s great gig. His post­cards are still pinned up be­hind the bar.

Only Dan the Out­board Man had March cov­ered with a game plan we could all re­spect.

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