Until recently, I never had the opportunity to visit Northern Michigan. My travel there is typically scheduled for early October, which means I get to experience the fall foliage and cool weather. Of all the things I miss from growing up in Chicago, having an actual fall season is probably at the top of the list. My first trip to Traverse City came after the second time I had the pleasure of sprinting through O’Hare airport, so luckily I had a window seat to see all the hues of the trees while I calmed and cooled down on the way into Cherry Republic Airport.
What I did not realize was that by flying into Cherry Republic Airport, I was entering the self-proclaimed “Cherry Capitol of the World” (as one could assume from the name of the airport). Host of the National Cherry Festival every year since 1925, festival participants even hold a Guinness world record for baking the largest cherry pie. I discovered this after I had wandered downtown and into the Cherry Republic store. They make everything cherry imaginable: cherry sours, chocolate covered cherries, cherry sausage, cherry salsa, and cherry wine. Everything was available to sample in-store, so you can imagine the place was pretty crowded.
Most everything was a little too sweet for me, the wine included, but the Cherries on Fire salsa was fantastic. I love really hot sauces and salsas, so when the sample set my mouth on fire, I decided to purchase one and pack it in my checked bag, just in case TSA would consider it a liquid (you never know). I had a 6 a.m. flight out of Traverse City via O’Hare to Atlanta (I have such good luck going to Atlanta), so you can imagine how empty an airport with five gates would be at 5:00 a.m.
This time though, the trip was going great! There was no frantic sprint through O’Hare, and when I arrived in Atlanta at the same DoubleTree that was being renovated the year before, the upgrades had been completed. However, I kept thinking I smelled Bar-B-Q from the time I had gotten into my rental car all the way to north Atlanta. When I popped my trunk and the smell got stronger, I had a sinking feeling that I knew the source.
It’s not that I begrudge the TSA for looking through my checked bag after spotting a cylindric blob on the x-ray machine. But at 5:15 a.m., in Cherry Republic airport, why, after seeing a sealed jar of salsa with a tamper resistant lid that is obviously from the Cherry Republic store on Front Street, would you ALSO decide that you need to open said jar of salsa. On top of that, could you at least ensure you put the lid back on correctly? I had packed it securely in a tight spot, so I knew the lid had not been jostled open. I only hope the TSA agent sampled it and got a rude awaking that early in the morning, because that salsa is hot.
Thankfully, the butcher paper I wrapped the jar in was thick, otherwise it would have gotten all over everything in my suitcase. And really, who needs to pack perfume when you can marinate everything you brought in the aroma of salsa? I’m positive I smelled like a walking Bar-B-Q joint for the the remainder of my trip.
I ended up tossing my opened jar of salsa because lets be honest, some TSA agent stuck their grubby fingers in there looking for contraband between the hot peppers. I was incredibly disappointed until I realized that Cherry Republic sets up a booth at the Nutcracker Market each year. If you saw me there, I was the one who tried to precariously carry five jars to the counter for purchase, dropped one on the floor, and spilled it everywhere. I guess the TSA and I are even.