Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Road trip, Days 10-12

Day 10

I love Wisconsin, which I have seen for the first time today.

These are some of the things Wisconsin has:

--Red barns.  Not dilapidated, sagging, Green-Acres barns.  Perfect, meticulously maintained red barns.  With silos.  They’re like the ones in children’s picture books that I used to buy to teach my kids about seasons and the weather.  We’ve seen a lot of barns on this trip, but Wisconsin definitely wins the Charming Red Barn Award.
--Rolling hills, i.e., landforms wherein elevation at the top is higher than elevation at the bottom.  Flint Hills of Kansas: take note.
--La Crosse, a college town of beautiful old homes, only some of which have been converted into student housing.  Driving to the hotel from the restaurant, we saw five shirtless young men through an upstairs window of a grand but slightly seedy house, playing ping pong.  (One hopes they were students.)  Bricks and wrap-around porches figure heavily.
--Beer-batter-fried bratwurst.  Yes, we had some.
--Culver’s frozen custard.  On the menu tomorrow.
--Gas stations featuring live bait.
--Perfect 65-degree weather.
--People with charming accents.
--Kay Cashman Cahill, who it is killing me not to see.
--Proximity to other delectable AListers I am missing.
--Turning trees, leafed in orange and red, flaming against dark evergreens and a pale blue sky.
--Fried cheese curds.
--The Mississippi River.
--A lot of geologic formations I am too tired to look up.
--Cows.  Everywhere, cows.

A note on exercise: I have not missed a day of exercise on this trip.  We stay in Holiday Inn Express hotels, which have decent fitness rooms.   I hate exercise, but I hate not exercising even more.  Hence, the bratwurst.

So, anyway, Wisconsin.  I adore it.  I could even live here if 1) it didn’t have snow and 2) it was in California.

Day 11

The fly in the ointment that is the perfection of Wisconsin and Minnesota in the fall is, quite literally, flies.  We stopped just over the border in Minnesota to take pictures along the Mississippi, and a swarm of flies (or maybe gnats, or midges, or something similarly unpleasant) rose from the grass.  You had the feeling they were looking for orifices.  Back in the car immediately to admire the trees—autumnally bedazzling—on the bluffs.  Windows up.

Lunch in Austin, Minnesota, home to Hormel, the Spam capital of the world.  We opted for A & W.  Ice cream is not my thing, generally, but I did splurge on a root beer float, which I don’t think I’ve had since Lamaze lessons, 1985.  (Nurse Nancy made them after class.)  After lunch, we drove through town, which charmed with leafy streets, porched homes, lawn-scented air.  

The weather was spectacular: 65 degrees, a broad, spacious, sunny warmth and, just under its surface, an undercoat of cold that was a promise of something, a hint of what is coming.

Now we’re in Sioux Falls, which is apparently the fastest growing city in the Midwest.  Lots of strip malls and road construction.  Seen on the marquee out in front of a State Farm office: I Just Took An IQ Test And Got A Negative Number.  And on the marquee in front of a computer repair shop:  We Fi x Typ ewriters.  The old section of town is dark brick (as is so much of the region).  Lots of Irish bars.  A huge Catholic church overlooks the town, reminding me of the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere in Lyon.  Well, sort of.

Quite by accident, we found Falls Park, which is where the falls on the Big Sioux River actually are.  The falls are not high, but the currents are strong.   

I had such a lovely thought as I watched them: that I was only here because I’d met a man who likes to do the same kinds of things I like to do on trips: eat new things, drive on unfamiliar roads, laugh at signs directing travelers to eat at restaurants called Schmooters and Senor Wiener.
Lousy dinner at a fast-food place that’s all over the place here: Culver’s.  We ate there because they advertise frozen custard desserts.  I had chocolate with caramel sauce and fresh pecan halves.  I can’t remember the last time I ate two ice-cream-like products in one day.

Day 12

The middle of South Dakota is all sky and emptiness.  Corn fields morphed imperceptibly into grassland dotted with hay bales rolled up like carpets.  Are they still bales if they’re not well-packed cubes?  Fields of dying sunflowers faced east, bowed like mourners.

No hills or mountains on the horizon.  It’s like in mid-South Dakota, mountains haven’t been invented yet. 
Lots of billboards: for the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, the need to manage wildlife populations (“WEAR FUR!”),the Reptile Gardens, Bear Country USA, something called Wall Drug.  For de Smet (home of Laura Ingalls Wilder—sorry, Little House On the Prairie fans—no time to stop), for the rights of fetuses, for caves and caverns, the power of prayer, various camp grounds and trailer parks, for the world’s only corn palace.

It is indeed a palace made of corn.  It’s been in the town of Mitchell, in one shape or another, since the nineteenth century, built by a guy who took umbrage at Lewis and Clark’s assertion that no one could ever make a living in South Dakota.  

Right now, it houses a small arena featuring a basketball court and a stage.  Murals (also made entirely of corn) on the outside of the building are remade every year.

Yes, corn.  The cobs and the husks.  This is one of the murals.

Just outside of Rapid City, I noticed the ‘Maintenance Required” light flashing on my dashboard, which really ticked me off, since I had the car serviced at a Jiffy Lube somewhere in the Ozarks.  We pulled off the road and found a garage.  The young man at the desk was friendly as could be.  He examined the car, figured out the problem, fixed it, and didn’t charge us a thing.  Thanks, Taylor, at Advanced Automotive Repair.

My stomach is upset.  I’m tired.  I will crawl into bed and read Lorrie Moore’s THE GATE AT THE STAIRS (excellent) and try not to feel homesick.

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