We’d planned to arrive a day early to the 10,000 Lakes Festival in Detroit Lakes, Minn., for the purposes of finding a sweet camping spot before everyone else had a chance to get it first. Those plans were thwarted, however, by the venue’s policy that no one would be admitted earlier than 10 a.m. on the first day of music. So an early wakeup was the key, and we drove the short distance to the Soo Pass Ranch and took our rightful place in line for our campground.
The wait wasn’t more than an hour to get in, where we were given sampler CDs of some of the upcoming acts, wristbands for the music and campground, and a pass to get back in, if we chose to leave the ground at any time – an uncommon option to find at this kind of festival.
I’ve always been a proponent of the sites closest to the stage, maybe out of laziness but also for the increase in foot traffic. This is the kind of place you want to meet people, because everyone is just so happy to be there. And what do you know, as soon as we drove into the grounds, a big fat spot off to our left was staring us in the face. Satisfied with our setting, we put together what would be our homes and living area for the next four days. Joey wasted no time in replacing his pants with pajamas, which he rightly considers to be optimal festival wear.
Sarah leapt into action with her incredible sandwich-making skills, whipping us up a round of sandwiches with our WalMart groceries. We enjoyed a celebratory drink, as we’d reached our original halfway point; in planning our route, we found this festival at about midway through our timeline, and it lies right about midway across the country, going east to west. So it made perfect sense to commit to this, and plan our stops around it.
Next in festival protocol (assuming nobody’s on stage yet, which was indeed the case) is the obligatory getting-to-know-you with the campground. We were in one of four different grounds on the ranch, and drinks in hand, went for a nice stroll through the woods. As it turns out, we didn’t get here quite as punctually as we thought we had, given the volume of tents that were already up and looking comfortable.
Then came the customary walk down Shakedown Street. Every festival has a Shakedown, a row of vendors peddling anything from tie-dye to glass “tobacco” pipes, and it’s named for the Grateful Dead song in which Shakedown “used to be the heart of town,” and there’s “nothing shaking” there anymore unless you “poke around.” This isn’t an entirely accurate analogy, because Shakedown at a festival or concert is usually right next to the venue. If there’s anywhere besides in front of the stage that I’d describe as the currently the “heart of town,” it’s usually Shakedown Street.
This led us right into the concert area, where four different stages were set up. We had a while before the music started up, so we studied the vendors for what we’d be wanting to eat, drink and play with for the next four days. Among these vendors was one gentleman selling oxygen. While most of the air we breathe is made of over 75% nitrogen and just over 20% oxygen, this fellow was selling nearly pure oxygen flavored with various scents and tastes, like lemongrass, peppermint, lavender and a handful of others. It was supposed to make us feel healthier, breathe better, etc., and he was nice enough to give us a few minutes more than we’d paid for. But I have a feeling that this was akin to paying for ten minutes on a Bowflex, because I noticed minimal results.
It was about six in the evening, and the first band of the day was taking the stage, called Gomez. We’d arrived at our site at no later than 11:00 a.m., and here we were seven hours later with still a minimal crowd in the concert area. No matter – more room for us to explore and find the right spot.
The different acts, of which there were dozens to be dispersed over four days and between four stages, were generally oriented towards a jam band theme. Gomez was right there, with some funky beats and long guitar and bass solos. This was my first experience with them, and they had some talent. They made dancing pretty easy.
The main attraction for the night was Widespread Panic, whom I’d seen before, enjoyed moderately, but never quite understood why they had the stellar reputation that they do. Maybe I just measure everyone else in the Grateful Dead’s shadow, and in that respect they fall far short. And we’d had a long day of early rising, campsite-building and exploration. And finally, they were playing again two nights later.
With all this in mind, we missed them. We laid down for a nap around 9:00 and didn’t wake up until the next morning. Joey and Sarah managed to rustle themselves up for some late-night music, but Bern and I were out like sauerkraut. For all the right steps we’d taken throughout the day, we forgot one of the most important – always take a mid-day nap. We would learn from our mistakes, and take a slightly different approach the next day, as you’ll learn more about very soon.
Have you ever been to the Mall of America
Let me start over.
My dad tells a really great story about the first time his big sister took him on a roller coaster. He recounts the track under the car clicking as they jerked up the insanely steep slope. Then at the very top, just before the big plunge, a strange, horrible, wailing, screaming sound came from somewhere nearby. My dad recalls that the whole way as the car ripped down the track this disturbing noise was coming from somewhere very close by his own head. The car finally stopped and my dad slowly realized…he
had been screaming bloody murder the whole time. It was him making the horrific, terrified, guttural sound as the coaster flung him around in death defying loops and flips.
Now, some years later, I stood inside the Mall of America with my friends, Joey, Tom and Bernadette. Joey and Bern were all smiles and sunshine as we walked towards Nickelodeon Universe and they discussed which roller coaster to go on; Tom and I were grimacing in the back, “yes, yes, of course we’re going on…yes, it’s fine, anything is fine…no I’m not scared…” We hopped on the Sponge Bob Square Pants Rock Bottom Plunge and large padded bars came down over my head.
“Joey, is this strapped in right?”
“Joey, am I going to fly out? What if the straps break and I fly out?”
“You’re not going to fly out. Here we go! Ready babe?”
And then, as we hit the crest of the first immense peak I heard, from somewhere close by my head, a loud guttural, terrified, horrific noise and, frankly, a little bit of inappropriate swearing.
My dad and I share many traits.
When we exited the coaster all ten of my fingers were pale white, as I can only imagine my face was. My hair was disheveled and my bracelet had left a red welt in my skin from being pressed against my forearm so hard. We checked out the picture of us ripping upside down on the coaster then parted ways, Joey coming with me and Tom and Bern heading to get a bite to eat.
Joey and I wandered around a few stores - he is a very patient man and let me shop without complaint; even let me model a few skirts and shorts before he admitted boredom and went to look for a book.
We wandered around the first floor not far from the roller coasters in the center of the mall and happened across a Brookstone. I have never indulged in their massaging chairs and foot rubs in the store as there are always lines of people, but at this particular store there were two chairs open and calling our names. Joey sat in the chair that massaged your back and your feet and I took the back massager chair. I melted into the backrest and barely turned my head to acknowledge Joey when he asked if we wanted to switch. We switched chairs and I kicked my shoes off so I could use the foot massager. Oh boy. “I’ve never known comfort quite like this” (~Comic Book Guy). After a long time Joey asked if we should get up and I said we would but that I needed to wait until the end of the demo… it was a really long demo… When we got up two people quickly took our spots and we realized that there was kind of a line behind us… oops…
We made it up to the second floor right as Tom and Bern called wanting to meet up again, so Joey and I walked from the escalator to the other side of the second floor and headed down the stairs to meet up with our trip buddies.
The Mall of America was great but there is more to Minneapolis and St. Paul so we decided to plug in Mrs. Wellington (my GPS) and see what attractions were nearby. We have a picture on our Where We’re Going
section for these two cities featuring a large spoon topped with a giant cherry so we decided to find that and head for it. Tom called his sister Lela for the address since Mrs. Wellington was giving us trouble and we headed off toward the Sculpture Garden near the mall.
We pulled up and parked on the street and wouldn’t you know, there it was, the giant spoon complete with cherry in full glory bent delicately over a small pool of water. There were other sculptures too of course, and a small grouping of Japanese boys trying very hard to hurt one another on one sculpture that swung around. Boys will be boys I suppose…
We got our fill of bent up metal and decided to make our way towards our most exciting attraction yet. Detroit Lakes, Minnesota - home to our first music festival, and to our official mid-way point. This is pretty big, America, so stay tuned.
Until next time America.
Guess what? A night out in Milwaukee, drinking local beer and taking shots off of wooden skis, can leave you with a wretched hangover. The four of us woke up scattered around the floor in Wes's apartment - Wes had inexplicably left his bed vacant in lieu of the hard living room carpet as well. Slowly, gradually, we peeled ourselves off the floor, bid Wes thanks for his hospitality, and with no skip in our step whatsoever, shuffled out the door in the early afternoon.
We had one more obligation before we vacated the city, one that Joey and Sarah had experienced before but Bern and I had not. They briefed us before we arrived, that we should prepare ourselves to hear the phrase "It's Miller Time" about a hundred times during our visit. Miller Brewing Company
, one of the nation's largest breweries, was the perfect place to douse our hangovers with a little light beer. The Talking Heads still in our heads from Chicago, we strode in and prepared to fight fire with fire.
The tours left on the half hour so we waited in the lobby in the meanwhile. The timeline along the wall detailed the life and times of MBC, and its growth and acquisition of other, smaller breweries over the years. The trio of Miller, Coors and Budweiser make up the three top-selling beer companies in the U.S., which is an absolute travesty, considering they taste practically indistinguishable from each other. But like Budweiser the week before, and our planned visit to Coors in Golden, Colo., a visit here was an essential element of our trip.
Our tour began with a promotional video in a small theater, for which our guide left the room because her head would explode if she had to watch it again. They hadn't changed the video since Joey and Sarah had visited a few years ago, and it was just as ridiculous as they said it would be. Did you know that couches were made for Miller Time?
The tour went through the bottling and canning room, where for the life of me, I couldn't find where the Miller Lite was being filled. Numerous other brews flew by us at rapid speed, and without many questions from the tour group (it was a Monday), we moved on.
Soon we got to a storage room, where our guide said we'd probably never again be in a room that held so much beer. Countless kegs and cases lined the room, which was roughly the size of a very large Walmart. Quite impressive.
Finally, and most unusually, the tour led us up the street and into an enclosed cave. This cold rock enclosure was once their cooling room, where the walls were packed with ice and the beer sat and waited for its judgement day. The lights went down and another video played for us on the wall, which was quite different from the opening video but quite possibly just as ridiculous.
Finally, we made it - the beer garden. Each of us was entitled to three free samples of any of the Miller products on tap, which I was pleased to see included two Leinenkugel
brews, a Wisconsin brewery that had been acquired by Miller. A free tour with free beer and even free postcards is okay by me, regardless of how much of a blatant marketing blitz it is. I kind of thought my own last name was Miller by the time we left.
Now, the drive from Milwaukee to Minneapolis is no walk in the park - five and half hours, to be exact. Coupled with our lethargic departure from Wes's and our mandatory brew tour, the long drive meant that we would have very little time to spend around Minneapolis that day, as we'd planned.
But we looked a little deeper into one of our upcoming destinations, the 10,000 Lakes Festival in Detroit Lakes, Minn. See, I'm a staunch believer in the merits of an early arrival to camping festivals, for the fact that the early bird gets the most desirable campsite. However, according to the 10KLF website, anyone arriving before 10 a.m. on the day the festival began, would be turned away. Since we'd planned to arrive a day early, this meant we could take it easy tonight and bounce around Minneapolis tomorrow. Frankly, I don't know that we had the energy to do otherwise.
On the way into town, we nabbed up a hotel with some help from Priceline
. Upon our arrival, we nestled in and realized we were all very hungry. Nobody seemed to have any interest, however, in getting back in the car and hunting for any food nearby. So we went the easy way out for our first time this trip, and got some reasonably priced room service meals.
Wings, burgers and some kind of seafood for Joey all came within twenty minutes at a cost of about forty bucks. We accidentally double-tipped, but all in all, this was as terrific a meal as I could have hoped for. Inevitably, we found cartoons on TV and drifted away, another long day ahead of us tomorrow. More on that, coming very soon.
After finishing up some laundry at Adrianne’s, we said our goodbyes (thanks for everything!) and headed for Milwaukee to stay with my close friend and fraternity brother Wes. But there was one stop we absolutely had to make when we crossed the border from Illinois to Wisconsin: Mars Cheese Castle.
Mars Cheese Castle is visible from I-94 and added no driving time to our trip to Milwaukee. Even better, they sell an awesome assortment of cheeses and compliments (crackers, bologna, mustard, etc). Even better still: they have a tub of free delicious cheese sitting at the bar and legendary Bloody Mary’s behind it. Our first stop was the bar to get one and have some food.
The drinks came and lived up to the hype: they were almost as good as my own Bloody Mary’s and were served with a “chaser:” a half pint of beer. Sarah and I ordered a Reuben to share and Tom and Bernadette split a burger. While we waited for our food, we sampled the cheese in a crock. Then we all had another sample. It was good. We continued to sample until there was a pretty sizeable dent in the spreadable cheese. A man who looked like a manager or, more likely, the proprietor, came over and offered to fill it up, making a joke about how we were cut off. When the cheese returned, he put it on the other side of the bar. We really did get cut off! We got a laugh or two, and the food was tasty.
As we ate, we discussed our upcoming music festival — the 10,000 Lakes Festival — and how we were going to need to hunt down our own Bloody Mary supplies: this is no small feat as the drink has ten ingredients (including ice.) We also decided that we would have one good meal cooked over a fire over the course of four days. And we were in the perfect place to pick up the cheese course! With the help of the staff, I selected Gouda—that had won an award in 2008—and sharp cheddar. I was not familiar with Gouda but it is a delicious hard cheese, the consistency of a block of parmesan but with a different but delicious taste. Go buy some and try it right now. The post will be here when you get back. We got back on the road to see Wes, who had a case of Bud Light Lime (his favorite beer) waiting for us. After having a beer and chatting for awhile, we waked to through downtown Milwaukee past the art museum (which has huge wings that go up when it is open) to Festa Italiana, a yearly Italian festival. We wondered around and got a beer and sampled some cheese curds, and some Funnolis (n. \ˈfənˈnō-lē, ka-\ Etymology: English dialect fun and Sicilian dialect cannoli 1 : a doughnut-like pastry with a light sugary ricotta filling and icing designs based on the Italian flag.) Very autentico. We listened to some music and saw some scaled down replicas of famous Italian buildings, as well as a commemorative anniversary sand sculpture of Pinocchio. We rode a ski lift that didn’t go up a hill, but rather just provided an elevated view of the festival grounds. It was the middle of the day Sunday, so the crowd was small. This was great as they also had carnival rides.
We rode one ride that spins you around in a big circle but had to forego the other ride that spins you around in a circle because it was having vomit cleaned from it. No one would ride the zipper with me (I believe this is also known the “salt and pepper shaker”), so I had to make a new ten year old friend. A good time was had by all and we headed back to Wes’s apartment so that Bern could change her pants. She said that she sat in something wet; I guess I believe her.
After we sat around for awhile and met a friend of Wes’s, Jeff, we went to the Water Street Brewery for dinner, where we met Drew, who, with Wes is starting a website to highlight their travels to see football games: The Big 10 Tour. Check it out. We had nachos, our first bloomin’ onion of the trip, and some great beers and entrées. On our way to Hofbrauhaus (or The Old German Beer Hall) we passed one alley, and saw a whole dumpster that was on fire with several indistinguishable kids watching in the background. The whole thing was in flames that stretched several feet over the dumpster, most of which was visible. Sarah and I rushed into a bar to alert someone and the lady bartender seemed indifferent, saying that the firemen had probably already been called. We heard sirens in the distance as we returned outside. The dumpster collapsed under the extreme heat. A huge cloud of smoke shot out from behind the corner of an alcove in the alley, and two firemen chased the smoke in and redirected what we could now see was the source, two fire-extinguishers, towards the quickly diminishing flames. The show over, we continued to Hofbrauhaus.
There, we were introduced to two new things: the shotski and nail game. Jeff ordered a shotski, not to be confused with “hey, lets take a shotski dude,” which was a ski with five shot glasses attached. Each was filled with Jäger and the ski was raised and tipped. It worked exactly as intended, all five shots being taken in full simultaneously. We ordered five nails for twenty-five cents each and headed over to the stump.
There was one small sledge hammer connected to a chain and a large stump specked with nails. We each decided on a spot in the stump and tapped our old style square nails in to the stump in an area we judged as a weaker spot (really I think it was all about the same hardness and difficulty). Then we passed the hammer in a circle, taking one swing each to see who could bury the nail more quickly. Tom won and we set up a head to head match. I beat him, but on the tiebreaker he came back. It was mostly luck.
We finished out the night and headed back to Wes’s, where he ordered three pizzas and an order of “bacon [bread] sticks.” We ate the equivalent of a bit more than two pizzas and watched ten minutes of the third Austin Powers, which was showing on TV, before falling asleep. Wes camped on the carpet with us instead of walking the twelve feet to his bed. Jeff slept in a recliner even though he would have to rush to work early the next morning.
As you can see, this day ended up being ludicrously eventful and fun. Thanks, Wes.
Now I've heard a lot about Chicago. It's a tremendous city, pulsating with life, color, culture and vibrance, especially come summertime. Knowing this, I cleared out the memory card for my camera on the morning of our Saturday in town, with full knowledge of the fact that I might just fill the entire card in one day.
Well, I didn't quite - I shot about 300 photos and had room for another 150. But a few of those 300 were worth sharing, as I've done below.
Chicago has to be one of the most photogenic cities in the world. Hop a plane, bring your camera and spend as much time in town as you can. You won't regret it.
The second we stepped outside Adrienne’s house a friendly breeze gently nudged us down the street and the soft heat from the sun spread smiles on our faces. Adrienne happily led Joey, Tom, Bern and me to a diner with a bounce in her step. She complemented the neighbors on their flowers and told us our breakfast was going to be amazing - the omelets were the size of your head.
One by one we filed into the Horizon Café
and, after a small wait, thoroughly enjoyed our brunch complete with one of these mega-omelets. We chatted contentedly over our paper copy of The Onion
and our hugely portioned meals, but when we were all too full to manage even one more bite we put the mighty meals in Styrofoam containers to come back for later.
The five of us wandered through the beautiful July day back to Adrienne’s, each of us confessing our love for Chicago as we went.
We hashed out a loose plan for the day at Adrienne’s which mostly involved us following her, and her leading us to some really fun outdoors stuff. We had a full day of walking and park hopping to do according to our hostess’s directions and we gladly followed her out of her home on Bittersweet Street near Boy’s Town and wandered down around Wrigleyville.Wrigley Field
surprised me - I had never seen a picture of it before and was expecting some new mammoth stadium but instead came face to face with a baseball field. A real, wooden, modest, original looking baseball field that I could imagine Babe Ruth or Shoeless Joe Jackson hustling around the bases in. It was pretty cool and kind of made me appreciate Cubs fans.
There was a lot of walking to do though so we snapped a few pictures and got on our way. Something exciting was happening here in Chicago right downtown at the Sears Tower (which had just recently been renamed the Willis Tower
). It was the grand opening of the recently added Sky Deck, where visitors can walk out onto a glass balcony and see straight down as well as all around them from right near the very tippy top. We were excited and imagined the crazy pictures we were going to get from way up there. Adrienne works close by the Tower and was expecting a friend in from Hawaii named Christina so happily bounced off to meet her.
Joey, Tom, Bern and I rounded the corner coming up to the tower and our hearts dropped when we saw the line outside the building. Tom and Bern were both ready to let the whole thing go rather than wait in line, but Joey and I were too disappointed to give up so quickly. Joey asked a woman at an information stand how long the wait was going to be and she guessed maybe forty-five minutes. Joey and I were sold - we could definitely handle that short of a wait for such a cool view. Tom and Bern got in line with us and we called Adrienne to tell her that when she and her friend met up they could come over to the tower because by then we would probably be at the front of the line. Adrienne and Christina showed up just as we were passing through the revolving glass doors into the building and they joined us in a short line inside the lobby for the elevators.
All six of us crammed onto a huge elevator loaded to the absolute breaking point with other sightseers and dropped down one floor. Confused, we got off the cramped elevator and got in another line. By this point Tom was over and done with standing in line. Joey, disheartened but still hopeful, asked a girl at the ticket stand how long this line would be. When he came back and reported that it would be another hour and a half no one had to say a word. We all slipped under the rope and headed out of the tower without seeing much more than the lobby. Better luck next time I guess.
But never fear, America! One unfortunate event is not enough to spoil our spirits! Adrienne led us quickly onto a much more fun way to spend an hour and a half by bringing us to a street festival. She explained that during the summer in Chicago, each section of the city has a designated weekend where they block off a street or two and throw a party. I can imagine that if you live in Chicago and endure the winter there you might get pretty excited to see the summer sunshine again. This festival proved it when we wandered in the sectioned off area and saw all the happy people.
We were met with a Talking Heads cover band complete with crazily dancing band members, amazing food from nearby restaurants who came prepared with a limited menu for eager tasters, and of course lovely grassy hills to enjoy a brew on top of. The sun warmed our backs as we stood around a table munching on some tasty treats and getting to know Christina. Tom and Bern took a walk around the festival to see what was what while we stood around talking but eventually they made their way back to us and we all adjourned to a nearby grassy spot on a hill. Having thoroughly enjoyed a few rolls down the hill after some small children gave us the idea, we decided it was time to keep walking. The sun was getting lower in the sky and it was about time for some salsa dancing lessons in another park nearby.
The walk over to the salsa dancing park led us by some pretty fun looking summer events and many Chicago locals outside loving life. We wandered on a path by a large field and as we crested the hill we saw it was an outdoor concert venue and an orchestra tuning on the stage below. The people scattered across the grass to watch the concert were there in high style. They each seemed to have gone to the same Crate and Barrel store to find a small, short, square table with wine bottle holders built into it. They sat on spread out blankets with their wine glasses and looked entirely enviable.
Salsa dancing was calling our names but as we passed by the concert goers we were drawn to a giant shiny orb that very closely resembled an oversized kidney bean. This silver blob was enchanting many young people as it sat in its shimmering glory across a cement park so we wandered over and posed in its reflection. A very amusing piece of what I guess is modern art - is this Chicago’s response to Minnesota’s giant ball of twine - America’s largest silver coated kidney bean?
Down some steps from there was the most interesting water display I’ve seen yet, and I’ve seen the water displays in Las Vegas. Two very large towers stood facing each other across a rectangle black tile area in the center of the cement patio. These towers had giant TV screens on the front and back that showed pictures of people’s faces blown up to be as big as the towers were tall. Water streamed from these towers in different patterns to an inch deep pool area below. My favorite water pattern was when the faces made their lips look like they were spitting and a thick stream of water poured from their mouths into the pool. Joey and I stood in the water and I was surprised at how freezing cold it was. Some small children raced by us kicking up water as they went so we walked out of the pool, slipped back into our shoes and finally made our way to the salsa dancing park.
When we arrived the sun had almost faded completely and the deep purple clouds above us were becoming a starry night on the horizon. We had missed the lessons but a live band was wailing away on stage and everyone on the dance area below was packed in with each other and dancing their hearts out. We got ourselves some beer and then dove into the crowd ready to start twisting around in a mock-salsa attempt.
Joey and I followed Adrienne and Christina into the crowd but quickly lost sight of them and we had lost Tom and Bern somewhere between the beer and the dance floor, so Joey twirled me a few times and I mostly dodged women’s high heels coming down on my sandaled feet while we danced. We wandered over for one more cup of beer and some interesting looking Mexican food from a vendor and found the same grassy spot near a tree that everyone else seemed to have found as well. We ate and drank for a little while but Adrienne told us we should get going if we wanted to catch the fireworks at the Navy Pier
. No one was in any kind of rush but we flagged a few cabs and climbed into the backseats of the yellow cars. The windows were down and I let the cool night air rush over my face until we arrived at the pier.
As we walked toward the end of the pier we were watching the finale of the fireworks, the black night sky echoed each bang and fizzle and the dazzling light danced on grey smoke clouds. The show ended as we got to the very end of the pier so we parted ways with Christina (who was going to visit other friends at a party somewhere else) and hopped on the subway headed towards Adrienne’s house.
The day had been long and very full so as soon as her key unlocked the door each traveler found a place to lay their head and sleep. I picked a couch in the living room near Joey who was on another couch and was just slipping into the Land of Nod when Adrienne’s friend Dan stopped by to pick her up. She went to shower quickly so I talked with him while Joey snored to the music emanating from Adrienne’s iPod. We talked about being an American abroad and how the perception of our country is poor pretty universally. We talked about more that just that, we talked about people in general and places to go see, and as we talked Adrienne emerged from her room dressed and ready. She quietly went into the kitchen and listened to us adding her two cents now and again and all of a sudden brought us a bowl of homemade hummus, sliced carrots and crackers. The three of us happily munched on this delicious surprise snack but Dan eventually convinced Adrienne it was time to go. They wandered out into the lively Chicago night and I lay down happily sinking into a deep sleep.
Until next time America.
So here we were, making a northward ascent from New Orleans all the way to Michigan with very little time to spare – so little, in fact, that by now we’d fallen behind somewhat, even though we'd stolen a day from Mobile and tacked it onto this leg of the trip. We’d noshed on some simple but sensational dinner the night before at Yesterdog
in Grand Rapids, which features plump hot dogs beneath layer upon layer of condiments like lettuce, onions, relish, cheese and chili. But after our dinner, we’d missed any traces of daylight, and had to leave first thing the next morning. Still, even spending a night in town was more than we’ve done in a few other places (Rhode Island
comes to mind), so let’s not shed any tears over it.
Day 48 saw us up and on the road at a fairly early hour – 8:30 or so – to tackle the drive west to Chicago. The route sent us right by Gary, Ind., the boyhood home of one mister Michael Jackson, who had passed away just weeks before. We felt obligated to swing through, since it added a mere ten minutes to our travel time.
Apparently we weren’t the only ones with such an inclination, as a fairly sizeable collection of bouquets and well-wishes had accumulated in front of the house – which, I might add, is still a private residence, occupied by Michael’s uncle or something. I can’t imagine that occupant was very pleased about all the commotion, or about the five or six t-shirt vendors who’d set up shop across the street.
Back in the car, our first stop in Chicago was the massive O’Hare International Airport, something we’d have avoided at all costs if not for one special reason: my lovely Bernadette. My ginger-haired sweetheart from back home in Philly was joining us today for an extended visit, ending eleven days later in faraway Omaha, Neb. For those of you who have never known the feeling of being a thousand miles and more from the one you love, let me tell you, it’s not easy. So I was quite thrilled to have her with us again for a good long time.
She arrived with an appetite, and we had just the place in mind, a snazzy pizza joint called Lou Malnati’s
. We’d had pizza on our minds for Chicago the whole time, as the city is famous for its own style of pizza. Very much unlike the thin-crust, fold-me-in-half pizza slices we’d devoured back in Brooklyn, Chicagoans prefer their pizza deep-dish style. These pies are slightly smaller than thin-crust in diameter but about quadruple the thickness, thanks to layer upon layer of cheese and toppings.
As such, they take a solid half hour to cook, but were worth waiting twice as long. Ours was buried beneath sausage, peppers, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms and a thick, hearty sauce. Bern wouldn’t eat half of the condiments we got on our own pizza so she got herself a little personal guy with sausage and pepperoni. For all the hype I’ve heard about Chicago’s pizza, this proved it all correct and possibly an understatement.
In our minds, hand-in-hand with the word Chicago goes the name Adrienne. Adrienne is a good friend of ours from these parts, whom we befriended at college and have been eager to employ as our tour guide for a visit to this vast city. We got in touch with her a while in advance, and she was more than happy to have us crash at her place. But before we could meet up, she had to get off work – an utterly foreign concept to us at his point. To kill some time, we got a round of overpriced drinks at a place called El Mariachi
a few blocks from her house. Before long she was home, and we bounded over immediately.
We enjoyed a beverage or two at her house before we walked a few blocks from her house in the other direction, to a nice bar called Bar on Buena
(B.O.B.) with an outdoor seating area. An impressive beer menu sent me tasting and giggling my way through a number of different brews, and into a handful of appetizers for the five of us. Fun like this can only last so long, especially given the exciting and eventful day we’d had. We called it a night before it got too late, to save some energy for another adventure in Chicago the following day. More on that from Sarah, coming very soon.
So right now we're in the car driving to Grand Rapids, Michigan. We left Indianapolis this morning, but stopped at the Medical History Museum first. It was pretty interesting. The building was part of an old mental institution where they did testing on different patients with mental diseases. They had all of this autopsy equipment from around the 1890s, I guess the building itself was in operation until 1969 for medical students but not as an institution. Check out their website.
Jeffrey, if you ever go to Indianapolis for any reason you might like this place. The only reason I can imagine you would go to Indianapolis is that you become very rich and are flying to your vacation home in Hawaii - your plane suddenly nosedives and crashes in a field, you are the only survivor. You crawl through the wreckage and break through the door - the sun blinds you for an instant and you throw your arm over your eyes to protect them. You stagger out of the wrecked plane into the field and spot an interstate sign off in the distance, your ankle is badly sprained, but not broken, so you limp slowly towards it in order to find out where you are. You finally get to it, the sweat drips into your eyes but you read the sign - Indianapolis Rt. 64 - Indianapolis! Oh cruel fate! Why did you leave me here! Why not take my life too!
But then! You remember! Many years ago your crazy sister got in a car and drove around the country seeing everything - even - a Medical History Museum with a focus on psychological studies and you realize! Everything happens for a reason. You pull out your cell phone - oh, good service, how lucky - and call 411 to connect you with a cab company. You enjoy the Medical History Museum very much and call your sister to recount the wild ordeal. She feels oddly powerful at the realization that she predicts the future. You stop inviting her for Thanksgiving dinner.
It's a long ride to Grand Rapids.
Until next time family,
P.S. Mom- what's the deal with the texting?
I poked my head out of Derrick and Lauren’s front door simultaneously scratching behind Nicco’s ear. The rain outside was coming down in sheets so I closed the door and Nicco wagged his big fluffy tail. Tika lay across the hallway looking at me indignantly and he didn’t move when I stepped over the pretty white Husky’s body. The two dogs watched us pack up our bags and we patted our good-byes to them. Tom and I ran out the front door to get to the car quicker and Joey locked up behind us and booked it from the backyard.
Derrick had recommended we go to his favorite brewery for lunch so we made tracks for the Bluegrass Brewing Company
(BBC) by way of the biggest baseball bat in the country. The Louisville Slugger outside of the museum was so tall it took great pains to get the whole thing into a picture. We skipped the inside of the museum after a quick photo shoot and followed the rumbling in our tummies down to the BBC.
Joey called Derrick at the fire station, where he’s a lieutenant, to ask him what we should get to eat and drink. The boys each ordered beer samplers and I got a round of jokingly disappointed side comments for just wanting a Diet Coke. We ate delicious food including garlic fries which had almost as much garlic as fry and a buffalo chicken salad for yours truly. I have to get those veggies in somewhere…
After our meal we sat in the car perusing the GPS’s attraction options for Kentucky. With a dreary day in front of us and not much that caught our eye on the GPS list we decided that today was a good day for a movie and a little bit of catching up on our blog. We made a short drive into Indiana and found a theater that was playing the shocker of the summer – Brüno
. I watched Borat
and felt like once was all I needed, and now I’ve seen Brüno once. I don’t have plans to watch it again in the future but it was funny the first time. Shocking, but pretty funny. I don’t recommend it to anyone I don’t know but am glad to know what it’s all about. Now I don’t have to wonder, however, I do have to remember.
On a trip across America, it’s kind of interesting watching a movie where a guy pretends to be ignorant of American culture and pulls these outrageous stunts all across the nation. It’s a unique way to acquire more knowledge about a certain area when you see how against homosexuality a certain state or group within a state is, or how far some parents are willing to go to get their children in a photo shoot or movie. America the weird and judgmental as exploited by Sacha Baron Cohen I guess… we’re not quite getting that in depth with people’s opinions nor are we pushing the emotion violently out of them by enraging their sensibilities, but we do get into some pretty interesting conversations about race, religion, local and national pride. Sometimes we notice how far away from home we are and sometimes we realize we’re not so different from the people right in front of us. Vague, I know, but as we get along with our posts you’ll start to read what I’m talking about a little bit more.
After we came out of the movie we finished the drive into Indianapolis and waited for Tom’s mom’s friend, Dale, to finish up his work day. We stopped with a little trouble at a WiFi restaurant called Alcatraz Brewing Company
in the center of the city. Here’s what the trouble was about: I pulled us into a parking garage; I pushed a button to get a ticket and the gate lifted allowing me to pass below it. I had to drive down hill into the garage and as I passed under the roof we all heard a scraping noise… the car was too tall to fit in the garage and I couldn’t get a new ticket out of the machine (which would reopen the gate and alow us to back out) without having the car on the opposite side of the bar. Tom and Joey acted fast and pulled our roof rack off and shoved it in the back seat. They were good humored about it and I gritted my teeth expecting some woman driver jokes. Fortunately they spared me and we enjoyed a few long hours of blogging and tasting local beers and nachos. Tom got in touch with Dale and we headed off to meet up with him at his apartment.
He was waiting out front for us and greeted us with a large smile. He is tall and fit with blonde hair and a sparkle in his eye. He led us upstairs and fixed us his specialty - gin and tonic. We spent a few minutes in his living room chatting with him and watching a program on magic tricks on his analog TV. Now, I’ve heard of bachelors before - I’ve seen My Fair Lady and movies like that - but after meeting Dale I have a new sense of the word. Let me paint a picture for you of the ultimate bachelor.
First the living room - Tom was young when he knew Dale. He mentioned to Dale that he recognized almost everything in the living room from the pictures on the wall to the book ends. Dale laughed about that and guessed he hadn’t changed anything in awhile.
Next the bathroom - I noticed on the side of the tub that there was a bar of hotel soap. No other soap was in the room, just the thin free bar, a toothbrush and a cup. Dale seemed very friendly and easily laughed often so I mentioned that I got a kick out of the fact that he had some hotel soap. “You think that’s funny? Come check this out!” Dale led the three of us into the bathroom and opened two deep drawers full with rows and rows of neatly stacked hotel soap. “I’m on the road a lot,” he explained.
After that, the bedroom - Dale was on a roll now. Since I thought the soap was so funny he led our group next into his bedroom to show us his penny jar. This jar is more like an archeological gold mine. It is an office sized water cooler jug full of pennies, but the pennies had been slowly added to the jar over the past 38 years. It may be layer after layer of American coinage history if only it could be lifted to be examined.
Finally - and most amusing to me - the kitchen. After getting the OK I opened Dale’s refrigerator and freezer to put the contents of our cooler in a chilly environment over night. I was immediately struck with a giggle fit. In addition to ice in the trays, there were three items total in the fridge. They were: gin, tonic, and beer - and the beer was for us. I opened a cupboard looking for a plate and instead found a stack of jeans and some white t-shirts.
So in a nutshell Dale is a very friendly, kind and easy to be around man, and he is the textbook definition of the ultimate bachelor. Nicely done sir.
We stayed up well into the night with Dale and his gin and tonics watching his analog TV and laughing often. Thanks a million, Dale, it was great to meet you!
A small (but important) part of the drive behind our move to Portland is my love for beer. Having worked as a server in a microbrewery, and having grown up in the microbrewery-rich Philadelphia region, I've taken an enthusiast's approach to my beer drinking whenever I've been able to afford it.
In doing so, I've spewed out many a loose-tongued tirade on the vast, American-style light beer conspiracy that chokes our sensibilities and robs us of a pleasurable embibing experience. Americans, for the most part, are happy to settle for any one of several straw-colored, flavorless beers without ever considering their error. Of those responsible for this shameful situation, Budweiser
stands at the forefront.
But here seems to be a good time to subscribe to Joey's theory regarding fast food chains. I think their food is garbage, regardless of whether it's a burger joint, a fried chicken shack or a fish taco shop. Joey disagrees, and points to each company's size and financial success as measures of their quality. As he says, they wouldn't be so big if they weren't doing something right.
That said, Anheuser-Busch
- producer of Budweiser and many, many more malt beverages - must have something going on that's worth checking out, even if their flagship beer isn't even technically beer, according to the German Beer Purity Law
(it's brewed with rice).
But I'm only going to have so many opportunities to visit such a mammoth place as the St. Louis A-B factory. So I bit my lip and prepared myself for a McBrew tour, topped with advertising, marketing and a side of crass commercialism.
The tour touched on a number of symbolic aspects, like the Budweiser Clydesdales – a fleet of horses that were once utilized on a practical basis before being retired and kept around for decoration. Way back in 1933, when the 21st Amendment came into effect, a carriage led by these horses brought a special delivery of Budweiser to the White House for President Roosevelt. Now, they’re among the largest single collection of Clydesdales in the world – a perfectly unnecessary attribute for a brewing company to have.
But the tour kept going, and covered a fairly expansive area, in and out of numerous buildings and up a handful of escalators. The tank room counted among the most interesting, for the sheer, mammoth size of the beer tanks contained therein. Each of these containers held 200,000 six-packs of beer, or over one million beers each – and there were something like sixteen tanks in the room. Sounds like quite a hangover to me.
It was a very ornate brewery, this Anheuser-Busch, and they took a lot of pride in it. And our tour guide, a kid spending his summer with a sweet job here, was a very informative fellow with a pretty solid knowledge of the company and its products. Hats off to him - his name was David, in case his boss sees this.
Speaking of products, following the tour, we were given the opportunity to sample a few of the company’s vast array of styles of beer. Over the years, A-B has acquired quite a few other breweries and continued to produce their beers, so thankfully, we didn’t get stuck with three pints of Bud or Bud Light. The whole experience was considerably more positive than I had expected.
All this excitement worked us up quite an appetite, and we referred to one of our guidebooks for a local recommendation. The first place we stopped was closed, with an ominous sign inside the door threatening legal action against any “trespassers.” So instead, we got a family-sized combo of piping hot barbecue from a place called C & K’s. They didn’t have seating, and we didn’t have time to sit down for a picnic anywhere, so we had to stash it and come back to it. Oh, the tension. The reason, of course, for our hurry was that the All-Star Parade was about to begin at Busch Stadium. We didn’t have tickets to the game (about $350 apiece), but none were required for this public display in front of the stadium. I enjoyed myself, but Joey didn’t. He felt that a parade should involve music being played, batons twirling and a generally lively atmosphere. This, on the other hand, was merely a bunch of dudes he’d never soon before (Joey’s not a baseball fan) being driven into the stadium on Chevy trucks with their families. Still, I got up close and snapped a few good shots.
The second it ended, we walked briskly back to the car to dive into our succulent barbecue. I’d insisted on getting ribs while we were in St. Louis, because I thought they were prepared in a different style, like with a dry rub or something. In fact, the name “St. Louis ribs” simply refers to the way they’re cut, which didn’t seem any different from any other ribs I’ve eaten. But this combo was massive, intended for twice as many people as we were. It came with ribs, rib tips, chicken and pig snouts (!), as well as a container of dill-seasoned potato salad and a whole loaf of Wonder bread. This was some great barbecue, excluding the snouts – they were edible but tasted like they were all cartilage.
After a frustrating exit from the parking lot, we hit the road to Louisville, which was a long drive back to the east, seeing a few hilarious names on signs along the way. Interestingly, we had to pass from Central Time back to Eastern Time, and did so without realizing it. So when the GPS told us we’d arrived at 8:47, and our stereo still read 7:47, we were thoroughly confused.
Regardless, we stayed with Joey’s cousin Derrick and his wife Lauren in a nice suburb just outside of town. Derrick works as a firefighter, which entails 24-hour shifts on the job, but with two-day breaks in between. On this particular day, he had work the next morning, so we put up our feet and enjoyed a low-key evening in the comfort of their home. Thanks guys, and sorry for not taking any pictures while we were there. They would have made the ending here a little more colorful.