Reliving America… 2000 Road Trip, Day 3

Day 3

Resuming the next morning, we headed to Madison for a late breakfast. We enjoyed briefly exploring Madison and taking in the “Cleveland Diner” tucked away under the shadow of the capital building.


Back on the road, we bypassed the “Cheese, Gifts and Liquor” store, much to my regret. Wisconsin’s terrain was interesting… beautiful rolling hills of tilled crops, giving away towards the western edge to heavy pine timber. We pulled into a small town on the western edge and enjoyed some frozen custard (an 80-cent cone was more than enough for both of us). The cheese and meat store next to it was, however, closed.

Upon crossing the Mississippi River, we climbed into Minnesota and sped along mostly flat farmland. One interesting (to me) note about Minnesota is how few billboards there were. In fact, I’m not sure there were any. This really hit home upon entering South Dakota, where billboards are as common as cattle, or seem to be at any rate.

Minnesota flew past, thanks largely to a lack of traffic and a 70 MPH speed limit. This was even truer in South Dakota where the land is flat, the roads are straight, and the posted speed limit is 75. That does cause a problem for prairie dogs, though. As we sped along the highway, a prairie dog scampered across the road headed for my right front wheel. I swerved slightly and managed to somehow straddle the pup and somehow miss him. From my rear view mirror, I saw him finish his heart-stopping journey in the median strip.

I had really been looking forward to Tea Steak House in Tea, South Dakota, the only Roadfood destination in S.D. Sadly for us, being Sunday, it was closed. We settled for something we hoped to avoid… fast food in Souix Falls. However, it was, at least, only a regional chain: Taco John’s. Still, it was terrible.

Eastern South Dakota’s landscape is mostly flat with more farmland. Except, instead of corn, there is cattle. Cattle and billboards. The two most common billboards are for Wall Drug (I lost count after 50 of them) and Corn Palace… a building made from corn (more or less). More than 20 billboards tout this majestic palace, and it’s worth visiting. During the winter, Corn Palace is home the high school basketball team, graduation ceremonies, and other civic events. In the summer, it is filled with a gigantic gift shop.

At least 2,000 people visit Corn Palace each day, and since the town it is in as only 13,000 residents, each week more people file in to see this building than the number of people who live there.

DSCF0029Most astonishing of all, the teenagers who work there didn’t seem at all sullen about it. I was in awe.

I said Eastern S.D. is mostly flat, but every once in a while an amazing grassy gorge or outcropping of rocks upsets the smooth terrain. The effect is quite beautiful. I expect this to be more obvious when we reach the Badlands and Black Hills tomorrow. Equally mesmerizing are the weather patterns one can watch develop. A thunderstorm several miles to our north played out as the sun set. Lightning and rain showed themselves broadside without ever nearing us. It was beautiful. I secretly hoped a tornado would spin together so I could get a picture. I guess it’s just as well that didn’t happen.

Well, we’re in for another night.

Josh and Cynthia (mileage: 24,437)

Day 2
Day 1

USA Trip Revisited: Day 2

Day 2

We drove around rainy Kent before heading out on the highway. We nearly visited Thomas Alva Edison’s boyhood home, but passed by, enjoying the views of the flat farms of western Ohio. When confronted with the opportunity to stop at Rutherford B. Hayes’ house, though, we couldn’t resist. Sneaking past a gauntlet of neon signed palaces hawking everything from cheeseburgers to lumber, we wound up in Fremont, Ohio. A typical small Midwestern town, Fremont features an astounding number of shops filled with knickknacks.

DSCF0011_2Downtown Fremont was hosting some kind of festival, although I don’t think anyone knew about it. Only about a dozen people milled about. Two children rode one of the carnival rides, and we sampled the saltiest smoked sausage and lamb gyro ever created. The most interesting shop was a Christian place called Covenant Corner. It had Biblical adventure stories and a joke book titled, “Good Clean Humor.” It also had lawn signs advocating the election of Jesus, although it did not specify an office. The second-most interesting shop was “Wicker and Crystal.”

DSCF0003 (3)The Presidential Rutherford B. Hayes House and Museum was actually quite beautiful. The grounds are wonderful with towering oaks and meticulous lawns. Fat squirrels have no fear and scurry right up to people demanding food.

We decided to save six dollars each and passed on a house tour (we have to get on to Chicago), but we did pay a visit to President Hayes’ grave. His horse is also buried there. The gift shop is a free visit, unlike the museum, which costs another $6. There was a CD-ROM exploring Hayes’ life, Rutherford B. Hayes leather bookmarks, and all sorts of tea sets and books. “Please, buy something,” was the greeting when we entered. I obliged buying three 50-cent postcards… certainly not what they had in mind. Perhaps one of the many elderly women exploring the grounds made up for my stinginess.

One more note about Fremont: the only non-American car I saw there was a Saab. It had Michigan plates.

We sped through the rest of Ohio and then Indiana admiring the open farmland embraced by long tentacles of sprayers. Metal arms stretching hundreds of yards and sectioned by wheel assemblies and spray nozzles hovered over field after field after field. Occasionally they’d be in operation, dowsing corn with fine mist, but more often than not they’d be in limbo. From the ground, they look kind of bizarre, but my recollection is that from the air, the effect is that they create circular crop fields, since these arms rotate on one end, and the sprayers themselves look like the hands of a clock.

Indiana provided us with another Roadfood opportunity ­ Lake Michigan Perch and froglegs, but we had to skip it as we were behind schedule. Next time.

Whereas Ohio simply merged into Indiana, Indiana ended abruptly at Illinois Farm fields stopped and industry explodes with smokestacks belching black smoke as Lake Michigan and Chicago spread out in the distance.

Even on a Saturday afternoon, Chicago’s traffic was heavy. We set plans to meet some friends (Ellen and Patrick Linnihan) in a western suburb, and once we emerged from traffic and righted ourselves after a few wrong turns, we enjoyed a very nice and restful dinner with them.

Following dinner we pushed on almost to Wisconsin.

Day 1