Big Country Little Car Tour II, Days 6 and 7: Minneapolis, MN to Mauston, WI
It's amazing how little time it takes for all my stuff — messenger bag; computer bag; duffel bag; suitcase — to explode across a hotel room. I try to repack as I go along, but then a skirt I Must Wear slithers to the bottom to get away from me, or I cleverly hide a charger cord from myself and have to paw through everything like a dog (un)burying a bone. It took me an hour to get organized on Saturday, and I escaped not a moment too soon, too; the incoming wedding looked rowdy. Lots of sunburnt dudes with Bluetooths clipped to their visors.
Next stop: the post office, where the costume and I would part ways. I trotted up to the window and hoisted the tomato up: "You got a box for this?" Anh: "Uh." The biggest box they had on the premises still seemed hopeless — it was about two feet long and a foot deep; the costume was…not — but with me and Anh both leaning as hard as we could on it with our elbows, we wrassled it into the box and mummified it with tape, leaving almost no room to address it.
A modicum of room freed up in the car, I went over to M. Giant and Trash's house, where we snacked, and told stories, and horrified each other by reading aloud from vintage cookbooks about things like molded ham and cream-cheese nut rings. I think I convinced Trash to open a Minneapolis branch of the B.A.R.F. just for sickening retro appetizers. MG came over, and we sat under a big tree and drank beer and ate amazing things called space pillows, whose secrets I cannot reveal. I went to bed late, utterly content, in the company of a giant cat.
Sunday morning, on our way to Mickey's, Trash pointed out that Ava's windshield had sprung a crack in the middle of the night. I felt completely defeated by that, somehow, and all the way to St. Paul, I kept glancing at it. What next? I wouldn't have to pay for it (I always get the supplemental insurance because, when I don't, something like this will happen and I will have to pay for a disarticulated side mirror I didn't even cause), but I started wondering if I shouldn't just go home.
Breakfast distracted me. And by "distracted me," I mean "nearly blotted out the sun" — an omelet the size of a puppy and an equally daunting pile of home fries, all served in the time it took to read the history section of the menu. Now that is a professional outfit. Perfect toast, too. The same company manufactured the Mickey's building, which is a landmark, and the diner in my hometown, which everyone calls a landmark but I think doesn't have the official designation? I should have had the official designation after eating a puppy's worth of breakfast, or at least a WIDE LOAD sign and a pace car for my trip to Chippewa Falls, during which I fully expected to break an axle. So…much…food.
Chippewa Falls didn't happen, in the end, but not because I was too round to fit within the city limits. En route, I saw a sign for the Caddie Woodlawn historical park, and changed the plan. I read that book a dozen times as a kid, and I can't say if it holds up, but the image of Obadiah digging like hell to stop that fire has stuck with me for thirty years. Also, I believe Caddie is called a "hoyden" by some disapproving biddy or other, a thing I hoped to grow up to become, because it might mean I would have red hair and super-sass. (Did you know the book had a sequel? Me neither. The name Miracle Melons does not have me rushing for Amazon, however.)
I had the park to myself — no surprise, with temps in the 90s and an insect hootenanny going on in the grass, but I enjoyed it, just me and the butterflies. I peered into the original Woodlawn house, trooped up into the camping shelter, and admired the outhouse (two seats: companionable!). No one else came; no one else passed on the road. Sunday is busy where I live, and I forget how quiet Sunday can seem elsewhere.
I continued on the same state road I'd used to get to the Woodlawn park towards Madison, following a motorcycle club at a meek distance. Half an hour later, we all came upon an old man in a snap-front shirt on the shoulder, making a "shh" motion with his arms to slow us down. Coming up the rise, I saw two trucks akimbo on a creek bridge, and another vehicle beetled on its back, wheels in the air. "You know how to go around?", the man called, and the lady biker in front of me nodded, so I nodded too, and followed the club over hill and down dale, in and out of the corn, Route K, Route KK, Route Please Don't Continue The Patt– Phew Here's The Main Road Again. I'd had a podcast on, but I paused it and spent a few miles in silence, thinking about packing it in, going home. What if Campbell got beetled? What if she couldn't handle the hills, or her control module crapped out again? What if what if what if?
I calmed myself down, turned the podcast back on, totally missed a sign announcing a speed-limit change…and got pulled over by the MN state troopers. The guy turned the lights on before I even passed him, so I assumed he didn't mean me and kept doodling along for like a mile before getting annoyed and pulling onto the shoulder all, "Fine, just PASS ME ALREADY, GO– oh. Wait but so REALLY? Oh, for the love of little fucking apples." I haven't gotten pulled over in ten years, and I could have done without doing it again, never mind doing it wrong and not pulling over immediately, which would totally get me in more trouble, but in the decade since I last sat on the shoulder freaking out, troopers have gotten cuter. Like, a lot cuter. Like, I kind of wanted to scribble my number on my license real fast cuter. Anyway, Officer A. Dorbs explained the whole 67-in-a-55 problem; I said I'd vapor-locked the 55 sign, and handed over my license, and he went back to the car to see if I had any crime sprees on my record. If I didn't, I'd just get a warning. Waiting for Dorbs to return, I tried not to start giggling. Seriously: jenked control module, endless tow, brain-fart with the car key, cracked windshield, another car literally goes tits up, and now this? And since when do I get off with a warning? Did they start making me cuter in the last ten years? I never just get a warning.
Dorbs handed me my warning, a ticket with the "Speed Over limit" box checked off and a little note: "Organ donor (Nice!!)." He congratulated me on that verbally as well, noting that it's really important for people to donate their organs. Remembering that 1) I had spent a significant portion of the previous 24 hours making jokes about melon balls and cocktail wienies, and 2) the guy was hot, you can imagine the first comment that popped into my head. And the second. And the fourteenth. Somehow I managed to confine myself to a feeble joke about good luck with this liver oh ha ha ha…ha. Dorbs walked back to his prowler; I knew I should pull off the shoulder, but I had started giggling uncontrollably and really believed I would drive straight into a nearby utility pole if I tried to move, so I split the difference by zagging into a McDonald's down the road, parking, and guffawing to myself for a good five minutes before getting out to pee.
Not much of import until Mauston, where I checked into a Super 8 that smelled like feet and enjoyed a siesta and banged my head against some film analysis for several hours. We may, however, have a new heir to the "weirdest tourism-business combo" throne, held for many years by Bob's Plumbing and Gift Shop (South Dakota), with Bill's Poultry Farm and Museum (Vermont) finishing a strong second. Ladies and gentlemen, Sparta, WI's own Astronaut Deke Slayton Memorial Space and Bicycle Museum. It's not that the two things have nothing to do with each other; it's the way the words are ordered in the name that struck me as funny. Like it's a museum full of bikes and memorial…spaces? And the gift shop is great, at least online. Someone please buy a loved one the socks.
Tags: Big Country Little Car Tour books fat cats Li'l Ava M. Giant Revolting Snacks of America: A Field Guide Trash