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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bear Country

If I can ever get on-line again, you will hear about Bear Country, USA and the drive from Rapid City to Custer. One of the joys of travelling, along with bag drags and crazy, nasty people, has been the spottiness of WiFi availability. My computer and/or AOL may be part of the problem, too.

We were advised to go to Bear Country as far back as Glenn’s Tire in Clear Lake, where we had our headlight replaced. Very nice people!

So we headed there, after Wall. It was quite a short, and pretty, drive to Cedar Rapids, And Bear Country was right there on the road (along with the Cosmos, Reptile World and a place that sells huge busts of every president. Makes you grateful there’s no more room on Rushmore).

You drive through and see all the animals you hope to see in the Black Hills, just in case. The best part is the bears, which you wouldn’t want to meet outside your car anyway, and the mountain sheep/goats which are not usually visible.

The drive-through was a good deal, but at the end there’s a small zoo full of smaller animals and shrieking kids, so we skipped it, except for the adorable bear cubs, and this one big one, and drove on toward Custer.

We had a choice of two routes, and we chose 16A, which was a totally coincidental stroke of luck. It takes you in through the Iron Mountain road through Custer State Park. It’s all the things Joyce hates in a road: windy, narrow, slow. But spectacular, and not too much traffic, either, considering we were beginning the Memorial Day weekend. I guess everyone else went the other way that day, which is much faster. Here are some shots we took along that road.

Popped out the other end in Custer, which I guess wouldn’t exist except for Rushmore and Crazy Horse. The only chain restaurants are Subway and Pizza Hut, and we fell back on Subway frequently. We pulled into Super 8 and the fun began. Joyce went in to register, and reminded them about the dogs. They said we "should have told them” and paid for them, in advance. Really? How? doesn’t offer that option. They take pets. They don’t NEED any notice. Then they tried to put us on the second floor, and Joyce had to argue them down to the first floor. With three dogs, cages and gear for seven weeks, we are not climbing stairs! And no, there’s no elevator! So she asked where the luggage carts were, and they don’t have one! So major schlep by main force. On her way out, they reminded her the dogs can never, ever be left in the room. So how do we eat, or use the pool, or do laundry, or get the continental breakfast? Uhhhhh . . . okay, you can be around the hotel. Gee, thanks.

After a long ride and arguments Joyce went to Subway and got us sandwiches. They recommended we go across the street, and it was a cowpuncher dive. Several places that offered delivery don’t deliver until June. A lot of places allow smoking, also until June, when a new law takes effect.

And it will come as no surprise that the weather deteriorated overnight, and when we saw how awful it was the next day, we just went back to bed!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Badlands: Not all that bad

Sorry for the lengthy absence. We had computer/internet issues in Custer, and couldn't even be sure what was wrong until we left. But I kept writing and uploading pictures, and now, at least, here are some blogs; pictures to follow.

So today was our reason for the extra night in Wall: the Badlands Loop. You drive 20 miles back east on the Interstate, drive west on the loop for 32 miles, and end up right back in Wall. Guess how long that takes. Give up? Six hours. Could take even longer if you hiked some trails, which we didn't because dogs aren't allowed. You really don't want to get off the boardwalks on a hot day anyhow; you would die out there. So it's bad because there's almost no good weather in this area. It's either hot and dry or wet and nasty. Hot and dry is better for seeing it, so we were lucky that way. The Badlands were originally named by the French explorers who tried to pass through. They were "bad lands to travel through." Silly explorers, they should have used the Badlands Loop! All you need is a good road and an air conditioned car, and the lands are not so bad at all.

I'm putting up a link:

as well as a few photos because there is just so much to look at. The Prairie Home is interesting, and they have Prairie Dogs.

There is wildlife in there, but we only saw deer quite close up.

The best thing is the fascinating geology of the place. Lots of pretty rocks and vistas. Very colorful and crazy- looking, like the moon, or Antarctica.

We stopped everywhere, and walked all the little boardwalks, taking turns holding the dogs. It was a little overcast sometimes, but mostly sunny and clear. If you get up this way, make time for the Badlands Loop in the lands that are not so bad after all.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

(Hole in the) Wall

By the way, if you haven't already done so, go back and look at the pictures in the earier posts. You can enlarge them by clicking on them.

Also, I want to thank the folks who have commented. I have tried to answer you but Blogspot won't let me answer my own comments! If anyone knows how to overcome this, please leave a comment!

So we thought this leg would be just bloody awful: 300 miles due west in high winds and heat. Having lowered our expecations, it didn't turn out as badly as we had feared.

The AAA TripTik was marked "Rough" "Rough" "Rough" all the way across the state, and with the high winds on the rough roads and all the road work going on, we started thinking we ought to return east through North Dakota. Luckily, the really bad roads lasted less than 100 miles. The state quits being pretty about one third of the way across, and you have endlessly straight roads and flat, treeless countryside. But then, about two-thirds of the way over, it gets interesting again, because you reach the Badlands.

We will discuss why these lands are bad tomorrow, but for now you're going to hear all about Murdo and Wall, South Dakota. We're driving and driving and driving along this long straight road through basically featureless landscape, and after a while we get hungry. So we decide we'll get off at the next promising exit.

The next three exits are "No Services" and two more are nothing but gas stations with maybe a convenience store. Nah, not that hungry. Finally we see an exit coming up that guarantees "Dining" so we get off in Murdo. Probably Murdo was a person. I have't been interested enough yet to look. In Murdo, we found two "Dining" opportunities. One looked like an old-fashioned ice cream/burger joint so we went there. And just after Joyce went in to order, the middle and high schools let out for some sort of break and they all descended on this one place. This was the school district for an entire county, six grades, maybe 60 kids, total. Depresssing! Because we could leave! There is nothing in Murdo except this rather questionable car museum and several gas stations where you PAY INSIDE. It was very much like American Graffiti in terms of social development. One girl had an iPod. No one had a cell phone. Out of curiosity I tried mine and "No Service." Honestly, it was another place I was glad to leave. Once we got to Custer, the Western terminus of our trip, we actually found a tour brochure for Murdo advertising nine restaurants and seven hotels. Bite me. Maybe in 1955, and then again, maybe never.

So we drove on to Wall. All across the desert, I mean, plains, there are these never-ending signs advertising Wall Drug and other Wall "points of interest." So we thought it would be something like South of the Border in South Carolina, where you see signs for the place for 300 miles from any direction, and then, when you arrive, it's a super-enormous tacky-fest.

Wall is a tiny little tacky-fest. It's a block-long store selling "Western souvenirs" out the wazoo. Oh, sure, we bought some of the darned things. I had to have a back-scratcher. Joyce persisted in her never-ending quest for embroidered tee-shirts and refrigerator magnets. But we bought a lot less than we expected to be able to, because the stuff is pretty picked-over and tacky, although it IS cheap. And they have other "attractions" such as petrified cowpunchers you can pose with and a Western "art gallery" (think velvet paintings and thigs made out of twigs).

When we came out, we found a busload of German tourists laughing their asses off in the street, and we didn't blame them a bit.

Our hotel was so bad, it was hilarious. The pool looked like a swamp and smelled like a cesspool. We asked for some things we considered rather basic and they didn't have any: take-out menus, a candy machine, hangers, cream cheese at the continental breakfast. They had no hand lotion, but offered us a lot of shampoos. I think it was a family-run place and they were struggling. We didn't give them any grief because we had the place to ourselves for two days (apparently no one stays in Wall for two days) and they were very nice, though frequently apologetic. The room itself was enormous, and the place was again, a little piece of 1955 motor court.

Next time: Why badlands are bad.

Monday, May 18, 2009

On the Great Plains: Beauty and the Blast Furnace

There's going to be some overlap of yesterday's impressions with today's.

On our way north, out of Iowa, we saw our first wind farms. Joyce took tons of pictures. Lots more wind farms throughout the rest of yesterday's drive.

Many charming and well-kept farms, more and more beautiful countryside bursting into bloom.

So many flowers, mating (and apparently suicidal with lust as well) red-winged blackbirds, pheasants, geese and ducks in a hundred little blue ponds.

Turned left in Minnesota, which was a little dull and flat at first but then became almost as pretty as Iowa. Crossed the state line into South Dakota, and just couldn't believe how pretty it was! We didn't go far; just to Sioux Falls, where we had a two-day stop in puruit of Laura Ingalls Wilder and family.

Although we were freezing when we got up in the morning, within four hours of leaving Clear Lake: blast furnace! temperatures in the 90s! baked dogs! Okay, so that last one is a slight exaggeration, but it could happen if you weren't paying attention to the heat on the cement in the sun.

Drove north and west to De Smet, which the locals pronunce "duh-SMETT." This kind of thing drives me nuts. The correct pronunciation is "Dismay" as in the original name of the original French priest for whom it was named. Even the original settlers pronounced it "Dismay" and if you've read The Long Winter you can easily see why. Are Americans collectively such ignorant boobs that we have to have everything dumbed down for us? Can we not learn at least one more language that isn't a computer programming language? Can we stop expecting the whole world to conform to us? We are not the international cultural standard. Grow up, people. Open a book. Learn a thing or two from a source other than Entertainment Tonight.

Anyhow, because we like the Great Plains so much, it was no surprise that we enjoyed the Ingalls-Wilder homestead, and the town, too. One thing I learned is that all the pretty copses and groves weren't there when the Ingalls arrived. Almost every tree was planted by individual farmers or government programs. So it wasn't pretty then, or easy, or any romantic thing. Those PBS shows on frontier and pioneer life are pretty accurate. It was hard. We should have learned something from the native Americans who preceeded us, and left things as they were. The dogs loved the homestead, too, with all the animals and holes in the ground and interesting smells, but then, they are animals, and this land belonged to animals first.

On the return from De Smet, the weather turned really hot and windy again. It was really unbearable, and was another reason homesteding must have been so hard. We headed for the pool and didn't go out again until the sun was down. Next day: off to Wall, a 300-mile leg.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hotels and motels and restaurants and things

So I'm reading McCullough's biography of Harry Truman, and in it there's this joke meant to exemplify the typical small-town Missouri politician around the turn of the previous century. I think it's hilarious, and Joyce hates it.

This small-time politician wangles an invitation to a big East Coast political convention, which includes a formal banquet. So he sits at this table full of unfamiliar silverware, all dressed up, watching the others to see what to do. The waiter brings out celery, and he eats that. Next, the waiter brings out consomme, and like the people around him, the man from Missouri consumes that as well. The next course is a lobster, and the waiter places this in front of the man.

At this, the guest throws down his napkin and exclaims, "I ate your flower. I drank your dishwater. But I'll be God-damned if I'll eat your bug!" Okay, I just laughed out loud at this, again. Is it funny, or is it just me? Or is it the influence of too much Laura Ingalls Wilder?

Anyway, today we drove from Iowa, through Minnesota, and into South Dakota. It was a nice drive, and we visited a tiny roadside chapel in Luverne, and a little state park on the Minnesota prairie. The ranger told us there was nothing to see, but apparently he isn't looking anymore. If you are from Florida , there's plenty to look at and enjoy. So we made him take our money. When we left Clear Lake, it was blowing hard and freezing (to us). Wind chill was around 35 F. By the time we arrived in Sioux Falls, it was 83 F. We were finally able to get out of shoes and long pants.

But what I really want to talk about is accommodations. I'm not sure why, but not one hotel has managed to get it completely right so far. We stayed at one whose claim to fame was complete soundproofing. But they had their smoking and non-smoking r0oms all mixed up, and it stank. Several of the ones that claimed to have pools had empty, dirty or otherwise unavailable ones. Few have slow-closing hinges, so that when the clueless and inconsiderate guests let the doors go, they slam like cannon-fire. We don't seem to be able to teach manners anymore, so go ahead and stop the slamming mechanically. These hinges would not be available at all if someone had not already figured out that it is easier to fix doors than teach people. And it is easier to soundproof rooms than to ask guests to consider their neighbors.

Then there are the "free" as in, included, breakfasts. You either get plain bagels or something good. One place will have nothing but fruit and cereal; at the next, you can get sausage and biscuits. One will have hard-boiled eggs, another will have a broken toaster. We think each chain ought to at least have minimum standards, and whatever was available at 6 AM should be available at 9:45 (assuming breakfast is 6 - 10 AM). There should also always be protein option, not just a lot of different carbohydrates.

Then, the joy of beds. Marshmallow or firm? Loose sheets or fitted? The best has to be the LaQuinta effort to be European, with the blankets pulled up over sheets triple folded into some kind of strange origami. And would you like your pillows stuffed with Kleenex or whole raw potatoes? Not real sure what the decorative strips are all about on the bottom of the bed, but they are NOT much of a substitute for a comforter. Usually the dogs make a little nest out of them after they slide onto the floor. Probably not what the management had in mind.

Refrigerators come in all sizes, starting with none at all, running through breadbox to industrial washing machine. Some have freezers, some don't, some are caked with ice. I am baffled by the ones with tilted door shelves but nothing to hold items in. Every microwave is a new adventure, too.

And what is it with the postage-stamp bedside tables, one per room (that may sleep as many as four adults)? Our usual routine on arrival is to unplug the clock radio and stick it in a drawer, put the phone on the bottom shelf or on the floor, and remove all the little plastic advertising signs. This gives us enough room to put our glasses on the top when we shut off the lights.

Hmmm. I think I'll save restaurants for tomorrow.

Old Fort Des Moines

This museum and park was our primary reason for this stop. Joyce is a big WW II buff and I recently got this idea of writing a book about a woman joining the WACs to find her MIA brother, That's because my uncle was the MIA and my mother had wanted to be a WAC to end the war faster so he could get home. But her mother cried and said she couldn't stand to lose two children, so my mother didn't go. I started doing some research to see how it might have turned out had she gone anyway. My uncle died in the Death March on Bataan; she couldn't have done anything about it. But it still has the makings of an interesting story. So when Joyce said she wanted to go to Mt Rushmore, I routed us through Des Moines, as good a way to get there as any other. As luck would have it, we visited on the 35th anniversary of Joyce's commission as an Air Force officer. Isn't that peachy? She thinks so.

Here is the fort and museum:

It wasn't what I expected, which was some dusty bunch of wooden buildings. It's very green, as a lot of Iowa is right now, and the buildings are brick with big porches; very inviting. One building is the museum, and they have some memorials in the park as well. A lot of the old buildings are still standing, some used by the Reserves, the local zoo, and so on. Joyce was most impressed with the women's restroom, which is all marble and brass and oak. I bought a whole lot of their books and got a lot of ideas for mine. If you are ever in the neighborhood, drop in and have a look. It's a very well-kept secret. It is also, by the way, the first post on which black Army officers were trained and commissioned, to fight in WW I. So apparently Iowa is a safe place for social experiments, as we have just seen with their recognition of gay marriage.

We drove north to Clear Lake this morning to meet a friend I have known for some time through my royals group, but never met in person. Many people in my group have an Iowa connection, and again, it's right on the way to Mt Rushmore. Like everything else in Iowa, like the whole state, Clear Lake is a well-kept secret. It's a real gem of a little town with wonderful turn of the last century architecture, and we had a lifelong resident as a guide. What fun! Anyway, don't underestimate Iowa as a place to live or a place to visit. We have seldom seen such beautful countryside full of budding trees and bursting with flowers all around beautiful farms with varied architecture. The soil is so dark and rich-looking, it just makes you want to eat corn, or something green and healthy. Just one warning: I'm told winter sucks, so definitely come some other time. Unless you're a Buddy Holly fan; then you have to come in February.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Iowa: the 50th state

What, it isn't? You think it's Hawai'i? Well, maybe for some people, but for me, it's Iowa, which until yesterday, I'd never been in. Until this year, it was never on the way anywhere. In case you're curious, Joyce has about ten to go, but we'll knock off a bunch on this trip.

Here's what Iowa is like, so far: Missouri. Well, flatter, but green rolling hills all the same, and fresh air and breezes. Nice, normal people. Progressive laws. Too bad it's so cold in the winter. We drove straight up from Independence and stopped at a welcome center to take a picture of me in my 50th state. And there are a lot of Amish.

Not much later, we got to Des Moines, where the hotel has a nice indoor pool and spa.

Got up exhausted this morning, and it was raining, so we decided on a day off and went back to bed. Limited food choices forced us to eat Wendy's twice, but they have an excellent spicy chicken filet.

Tomorrow we'll visit the Old Fort Des Moines Army museum. Yes, I am writing a book. And I'll tell you all about that after our visit.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Truman Territory

Did I say we love Missouri? Well, not Branson, but everything else so far this trip. I remember some of it from when I used to visit relatives around Hannibal when I was a kid, but Joyce hadn't seen anything except St. Louis. (Ick) Except for those pesky tornados, the climate is mild almost all year, and they can and do grow anything. Right now as spring has just arrived, it's pretty spectacular. The countryside is filled with all these trees and bushes budding in a thousand shades of green on rolling hills and along scores of creeks and rivers.

Which is why Harry Truman was so proud of Missouri, and never wanted to live anywhere but Independence. You can't really understand all that unless you come here. Of course, Harry died in 1972 and a lot about Independence has changed since then. However, luckily, for the 1976 Bicentennial, the townspeople got the idea that preserving it would be a good thing, so they managed to snatch a lot of it away from progress and it looks very like it once did.

The city has of course sprawled out to the south, so it's like two separate places. Downtown and the Truman library and home are one part and then there's where modern life goes on.

The day we were there, the preserved downtown was pretty dead, except for knots of homeless people standing around the many churches. There's a tour just of the religious locations, and we skipped that. Apparently not a lot of interest in Truman at the moment, which is too bad. Lack of teaching history has cost people the pleasure of learning about Harry and the bitch he was married to. Anyway, we took the walking tour, went through their house, and did the library and museum, and came away liking him better and hating her worse. Bess was a mean-spirited old woman when she was twelve years old. If ever anyone needed Prozac, she did. She made him miserable for the 16 years he served as Senator, Vice President and President. She basically abandoned him. Fortunately Margaret loved Washington, and spent a lot of time with him. They were very close.

You should really see the house. You just park on the street and go in, eight at a time. They got back to it in 1953 and changed nothing since, and the Parks Service has kept it the same.

The library has a wonderful setting and is just beautiful. No one around but us to enjoy it.

Anyway, the whole place is as unpretentious as he was. Just not the sort of place you would associate with a leader of a major world power. To Harry, which is how everyone refers to him, it was just another job to be done to the best of his ability. That's why we're wild about him.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Yakov Smirnov and friends

What do you think of when you hear that name? Apparently we don't get out nearly enough, because we had thought he was funny. He writes a funny AARP column, and I had seen him many times on TV. However, apparently YS has made some serious changes to his act for the Branson crowd, or we are on drugs. Take your pick.

He's the only comedy act IN Branson, which was why we went. Also, it was raining. We went to Table Rock Lake State Park earlier for a hike with the kids, but it started raining on the way back to the hotel, so we went to see a show. We thought it would be more wordly and sophisticated than the rest of the Jesus-drivel being advertised. Every other subtitle is "God and Country" and we find that way too narrow-mindless.

Of couse the theatre was full of geezers, with us at the way younger end of the spectrum. There wasn't a child in the place, which I thought boded well. Even when a couple younger than we came in at the last minute, I didn't think anything was wrong. Well, he came out and started telling jokes, most of which we had heard in some form on other occasions. Every fifteen minutes or so, YS would disappear and a Russian dance troupe came out, and they, at least, did a good job. Whenever Smirnov came back, he was wearing something else.

There was a presentation about his citizenship and his patriotic art and the whole thing got schmaltzier by the minute. The woman next to me, along with many others, kept taking flash pictures even though we'd been asked not to. And the dance troupe came and went, and at one point we thought it was over, but no, it was just an intermission for shilling and autographs and pictures. For fun I took pictures of people taking pictures.

Then the show started up again, and he pretended he was President and answered pre-written questions from shills in the audience. Next was a long and confused ramble about married love involving only straight people and red, white and blue magnets. Then he started in with the hyper-patriotism again, and when he started crying, we left. The whole thing was both a waste and a learning experience. There wasn't much religion, but there wasn't much clarity of thought, either. On the whole, Branson is an intellectual wasteland stuck in a 1950s time-warp. We were really glad to move on come Tuesday morning.

I'm about a day and a half behind with this. Smirnov was Sunday. Monday Joyce was still fighting a sore throat and sinus probems from the smoke in the restaurants, so we didn't do anything except hang around the hotel. Went and sat in the hot tub and swam and that seemed to help. Got up and out early today so we could make a side trip to the Ingalls-Wilder museum near Springfield. It's a very pleasant spot, green and peaceful and apparently fertile, so we could se why they stopped traveling at last. They still traveled on vacations and visits but they never moved again.

That went well, and we drove on toward Independence in and out of rain. Spring is just barely here and the entire countryside is just beautiful. We haven't seen a spring in a long time, and we are really enjoying all the budding trees and new flowers. We arrived in Blue Spring in the early evening, and called a local sandwich joint who delivered our supper.

Next stop: Harry S Truman historical sites. We're just wild about Harry!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Eating in Branson

Has anyone ever done an anthropological study of a culture just by visiting its eating establishments? Because there have to be a few theses, dissertations and monographs in there someplace. We are learning a lot just by observing people in restaurants.

Take Saturday night. Please! But seriously, folks, we went to Applebee's, because we could walk there. And what luck! We arrived just before a whole busload of . . . Mennonites? Okay, I know that Mennonites have a much more modern philosophy than the Amish, but in Branson, a place known for entertainment? Of course, at that point, we had only been in Branson for half an hour, and had seen very little of it.

We entered with about eight Mennonites, and all sat down to wait for a table. Since there were only two of us, we were called first. But we did have a funny little encounter with them. They were all young adults. The men looked fairly normal. You couldn't have told them from average 21st century guys on the street. The women, however, do look different. For instance , they don't wear makeup, and that's sensible. They wear flat shoes, and that makes sense, too. But then they go and ruin it all by adding in the long prairie dresses and the little dixie cup hats. And here's another indication they're more "worldly" than the Amish: as soon as they all sat down, one woman jumped up again and announced she was headed to the restroom. At this, all the other women leaped up and ran off after her, causing all the men to laugh and comment. So I turned to them and said, "Why don't you have some fun with this? When they come back, you all jump off and run off to the men's room together!" They laughed at that, too, but I don't know if they did it because we got our table before the women came back.

During dinner, we were surounded by screaming brats evenly spaced around the restaurant. In among them were loud, apparently drunk geezers. Or maybe they were just off their meds, who knows? I'm allowed to say these things because I'm a geezer ON meds, so I ought to know.

Next morning, Joyce went to the "free" breakfast the motel provides, and this was Sunday morning. She said it was pretty quiet for a while, but at about 9:15, a whole crowd of people came in, all dressed up for church. Among them were a little girl and an older woman who might have been her grandmother. And Grandma said to the little girl, "You kin putcher BAH-bull rat cheer!" So Joyce, fearful of evangelism, got up and left. They were also playing Faux News on the TV in there, but Joyce had turned the volume all the way down while she was eating.

We guessed the group was headed for one of the local revivals all around town, or a church service for Mother's Day, or whatever. And here's a part I don't get: why carry a Bible to church? Don't churches HAVE Bibles? I can see carrying your Bible to someplace where there might not be one, like a whorehouse or a crack house. But Bibles are standard church equipment. They have the same ones in all the pews and Sunday schools so everyone can have the same one and be on the same page. Back down in Arkansas, we saw a bumper sticker : "If it ain't King James, it ain't Bible." Really? What did Jesus use, then? So even fundie churches must all have stacks of KJVs lying around. You can leave your own home.

Went out for Chinese that night. Once again, they had a smoking section, and as we all know, smoke can't read signs, so we had to get up and move. After two nights of restaurants with smoking (Applebee's, too) Joyce ended up with a sore throat so we stayed in all day, except to use the swimming pool. I got pictures; it's really nice.

From now on, if we get to a restaurant and there's smoking, we'll get ours to go. And by the way, if this is the hyper-religious capital of the Midwest, and smoking is a vice, why do they encourage it, especially in restaurants? I can't imagine these good Christian folks could be so hypocritical!!!!

Tomorrow: all about Yakov Smirnov. Hang on to your hats.

Ms. Toad's Never-Ending Wild Ride

Today (Saturday the 9th) we drove from Memphis to Branson, our longest leg yet, around 317 miles, or 117 miles longer than Joyce wishes to travel in one day, which she started telling me once a mile every mile past 200. Also, about the last 117 were over a narrow, winding, two lane road through the Boston Mountains of Arkansas. We passed through Toad Suck, Chigger Hollow and Booger Hollow (probably pronounced "Holler") and lived to record the events.

Picturesque but not recommended when you are transporting an extremely frantic and nervous person in the passenger seat. Of course, Joyce could have driven, in which case we might have arrived sometime Sunday, instead of late Saturday afternoon. It rained on and off all day, but there were a few spectacular views. It has just turned spring in the Ozarks, and it's chilly.

Now for Joyce's point of view. She spent Saturday riding with Maria Andretti, shifting her body to prevent the van from going over the cliffs around hairpin turns. Click on this picture to enlarge it and read the sign.

She is happy to take full credit for our arrival, without incident, in Branson. She believes she prevented numerous accidents. At the crest of the mountains, we stopped at a country store and Joyce bought a corn cob back scratcher for Lizzie's collection. Now she has one for the car and one for the room.

Arkansas was the only state so far, that I felt the need to unlock the gun from the glove compartment at rest stops. You really get the feeling that something is not quite right with many of these people. One man got out of a car and promptly told Joyce he wasn't doing too well because he had just taken a laxative and it was working. They look extremely unbalanced, and they drive in a singular manner that is characterized by parking suddenly just about anywhere and walking off, including in front of you while you are trying to exit a parking lot. Many of them are missing teeth and common items of apparel, and frequently, their brains. We were happy not to be spending the night.

However, that meant we would be spending the next several nights in Branson, blue hair capital of the Midwest. The national bird is an eagle killing something (anything!) , and the national pastime is praying and singing Gospel music, even in Chinese restaurants. We are forced to detach and just observe the local phenomena as cultural anthropologists would, because nothing here has anything to do with us.

However, that's enough for today, because it's time to go swimming in the beautiful indoor pool! Lots more on Branson and environs next time.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Fried Green Tomatoes: Overrated

You may well wonder why no personal pictures yet. Because uploading them, sorting them, and inserting them would be way too much like work. This trip is enough work already. Maybe if we get stuck indoors on a rainy day. So far we've spent all our rainy days driving.

But enough about logistics. This entry is all about lunch. In Mississippi. Our second special meal was in Robinsonville, at the Hollywood Cafe. We saw this on "Fried Food Heaven" on the Travel Channel, same show that had Dyer's Burgers. We drove back down into Mississippi from Memphis to find this unique alimentary experience.

This is it:

Our pictures look exactly the same, I swear to God. Nothing about this place ever changes, apparently.

Of course, we didn't eat inside, because we had the dogs along. I thought they could stay in their cages, in the van, with the back door and windows all open, under a tree. It was an overcast, breezy day in a tiny, nearly dead town in the middle of nowhere. But Joyce, ever concerned that everyone everywhere will all do the wrong thing at the exact same time, insisted we get takeout and eat it standing up in the alley behind the restaurant. This was all that saved the puppies from being let loose or shot by passing enraged casino goers returning broke from Tunica, escapees from federal prisons, local Klansmembers, and geeezers from the VA off their meds.

As you can see on their site, the big draw is the fried dill pickle. Actually, pickle slices. I hate pickles and we had never tried fried green tomatoes in all of our combined 121 years on this planet, so we ordered those, and fried chicken dinners, cheerfully served in the alley, by a waiter, on styrofoam. Fried green tomatoes are as slimy as okra, but not as hairy. So we ate only one each, which is how we knew not to eat any more. The chicken dinners, however, were excellent.

Then we drove back to Memphis, with several stops along the way to photograph weird signs representative of the local culture, and I promise these will be worth seeing when I get them up here.

Also filled the tank and bought fresh baby carrots and chocolate for the kids and us in West Memphis, which is the Black part of the metropolitan area. Every place we went, we were the only white people, and everyone stared at us, apparently thinking we were lost. No, just shopping, thanks. The only people who bother me here in the Deep South are white trash, because they're historically dangerous and violent. If we're in among minorities, we feel safe. After all, we're minorities ourselves, which most people, except maybe Sudanese cab drivers, seem to grasp the minute we open our mouths.

And that was our whole day, along with napping, reading and getting ready to drive through Arkansas to Branson. We'll write all about that tomorrow.