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Riverside to Rushmore to Riverside: the NumberSix/Jedi Cool 2009 travelogue


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#1
NumberSix

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In July 1999, two months after establishing a permanent addiction to the Internet, my best friend Jedi Cool and I made our very first overnight trip together to Rosemont, Illinois, to attend Wizard World Chicago, the largest comic book convention either of us landlocked hicks has ever seen. Every year since, we've found an excuse to escape town together and see other exotic American landscapes. Not even our 2004 marriage stopped us.

* 2000: the final Gateway Science Fiction Convention in St. Louis.
* 2001: our first trip to the Superman Celebration in Metropolis, IL
* 2002: Grand Rapids, MI, to meet the Emerald Angel family for the opening of Attack of the Clones
* 2003: Washington, DC
* 2004: Niagara Falls
* 2005: San Antonio, TX, with stopovers in Arkansas and Oklahoma
* 2006: Wisconsin and Minnesota
* 2007: Orlando, FL
* 2008: Virginia Beach

Thus did our 2009 vacation represent another Lego block added to our family legacy.

Normally I post these in the Cantina, but Studio Nightly is slow enough that I can safely commandeer it for our own self-aggrandizement.

Day 1: To Chicago, with Lace, OR The Night Chicago Ruled

The morning was spent dropping off the dog at the kennel, picking up the rental car and packing it up. After a couple of rough starts (I insisted on going back for an umbrella and some traveling CDs), we inched through a local McDonald's drive-thru for lunch and ate on the road. At first I kept the CDs in the back and settled for commercial radio throughout the Purdue University area, but repeated omens like Drivin-n-Cryin' and AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" kept trying to haunt the first leg of our trip, so I had to put that to a stop.

Several hours later, we arrived in the Chicago suburb where our hotel was and where we had arranged to pick up Lace from work. JC went inside and tried not to feel like an out-of-place tourist, but all went well. Lace directed us to her neck of the woods where she gave us a driving tour of Riverside, IL, and we got a chance to see her famous garden for ourselves, as seen in Better Homes & Gardens, June 2008.

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Lace's backyard, nurtured and cultivated into absolute vast prettiness.

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Then she taught us how to use the train. We don't have a real train in Indianapolis so this was a new, fun, scary thing for us. A real live train where we could sit -- or, in our case, stand -- that went fast and had bathrooms and everything. We owe special thanks to the conductors for failing to ask for our tickets that we hadn't bought. We chatted on the way to downtown Chicago and made the appropriate out-of-towner rubbernecked gawking as soon as we hit the pavement.

Lace already summarized that night in our Nightly.net Live! thread, so we defer to her on that:

Fri - Took the train downtown. Walked around the loop and admired much free outdoor art including The Calder "Flamingo"...


Alexander Calder's Flamingo sculpture, descendant of the Acklay:

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...the stock exchange, early skyscrapers, and the "Cloud Gate" (aka The Bean)...


Large reflective sculpture more impressive than any bean Boston cares to offer:

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All its surfaces are like funhouse mirrors reimagined as modern art. You can see me, JC, my son, and Lace reflected and rudely unflattered.

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The Bean, side view:

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Millennium Park is also equipped with the Crown Fountain, a pair of rotating digital photo-art towers with strategically installed horizontal geysers that simulate what it's like for a real Chicagoan to spit on you:

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...as well as the former home of Marshall Fields (for a bathroom break). We thought of you, Smitha [Andorus] -- there was an orchestra playing, FREE, at Millenium park, maybe the description will make sense to you: "Bernstein's celebration of urban waterfronts is paired with Shostakovich's monumental hymn to Russian forests in a tour-de-force of music evoking nature". Ummm...okay. Sounded like music to me! :)



Then we walked around downtown looking at sculptures and architecture as Lace played tour guide, identifying buildings, telling us about the city, pointing out the Dunkin Donuts franchises on every other corner. Chicago is a city of many corners -- some are unique, but many others repeat the same businesses over and over like a Hanna-Barbera background. We ate dinner at a place called Potbelly Sandwich Works, a sub shop with old-tyme rustic big-city ambience. I really liked it, but I was sad when we walked past two more just like it later that night.

After a quick dinner, the grand finale was a short subway ride back to the Sears Tower, where we watched the sun set from the 99th floor. You could see forever, and as the street lights go on it seems the city stretches to the horizon in all directions (it pretty much does). Even JC had fun, and she's not a fan of heights. Good evening for viewing, though, even if we forgot to jump as the elevator started its descent again.



Mandatory IT'S-REAL-BIG closeup of the Sears Tower.

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One of Chicago's independent tourism peddlers was in the right place and time to sell JC a few $1 postcards before entering. The line was short and we amused ourselves by a standee of President Obama that told us how many Obamas it would take to match the height of the Sears Tower. After entering the elevator, we watched a little monitor show us other world-famous buildings such as the Taj Mahal and the Eiffel Tower and letting us know when we reached their respective heights in our journey up (but failed to tell us when we'd passed Obama's own height). It distracted us from our ears filling up with pressure.

Lace pointed out buildings of interest from the top, such as the Chicago-Sun Times, Chicago Tribune and the building that appears in the opening credits of The Jeffersons. Some buildings featured rooftop greenery that, according to Lace, the city encouraged with tax incentives for the sake of saving the environment and HVAC costs and such.

One of many views from the top:

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By the time we returned to the Earth's surface, it was well after 9 p.m. We hung out in the nigh-deserted train station until a late-late train came to our rescue and returned us to Riverside. We parted ways with Lace for the time being and returned to our hotel up in Oak Brook's fancy business district, where somehow AAA had gotten us a steal of a deal. It was posh enough and fawning enough that I'd be curious to know what they did wrong to miss out on a fourth star.

To be continued!

#2
ShadowDog

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WOO HOO!!!!

That sculpture is amazing! I'm going to have to look up more on that.

Normally I post these in the Cantina, but Studio Nightly is slow enough that I can safely commandeer it for our own self-aggrandizement.


Of course the flip side to that is this could be like FOX putting a great show on Friday night since Friday night sucks ... resulting in NOONE watching this great show.

#3
NumberSix

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Trust me, JC has the same concern. My initial reasoning is that this year's trip was so pic-heavy that the Studio felt like a more proper fit.

For now I'm erring on the side of optimism. Adjustments can totally be made if need be.

(...he said in his stuffy, diplomatic Admin voice.)

#4
Sonny

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The ball reflection photo was my favorite but they were all interesting.

#5
Cashmere

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I love the small child staring at you in the bean reflection one. And how tons of people are just standing around staring at themselves.


Also, I totally want to go to Chicago now!

#6
Mara Jade Skywalker

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I'm reading this! :D

#7
Undome Telcontar

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:thumbsup:

iirc from past eavesdropping, your son is the one looking trying to maintain cool points by looking slightly bored and not the small thing that's gawking up at you? :P

#8
ShadowDog

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your son is the one looking trying to maintain cool points by looking slightly bored


Yeah, what IS that about teenagers, by the way? I had to put up with that **** during a stay at a friend's house a while back. It's like every teenager between 13-16 is a Dave Dark wannabe. :no:

#9
Undome Telcontar

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i think it's logical, just not very sensible- everyone knows that the coolest people are the ones with the most experiences, right? the guy who's been free diving in australia, base jumping in hong kong, trekking across the alps, owns a shoebox a mile in the air in new york, and goes on holiday to... say, milan, is gonna be way cooler than the guy who sits in his room, goes to the supermarket with his mum, and little else. and the more we experience, the less of a thrill we get from it each time, because it's not new and exiting. we can predict it to a certain extent, therefore we don't get as big a dopamine/adrenaline/whatever rush. SO, if everything's become so passé that you're bored by a crazy mirror in a new city, then you've experienced a hell of a lot, and are therefore ****ing awesome, right?

it only seems to happen in countries with a teenager culture, so i think it's a subconscious social thing rather than an ancestral behaviour. can you imagine mesolithic kids acting bored while their familes are gutted by boar, ambushed by lynx, starving during a dry season?

i think we get too much entertainment out of this behaviour to break it to them that everyone sees through their little game, but i suppose it doesn't matter because the only people it's intended for are stupid teenage girls. it's just a new, slightly bizarre, mating ritual.

at least, that's what i reckon.

#10
Sonny

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That makes sense actually. Never considered it that way.

#11
NumberSix

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A lot of that analysis is fairly dead-on (especially the part about how he sometimes takes really neat sights way too much for granted), but in his defense in that particular situation, we'd just walked a good several blocks from the train station, across downtown Chicago, through its massive rush-hour crowds, past several enticing restaurants, all the way to Millennium Park. He was a little worn out and a whole lot starving, and even under the best of physical conditions he hates standing still and waiting patiently while one of us stops to take several pictures of the same scene.

He thought the Bean was cool for about ten minutes, then he was ready to move on. It took us a little longer than that because its coolness was worth way more than ten minutes.

#12
Lucas1138

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Also in his defense, to some people; the Bean is only cool for about 10 minutes to some (myself included). :D

Some of my friends love it, I'm neither here nor there really.

Btw- I'm reading!

#13
NumberSix

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Good, 'cause you're IN the next one.

DAY 2: Museums and Muggles and Mighty Meaty Pizza, OR The People of Nightly.net vs. Kenny Chesney

The hotel restaurant had rewarded us with free coupons for their breakfast buffet, but their employees weren't motivated enough to open in time for us to eat in style and make our scheduled meet-up time with Lace. Instead, in the interest of revisiting old corporate ties, we ate at a flagship McDonald's down the street from our hotel, located a few miles from the McD's corporate HQ in Oak Brook, the next suburb over. It wasn't serving simulated bistro cuisine like the world's largest McD's did for us in Orlando in '07, but they tried to compensate with extra TVs.

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...Trained downtown again, and good thing: between Blues Fest closing streets and all the stuff going on downtown on a June Saturday (including a huge concert), traffic was a particular mess.


Chicago is the kind of major city where, if one mode of transportation is stricken down, two more take its place. This is when Lace introduced the three of us to a startling new concept: taxicabs.

Understand: we have taxis in Indianapolis, but no one uses them except airport tourists and 3 a.m. drunkards. Back home in Indy you have to call the cab company and ask them to send one near you. It's cheaper and more practical to rent a car, or just depend on the hospitality of your local contacts. Chicago, on the other hand, is one of those real cities As Seen On TV. They don't have nearly enough parking for all its tourists to clog up the place with rentals, so their infrastructure has progressed to the point where you can actually hail a cab. And they stop. And they take you where you ask, though somtimes with an added detour just for the ambience.

Even on an early rainy Saturday morning, Lace found us a cab and we added a new experience to our repertoire. Feel free to sneer at us hicks, but we'd just never had a reason to use one before. In our emboldened orange chariot, we meandered around town, detoured through the spookity Wacker Drive tunnels that served as the backdrop for the big nighttime vehicular EXPLOSION sequence in The Dark Knight (you can bet I was enthralled!), and at some point reached our first indoor attraction...

We hit the Field Museum of Natural History in the morning before it got busy and said "hi" to Sue the T-rex. She's pretty awesome, with teeth the size of arm bones.


The Children's Museum of Indianapolis had hosted Sue a few years ago, and we were itching to see her in her natural habitat, the Field Museum lobby, along with her everyday museum-mates.

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We saw a LOT of diverse stuff: everything from 3-story totem poles to giant meteorites to intricate jade carvings to ancient gold jewelery to South Pacific tribal masks (and a real outrigger canoe!) to fossils, skulls, and dead bugs.

Examples included this display of ancient bracelets culled from anthropological expeditions to assorted foreign cultures around the globe:

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The women folk skipped away to go window-shop other, girlier exhibits -- more jewelry, South Pacific things, learning opportunities involving dresses, things like that. Meanwhile, the boy and I forged our own trail toward the dinosaur exhibit, where we saw displays of creatures with made-up gobbledygook names like "chondrichthyan" and "placoderm". And did you know that "parasaurolophus" is pronounced with the accent on the ROL? We did not know that.

Fossils ahoy!

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Fossil army lines up for inspection. They all passed.

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Discomfiting baby-mummy display.

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We rendezvoused in the lobby around noon and ate lunch in the Museum's super-sized gourmet-sub cafe. From there we had intended to take the bus to the Museum of Science and Industry, but country-music boy-toy Kenny Chesney was scheduled to perform a concert later that day to hundreds of billions of Chicagoans. Thanks to his astounding popularity among the sophisticated big-city folk, a bus that was crucial to our itinerary had been rerouted to places unknown. We never would've even known if some helpful city employee hadn't been tasked with taping 8½-x-11 paper notices on all the bus stops, which the day's sporadic rainfall hadn't quite dissolved all the way yet.

JC and I were distressed because the IndyGo buses back home are never rerouted. Their schedule differs on weekends and holidays, but it's all set in stone in their schedule pamphlets. They may run late more often than not, but their paths are immutable. Like cabs, rerouted buses were also a new concept to us. Even worse, we had nonrefundable timed tickets for our next stop.

Once again the day was saved...thanks to a cab! Some nice eastern-European college-age girl was nice enough to stop for us, take us down the coast of Lake Michigan and probably through four or five more detours, and dropped us off at the Museum of Science and Industry with one or two minutes to spare. She was more expensive than the bus, but our alternatives were nil. Nightly's own Lucas1138 had reached the MSI an hour before we did, but he couldn't have possibly picked us up and returned to the MSI in time, thanks to all the traffic logjams caused by the Five-Percent Nation of Kenny Chesney.

Once we passed through the lengthy Will Call serpentine line and secured our entrance, we met Lucas1138 at the top of the escalators and joined the line for the marvelous magical Harry Potter exhibit. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed, so we cannot regale you with the Yule Ball food or snacks from Honeydukes or any of the other incredibly-cool props and costumes they had. We can tell you that the tour begain with the Sorting Hat distributing a few kids into their destined Hogwarts houses. With the kind of luck that eludes even the greatest poker players, every last kid was directed to Gryffindor. What were the odds? Meanwhile, somewhere in space-time, Helga Hufflepuff wept.

There was Lockhart's portrait and prop "nonfiction" books, Professor Umbridge's collection of pretty-kitty-based crap, the actual Hufflepuff robe and Quidditch uniform worn by America's heartthrob Robert Pattinson in Goblet of Fire, and an interactive display where you could uproot an artificial mandrake and listen to its obnoxious shrieking.

It was REALLY fun to have other geeks to "ooh!" and "ahh!" with and we were all amazed at how much of it was the ACTUAL stuff used. Harry's glasses, everyone's outfits (casual, school, Quiddich, Ballgowns), the props and the sets and the wands and the Marauder's map and the beds and the pictures in the hallways -- oh, and the decrees! And the candy shop candy, and some of the food! And Dobby! And Hagrid's giant-sized clothes. And a dragon head! K...I'll stop now. But it was fun, as was the gift shop, if overpriced. $399 for a Nimbus2000, anyone? (The Firebolt was $499, go figure!)


I came away with an official licensed Harry Potter Exhibit acceptably priced extra-large coffee mug, so I was fine. The museum's basic gift shop didn't have much more noteworthy beyond a defecation collection kit for scatologists-in-training.

Then we hit the Museum of Science and Industry, but we were pretty much dead by then...eyes glazed and limping with fatigue. We did hit the Innovation Expo and saw some neat stuff, robots you can talk to, vertical farming, shadow-driven computers --and a coffee table where you move the coasters around to make different music that was really cool and everyone will want as soon as the price comes down.


The "World of Tomorrow" exhibit introduced some new ideas to the budding futurists of today. The only ones I wrote down were the Laws of Peter Diamandis, private-spaceflight benefactor, and The Seven Deadly Things that must be solved in order to cure the aging process according to Dr. Aubrey DeGrey, certified Alan Moore lookalike. There was a promising computer display labeled "Forward to the Future" that was malfunctioning due to the Windows of today.

Also the Space Exploration room, where we got claustrophobia peering into a Mercury splashdown capsule; didn't get a chance to land the Space Shuttle (the simulator was mobbed by kids) and watched a video near an Apollo lunar landing module about all the near-catastrophes that occured during the first moon landing, and how close it came to being a disaster. We also learned way more than we needed to know about toileting issues in space, trust me. Oh, and Six's son drove a small remote Mars lander around a replica planet...and then we could stand no more.


I noticed in their spaceflight chronology display that the Space Shuttle timeline was labeled "1981-2010", which read less like a preview of flights to come and more like a death sentence. Beyond that...well, we've seen space stuff before, and all the other MSI exhibits were, like, waaaaaay over in other rooms. We decided we'd seen our money's worth and retreated.

Lucas, thankfully coherent, chauffered us all to Giordano's for pizza afterwards, where carboloading and caffine revived us. We ate fantasic pizza, toasted NN's 10th anniversary, and in the true spirit of the Cantina discussed all of you who didn't show up. Oh, wait, I mean, we talked all that geek stuff that the rest of the world doesn't quite understand sometimes, yeah, that's it: Star Wars, EU books, Celebration conventions, Harry Potter, Sci-Fi movies, Explaining Internet Friends to the Clueless, and much of what we spend our posting time posting about, actually. Except like, in person. Between the food and the company, it was a great time.


...all of this accomplished no thanks to his GPS, which I suspect was trying, for ulterior motives unknown to us, to misdirect us to Uganda. But common sense prevailed, and a grand time was had by all:

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Giordano's may be a chain eatery, but I don't understand why there aren't more of them dotting the globe. Sinfully delectable deep-dish goods.

From there, 'twas a quick drive to drop Lace off, take turns using the bathroom, meet her precious dogs, and pick up our vehicle for the drive back to the hotel. Lucas was on his own from there to retrace his steps out of Riverside, just him and his possessed GPS. And we never saw him again. :no:

We wish we could've spent more time in Chicago, but we weren't sure whether or not Lace's employer would allow us to keep her as tour guide for longer and we weren't about to try navigating the city without her. Extra-special thanks to Lace here for making our Chicago visit far less scary than it could've been. Even now we'd be wandering somewhere around Aurora at the mercies of Wayne Campbell and Garth if she hadn't been there to direct and conduct.

To be continued!

#14
ghurka

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What a beautiful garden! Thanks for sharing. Beautiful stuff.

#15
Ms. Spam

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I love Chicago. There's something great about a town that still has two baseball teams, musicals, shopping, history, art and music.

Your descriptions are making me so want to go back and visit again.

#16
Cashmere

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Looks like a good time! I'm so jealous that you got to see the Harry Potter exhibit, not as much so about watching TV in McDonald's.


I hope you also visited all of the locations described in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files books. I know my next (okay, well, first) visit to Chicago will be spent tracing his steps in all 11 books.

#17
NumberSix

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I bought a Sci-Fi Book Club collection of the first three books (thanks to Nightly recommendations!), but it's still on my massive unread-book pile. I didn't know it was set in Chicago. Might have to upgrade its status on the waiting list. :thumbsup:

#18
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I hope you also visited all of the locations described in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files books. I know my next (okay, well, first) visit to Chicago will be spent tracing his steps in all 11 books.


What a great idea! I think I'll do the same thing. :drool: Those books are ****ing awesome.

#19
Destiny Skywalker

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1. I LOVE Lace's garden. I will be in Chicago in May and possibly August. Tour plz.

2. I don't remember the Oak Brook McDonald's looking like THAT! Then again, it's been about 14 years since I've been there.

3. Love the Field Museum! Normally the MSI doesn't do much for me (go figure!), but I'm way jealous of that Harry Potter exhibit. Did the replica Firebolt go faster than the Nimbus? ;)

4. Giordano's = delish. When a bridesmaid planned my Chicago edition of The Bachelorette Party, we totally got Giordano's. And pictures with the poor, unsuspecting pizza boy who I think would have rather stayed than go back to work. Haha!

Glad you guys enjoyed my hometown! I might get to go back twice next year, and I can't wait. The Field Museum is on my list of places to take my husband, since he's never been.

#20
NumberSix

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Did the replica Firebolt go faster than the Nimbus? ;)


The exhibit was full of dumb exclusive rules like "No photography" and "Don't touch anything really fun!"

* * * * *

Day 3: The Mills in the Hills and the Walls in the Falls, OR How Green Was My Roadside

This was scheduled to be our longest driving day, so we had breakfast early. Fortunately, we were able to avail ourselves of our hotel breakfast buffet coupons this time. We packed up and headed toward Sioux Falls, SD, following the same stretch of I-90 that we took in our 2006 vacation. We returned briefly to Wisconsin Dells for gas, but otherwise didn't hang around Wisconsin long.

THIS! IS!

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...not our stop. Last interesting sight in the long, lower, unremarkable half of Wisconsin before entering the long, lower half of Minnesota. We stopped in St. Charles for lunch, only to be confounded by the limited choices: either my old nemesis Subway, or one of the three local cafes that were all closed Sundays. For want of a lockpick, Subway won.

We couldn't help staring at all the windmill farms along I-90 in Minnesota.

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I understand we now have these in distant agricentric parts of Indiana, but we haven't seen them for ourselves. Some time after our vacation, The Indianapolis Star published an article about the health problems and side effects caused by these windmills, including but not limited to balance problems, nausea, headaches, irritating noise (the bane of many a countryside dweller), and a reverse strobe-light effect from their looming, rotating shadows. That's all on top of allegations that they don't operate at capacity most of the time, thus making their energy-saving impact almost negligible. (This article alludes to the original, which now requires a fee to access.) But they were big and weird and had spikes on them and we snapped away.

Passing once again through Austin, home of the Spam Museum, we cruised on by and stopped instead in the town of Blue Earth, home of a Jolly Green Giant statue. JC is posing below upon its mighty altar, located behind a Dairy Queen and next door to an amateur rodeo.

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A cardboard Sprout spooks crows and tourists away from a nearby garden. (You can see the rodeo entrants' trailers at upper right.)

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Jolly Green Illegitimate Offspring at the gas station down the street offers pizza and beer to underage customers.

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SEE FREE JOLLY GREEN GIANT UPSKIRT PICS @ WWW.NIGHTLY-ROADSIDE-PORN.COM

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Since it was a hot summer day and Dairy Queen was jus right there, we treated ourselves despite the long afternoon line that kept us waiting and unfed for twenty minutes before our turn. Nice to know the service at Dairy Queen is just as bad elsewhere as it is at home.

Years later that same day, we exited Minnesota, entered South Dakota, and reached Sioux Falls. We completed several laps around the spot where the Internet swore our hotel should be, only to find it lying in the center of a road construction maze. We dumped our stuff in our room and headed out again for supper a couple miles south at the Pizza Ranch. We had planned this meal months in advance as soon as our vacation research uncovered it, because "pizza" and "ranch" sounded like the setting for an irresistible cheap spaghetti western. We were close -- it's a cowboy-themed buffet chain that kept its vittles a-roastin' and constantly replenished. It reminded me of the un-themed CiCi's Pizza buffets back home, only with more wood paneling, one or two quasi-eclectic toppings (spinach! hot sauce!), and no resemblance to Giordano's, thus avoiding the threat of meal repetition.

Back at the hotel, we enjoyed yet another first for our family: our hotel had a built-in indoor water park, the use of which was absolutely free with our stay. Indianapolis has such a hotel, too, albeit at extravagant prices that discourage us from trying it. AAA nabbed us a good deal on this reservation, so at last it was our turn for carpe diem. The setup here was modest but better than nothing -- two 20-foot-tall slides, one average hotel pool, one typical hot tub set at soup-cooking temperature (I've never understood the appeal of self-boiling), one smaller pool set up with a water basketball net and a half-dozen different balls, and a pirate-ship play-area for the kiddies. We stayed until closing and had most of the area to ourselves. While JC took turns winning against herself at water basketball, my son and I had fun goofing around the kiddie pirate ship. No meddlesome poolside security ruined all that fun despite our flagrant violation of the posted age limits...though we garnered some perplexed glares from the single minglers trying to engage in dignified adult leisure at the hotel bar next to us. The place also had a casino in the basement, so those lonely winos had relocation options if my manly shirtless frolicking made them feel uncomfortable, inadequate, or hot 'n' bothered.

For a way to chill out after a nine-hour drive, this was two thumbs-up.

To be continued!

#21
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SEE FREE JOLLY GREEN GIANT UPSKIRT PICS @ WWW.NIGHTLY-ROADSIDE-PORN.COM

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WTF! THIS IS A PG FORUM, SIXER!

#22
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Okay, that's just nasty.

#23
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*changes desktop wallpaper*

#24
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:lol:

Just going to throw in my commentary on what a pleasure it was to meet Six, JC, and Lace (and little Six of course). It was well worth my 7 hours in the car that day alone to drive up to Chicago and back again. So great to finally meet people I've felt like I've "known" for at least a few years now. I hope we can all get together again some time. Along with the rest of you bums who didn't show! ;)

#25
NumberSix

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Day 4, Part 1: MITCHELL! or, All the Way from Indiana Just to See More Corn

Since Sioux Falls was not our final South Dakota destination, we prepared to leave the next morning. Breakfast was at the Original Pancake House, which we'd scouted the night before when we ate at its next-door neighbor, the Pizza Ranch. The House foyer is guarded by the demon offspring of Mrs. Butterworth:

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I ordered an Irish Omelet; my son had chocolate chocolate-chip pancakes; JC settled for mild-mannered regular pancakes. My son couldn't believe their sweetener selection included packets of real sugar cane, got carried away and dumped several at once into his iced tea. He learned a hard lesson about the difference between REAL sugar and the weaksauce processed analog America is forced to endure today. The waitress was gracious enough to bring him a new iced tea in a to-go cup. Just before we got in the car, JC had to run back inside to return the teaspoon he accidentally left in his cup.

Fortunately, Monday only needed five hours for driving. Our first stop was a mere hour away in the town of Mitchell, at their famous Corn Palace:

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For those who visit their local library or Internets to read more about South Dakota, the Corn Palace is an early search result once you bypass the monuments and Native American reservations. The words "corn" and "palace" share next to nothing in common, but Mitchell wields the power of synergy to fuse the two simple yet incongruous concepts into a bizarre performance-art piece and creative small-town moneymaker. It's a large building decorated with murals made entirely from corn. The corn is refreshed and replaced regularly; the mural designs change every year. It was free. We weren't about to turn it down.

Inside the Corn Palace is a large auditorium housing an extensive gift shop, above which hang murals from years past. If you squint, you can see the seams between the three separate photos that comprise this shot, brought to you by Canon PhotoStitch, a fun and wonderful toy.

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The Corn Palace reveals its secret ingredients: corn artfully bred in all the colors of the rainbow.

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Across the street from the Corn Palace are the remains of two failed attractions, up for sale for anyone with an enterprising spirit or a Medieval Times franchisee license.

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Also across the street is Cornelius, the quadriplegic Corn Palace mascot.

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Cut-rate roadside tourism is all the rage all over town. Why a buffalo? Well, why NOT a buffalo.

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Mitchell also offers this totem pole and random jackalope as a sign of good will toward Corn Palace tourists.

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This wouldn't be the last jackalope South Dakota had to offer.

To be continued!