I am writing this entry the day after Day 4, of our epic, 29-day journey to Rediscover America. I have to admit, that I am finding it very difficult to go into “full tourist mode,” as the things in this world that make me cranky, continue to do so.
Mostly, it is this gnawing sense that we are way off course, and most of our “leadership” don’t have a clue how to get the ship back on course. But, more on that another time.
Day 4 in a nutshell…was simply a “whole lotta driving” to get mostly nowhere….which ironically, encapsulates my feelings about the current “State of the Inequonomy.”
Yes. I made that word up. But, I think you can understand its meaning. You would pronounce it, “In-E-Konomy” as in an Inequitable Economy. It is the kind of word you come up with when you have driven for 8 hours, eaten at a KFC, and then slept with one eye open in the “Great Deal” motel you got on Hotels.com. More on that later.
First…the Meat and Corn of Day 4.
On my master spreadsheet (my family knows how much I love spreadsheets), it just shows up as two city names, a distance, estimated gas costs, and the rest mostly blank. Under the “potential attractions” just one thing appears, “Corn Palace.”
It is roughly 533 miles from Rapid City, ND to Albert Lea, MN, if you take I-90 and don’t get off much. And the fact is, there aren’t a whole lot of reasons to get off.
The day started by having to go and buy some shoes at the sprawling outlet mall where the “Shoe Carnival” is located. I chose both by a Google search for “Rockport shoe outlet locations,” but also for its proximity to I-90. The term “strip mall” doesn’t do this place justice…as it is just one store after another, lined up, along one perpetual parking lot, that goes on for almost a mile. Insane.
The reason I had to buy some shoes, is that in my last minute packing haze, while trying to get everything we needed into the Highlander with enough space to still see out of the back window, I left the “shoe caddy” somewhere near the back door. I am hoping that it wasn’t out on the front porch, or the raccoons will get it. But, I had some dress shoes (for business meetings), two pairs of athletic shoes, and a pair of my boaters. All left behind. Thankfully, the most comfortable pair of shoes I own, has been on my feet since we left. You will see one of them at the bottom of my picture with “Corny” at the Corn Palace. No worries…a great deal on some fancy “Sketcher” slip-ons later…and we were off.
Once you leave the Badlands and start heading East on I-90, any semblance of “topography” disappears. It is flat. As in, “are you shitting me?” flat. Depending on where you are, the crops change…but the horizon does not. Wheat, corn (lots of corn), hay and all sorts of other grains, all roll by as Mark Maron blares with his appropriately named WTF podcast. Mile, after mile, after mile, after mile.
But there are surprises that come into view…new and old. Like this huge art installation of random modern art, that looked like some sort of “Salvadore Dali meets Stonehenge” in the middle of nowhere.
The only thing breaking up the first 3 hours, were about a hundred (I am not exaggerating) billboards for a place called “Wall Drugs.” It is “famous,” “historic,” “fun for the family,” and any number of other advertising superlatives that can fill 100 billboards. We had to go.
And by “go” I mean that it was the perfect place to stretch the legs and “dump” the Starbucks coffees we bought, waiting for Shoe Carnival to open a couple hundred miles and two podcasts back.
What can you say about Wall Drugs…except, Holyfreakinshirt!
This is another one of those places that has reinvented itself from a small family-owned drug store, into one of the biggest, most “anything for a buck” kind of place you can imagine (no, Larry, Daryl and Daryl don’t work here). There are no words to describe it all. It is huge, and ridiculous, and hilarious. Just like this picture of Deb on a Jackalope (they also had a huge animatronic T-Rex for the kids).
This picture is NOT photoshopped. She really rode the Jackalope!
Handmade ice cream cone in hand, we headed back onto I-90…for another 3 hours of super-flat, non-descript highway, and three more pod-casts, (after attempting a murder-mystery book on tape that was read distractingly horribly)…and Boom! We were here! The Corn Palace!!
I had heard about the Corn Palace for years. This was not my first time into this part of the country, as I once had a ton of radio clients with a group who owned 40+ stations in the heartland of South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota. I had traveled several times to midwest hubs like Mason City, Redwood Falls, Sioux City, Worthington, and Watertown…mostly in the dead of winter…trying not to freeze my manhood (shrinkage!!) off in sub-zero weather. You know you are in a cold place, when the drive-up window people at McDonalds are wearing parkas and furry hats with flaps. I’m not making that up…or the shrinkage part.
This was my first time to this part of the country when it wasn’t covered with snow…and the “Corn” was finally heading toward being as “high as an elephant’s eye.” The perfect time to go to the Corn Palace.
The Corn Palace is both Overwhelmingly Cool…and Underwhelmingly basic. Cool in theory and exterior…and, well…kind of hollow and non-descript on the inside. Kind of like GMO-raised corn and fructose corn syrup. On the outside, the entire place is festooned with murals…which change once a year by themes..out of corn and corn husks. Think of it as a permanent “Tournament of Roses Parade” float…only on a huge building that houses a large arena, where they play basketball, have concerts, sell myriad corn-related souvenirs, and basically herald the wonders of corn.
Most of the staff and patrons of the corn palace look to have spend most of their lives in a field, or on a tractor, or planning their next 4-H project. I’ll let the pictures tell the story, as well as my “selfie” with “Corny” (his full name is Cornelius, and he was a she…kind of like the Bruce Jenner of Corn…which is not a politically correct joke…but then, most of Mitchell is a long way away from getting Caitlin).
Me and my “buddy,” Corny!
Yes…this one should probably have been done with “hemp.” But, Willie was one of the originators of “Farm Aid,” so I guess they give him a pass on his other “counter-culture-crops.”
I was sincerely bummed to see that the other “big attraction” in Mitchell…right across the street from the Corn Palace, no less, was closed. Not sure if it is out of business, or we just hit it during a time when the “owners” (can you really own something that is dedicated to God?) were out of town, or mission, or something.
Valtiroty Shiloh’s Tabernacle, is a man’s concept of “spreading the truth of the Bible” to any and all who wish to learn more. Admission is free (just like the Corn Palace)), but this place would have rocked my world, far more than Corny. You need to take a look at the pictures on the link above to get it. But, man…other than “Holy Land Theme Park” in Orlando, FL, where you can see Christ crucified three times a day, this place just seemed like a “must see” for those looking for a little fun with their redemption.
There are a couple of themes that keep weaving through our trip so far; obsession and excess, and inequality, or being in a state of Inequonomy, as I mentioned before.
The vast majority of the people in this part of the country are either dirt poor, struggling to be dirt poor, or seemingly benefitting from giant corporate farm subsidies. I know that is a very simplistic view. But, it sure as hell feels that way. If you look very closely at any big city, you will see the same thing, with the same disparate inequality for most, just with a different crop, funded by the 1%ers that Bernie keeps taunting.
The motel we got on “hotels.com” was a last-minute get, on what was apperently a very busy travel weekend (lost of people going to the Corn Palace?” It is one of those places that mostly has “permenant residents” that were sprawled out on the stairwells, or chasing their kids at the “free indoor pool.” I have to admit…we tried to change to another hotel, and even considered driving another 5.5 hours at night, to reach our next destination in Libertyville, IL. But, in the end, fatigue, and a pounding thunderstorm, overcame our fears of having our car ransacked by the local “meth” population. Ah…the new economy of the midwest.
I woke up this morning, feeling ashamed.
“How am I going to handle going to Africa to visit Buyijja, if I am freaked out by a rundown hotel?”
The room was actually clean, as Deb pointed out. We’d stayed in worse in our life together. It had a mini-fridge and a microwave, which the far more “shmancy” Radison the night before did not. And, it was for one night.
Then I thought of our project in Africa…and how several of the teachers, who are actually working to change the lives of children who have no hope or prospects for the future, are actually living in a converted school room/office…with no running water, makeshift outdoor toilet, and mattresses on hard dirt floors. And, I am worried that the one of the motels, on our “bucket list trip of a lifetime” is a bit run down?
Man. Self reflection. Reality check.
So…maybe I need a little of the “obsession” that drives someone to build a “palace” out of corn, or a giant Bible playland…or dedicates themselves to carving a massive monument out of the side of a mountain…perhaps not living to see the fruition of his dream come true, but never quitting.
I need to find a passion in doing something that matters.
Perhaps…I need to remember that almost all of the people we see in these places are “doing the best that they can, with what they have been given,” and even the most lowly of the lowly in this nation of excess, is far better off than 99.9% of the people trying to live in Buyijja, Uganda, and about 75% of the rest of the world.
There is more to write here… lots more. But for now, I have to grab some coffee…take a shower…and pack up the Highlander to see if we can catch a glimpse of the SPAM museum, on our way to my Mom’s family home in Libertyville, IL.
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In Peace, Love and Hope… with a dose of tolerance and understanding