We awoke in the middle of the night to the massive rumbles of thunder and the brilliant and continual flashes of lightning. The wind rattled our window panes, and the storms violence continued for quite a while and after what felt like hours finally began to wane. We fell back asleep to the rhythmic rain, and hoped it would stop by our departure in the morning. Rolling out of bed at a reasonable time, we packed up our bins and drove on to the Dows Depot Welcome Center. Built in 1896, it operated as a working depot until 1980. Passengers rode the trains to nearby towns, and many commercial products such as poultry, farm products, and coal were shipped by rail. The Dows Historical Society raised enough money to purchase and restore the depot in 1988, and to our chagrin, no one was there… but the door was open. There were no sign, no cars, nothing - simply an open door. So, we looked around, and left $0.41 on the counter for a single postcard, as well as a note, notifying whomever may show up afterwards of our purchase. Signed the guest book, and headed across the street in to the museum they had, assuming there may be a person there. Nope. Still nobody. We admired the old machinery that was used in times before us, and then went on our way towards Austin, Minnesota.
Why Austin Minnesota? Well, for SPAM of course! In Minnesota, the wonderful people at the SPAM company opted to take a commercial space and fill it to the rafters with the rich history of their pork product. Honestly, I had no idea how influential SPAM was during times of war. The company sent innumerable cans to the soldiers to feed them while they fought. (There were many letters from soldiers both thanking them for their contribution and swearing heartily that they would never have it again.) Truthfully the museum itself was a spectacle, countless displays about the effects the company had on the modern world, as well as interactive learning displays where you could find out more about different countries and their use of the proliferate pork product. The most interesting thing that we learned about the company was their dedication to the rejuvenation of a town. Previously, the museum was located further away from central town, closer to the highway – but the town was dying. Travelers would come to visit the museum, and then continue their journey down the road. Recognizing this, SPAM opted to move their facility into a larger space in the center of town. They also decided that not reopening the restaurant that had been inside the museum prior was the best way of encouraging patrons to frequent the local fare; thus pumping more money into the town. SPAM even made the admission to the museum free, so that everyone would be able to enjoy the pleasantries of the plentiful pork product.
After purchasing a mixed flavor case to bring home as souvenirs (you’re welcome Paramold!!!), we decided to stick around for some food. Conveniently, there was a great little restaurant across the street named Piggy Blues BBQ. It was covered in funny posters and served great food. We decided after eating that we weren’t entirely ready to get back in the car, so we went a few window fronts down to a coffee house. We did what any set of New Yorker's with a bit of free time do, and we utilized the free WiFi to do some work. It was a welcome gift to be sitting still while writing for once! Legs fully stretched and mochas fully enjoyed, we climbed back in Hefe and drove through to my new favorite town… SPARTAAAAA! Wisconsin.
Certainly, a touch less dramatic than it’s Grecian counterpart, but still very fun to scream while pretending to kick someone in a hole. Or at least that’s what I told the counter lady when she asked why the hell New Yorker's were in Wisconsin buying a postcard, and one of our more common dinners - mixed nuts and a bottle of wine. After perplexed looks and payment, we set about converting Hefe into night mode, much to the interest of the townsfolk. We made our home for the evening in the friendly neighborhood Walmart parking lot, and we closed the curtains on another day.
Morning greeted us with sunshine, and we were grateful for it. We started our day as every person should, by saying hello to a statue of a man on a massive bicycle. Duh. His name is Bicycle Ben. I’m not entirely sure why he’s there, but he seemed a happy fellow, so we decided to stop.
From this statue, we drove to our next oddity; a statue of a pink elephant with hipster glasses parked outside a gas station in the middle of nowhere. (According to Joe’s Aunt Linda, this pink elephant has a brother who is in Tennessee.) The gas station I should mention, sells freshly made cheese curds… because Wisconsin, that’s why (pay attention Idaho!!!!). After posing with the pachyderm, purchasing freshly packaged curds, and filling Hefe’s tank, we marched on down the road to our next tourist attraction – Clock Shadow Creamery.
Clock Shadow Creamery is a self-described “Urban Cheese Factory” that specializes in small batch cheese making. It’s a small-ish factory that makes all their cheese in one room. While we didn’t see any cheese being made that day due to their schedule, we were able to ask all the questions we wanted, and most importantly, try all the fresh cheese we wanted! Curiosity satiated we decided that while we were cheesed out, we were still hungry for real food. So we looked to my Find Me Gluten Free app and found, within walking distance, an awesome tapas place called La Merenda (Guess who got to try an empanada!!!!). Rejuvenated from an incredible meal, we got back in the car and made our way towards Chicago.
Normally heading to a city makes finding a place to sleep a little easier. More people, usually means more places to sleep. Up until this point we could stay in local Walmart's if there was no local campground, but heading into Chicago complicated matters a bit more. What we were realizing through our travels is that mega cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago all have a sad common denominator; homeless populations. Chicago Walmart's in their perpetual struggle to battle this continual social issue had placed a ban on vehicles being able to stay overnight in the parking lots. This matter was further complicated by the concrete nature of Chicago, there were no campgrounds or one night RV parks. What’s a couple to do?
Find any available local motel that we can afford and hope for the best. That’s exactly what happened. We trudged through horrific rush hour traffic, regretting every moment of heading towards a city at the end of a day. Stressed from being lost, hungry from finding no suitable food, tired from being on the road, we cracked open a bottle of wine, cranked the air conditioning, and showered like we would drown. Officially famished, we elected to be brave and wander the streets outside our motel. We found a little bodega around the corner that suited our purposes, and Joe being extremely sociable managed to strike up a conversation about Tool with the bodega clerk. We walked around the exceptionally depressed ghetto area our motel was situated in, and did our best to enjoy the sunset stroll and the company of one another.