02 September 2007

Greetings from the land of han(d) and cock

Well, I'm on "vacation," spending a few days with some friends in Minnesota who used to be my friends in Madison and then my friends in Milwaukee. They've bought a house here, so I think this time they plan to stay for a while. I confess that I made a small but crucial error when I bought my tickets for the Empire Builder: I have the usual asshole Chicagoan notion that the world ends at the Twin Cities and doesn't start again until you get to the west coast, so I never bothered to check their exact location on Google Maps, and when they asked me when I was going to fly there so I could visit them, I said well why fly when I can take the train? So I bought my round-trip tix to and from Minneapolis-St. Paul without giving it a second thought, then only a few days ago learned that Hancock is actually a good three hours away, much closer to another couple of stations farther down the line. No matter, they said, it's a pain in the ass either way, so don't worry about it.

The train ride was interesting--dare I say enjoyable? I had stayed up all night to pack/guarantee that I would not oversleep and thus planned to nap on the train. Hahahahahahaha! Don't I always get stuck in the car with all the shrieking kids? So I gave up at Wisconsin Dells and just hung out in the lounge car for a few hours with all the railroad enthusiasts three times my age listening to the radios they had tuned to the channel used by the dispatcher. And thus I learned that the Empire Builder travels through the only operational railroad tunnel in the state of Wisconsin, which I found dark and unexciting but did manage to snap a picture of on my return trip:

I learned all sorts of other interesting factoids as we raced through the land of the Elroy-Sparta State Trail, for some distance right next to it. And now you know the real reason why I wanted to take the train. I must have been staring at it with an obvious look of longing on my face because one of the gentlemen asked if I bicycled. Why yes, yes I do. No, I've never ridden on that trail but I've always wanted to. It was then that I noticed he was wearing a jersey for some bike club in Wisconsin. But I inadvertantly gave a really huge yawn (did I mention I'd pulled an all-nighter?), so he gathered that I wasn't interested in chatting with him. It didn't occur to me to apologize for any rudeness, ass-tired as I was. I feel bad about it.

The Mississippi River crossing was uneventful. What I saw of Minneapolis-St. Paul was gorgeous. Many, many bridges. Still intact.

It's beautiful country here in rural western Minnesota. The unrelenting wind of the Great Plains sweeps across the rolling hills of corn and sometimes soybeans, keeping the skies a perfect shade of late-summer blue. It's easy to imagine what the prairie might have looked like long ago; indeed you see the word "prairie" everywhere in the curiously enlightened town of Morris (see Pharyngula) about 20 minutes away by my friends' newish and extremely fuel-efficient VW. It's easy for an Illinoisan like me to chalk that up to Morris being a "college town" (see University of Minnesota Morris), but the truth, as explained to me, is that in an area dominated by agriculture the people are more immediately aware of the need not to treat the environment like shit. So there's a windmill on the campus and all the farmers grow organic produce for the local market because hey, all those chemicals are expensive anyway. If you're not on a factory farm somewhere in southern California selling stuff to superdupermarkets all across the country, there's really no point in spending all that money.

My friend grew up on a farm near Mendota (see Sweet Corn Festival), so he has firsthand knowledge of these things (and I'd trust him over some bleeding-heart city slicker who's never milked a cow--guilty!--any day). He finds my newfound interest in corn rather amusing. But as I said earlier, I hardly ever see any. I'm the fascinated outside observer of this strange and completely different world here in the rest of the midwest.

There are bike route signs everywhere, which is most heartening. Minnesota is a happily enlightened state with regard to bicycling, as evidenced by their Share the Road campaign. (See Bike Safely to Work Week.) So naturally I'm really missing my bike this weekend, and my friends don't have a spare one that I could borrow. [Insert frowny face here.] And in a town of 700 people in the middle of nowhere it's a little difficult to find one. I really need to get a folding bike, don't I.

In other news, this. Oh, what a night. Conspiracy theory, anyone?

Happy Labor Day.

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