Friday, 29 June 2007

It's time once again: I'm on a road trip, riding along in a car as others drive, leaving me time to write, take photos, and keep a historical record of the journey. This year, though, things are a bit different. It all started with a call a few months ago from my younger brother Gus. Gus is the Equipment Director of the New York Jets, he's a year and a half younger than I, and he lives for sports and comics. Although similar in certain ways, we're very different in even more, as you'll learn over the next several days. Cue flashback music: wheedle deedle wheedle deedle ...

Gus: Gus want to go on trip!

Scott: Oh, really? That sounds like a capital idea. Where do you wish to go, Gus?

Gus: Gus want to drive north! Gus want to see giant rock faces!

Scott: Hmmm ... giant rock fa... oh! You intend to visit Mount Rushmore, do you?

Gus (clapping hands and giggling gleefully): Yes! Yes! Gus want to see Rush ... more! Gus going to drive to Rush ... more!

Scott: Well, I'd hate to see you drive alone through such desolate terrain. Would you like a traveling companion, my good man?

Gus: That OK with Gus! Makes Gus happy! Go together to Rush ... more!

As we talked over the trip the next few months, we decided to expand it. Our plan now is to drive from Kansas City, MO to South Dakota, then to Montana, then to Wyoming, then through Nebraska and back to Marshall, MO, our home town.

The plan was for me to leave St. Louis on Thursday night after my Wash U class finished at 8:45 pm and drive to Marshall, about 3 hours west. After a night's rest, I would get up and drive to the Kansas City airport to pick up Gus, whose plane would arrive at 9:15 am. We would pick up the rental car, deposit my van into long-term parking, and head off for a 10 hour drive to Wall, South Dakota.

This will in no way surprise anyone who's known me for longer than 10 minutes, but I was most definitely NOT ready to leave the Lou at 9 pm. In fact, by the time I finally finished packing (no, I wasn't packed - I'm a guy, and we don't pack until the last possible moment), stopped by the grocery store to fill the cooler with ice and food and drinks for the road, and stopped off at all the places I had to stop by before I could leave town for a week and a half, it was midnight, and I was droopy of eye and cloudy of mind.

The drive was no fun. Before I left, I drank a huge mug of fresh coffee, which definitely helped, and I listened to hours of podcasts, which also helped, but I had to drive the last hour through incessant, pounding rain, which just sucked. I arrived at my Mom's house in Marshall at 3 am, and I was asleep in bed by 3:10, out cold.

1 ... 2 ... 3 ... 4 ... wake up! The alarm went off at 7 am, and I shambled out of bed, somehow made it downstairs to brew another pot of coffee for the road, took a shower, and was out of the house by 7:30.

It was raining when I got into my van to drive to KC, and within 5 minutes it was once again raining like I was in Bangkok during monsoon season. For the next hour and a half it came down in sheets, and finally let up 5 minutes before I arrived at the airport. Someone has a sense of humor somewhere.

Gus likes to fly on Midwest Airlines because the seats are bigger. Midwest's flights arrive at Terminal A in KC. Terminals at this airport are shaped like gigantic horseshoes, with parking in the center. I'm not exactly familiar with the Kansas City airport, so I was just glad to find Terminal A. As soon I hit one end of the horseshoe, devoted to US Air, I pulled into the parking area underground in the center, found a space, and got out. I carefully remembered my location: Section 2, Row 3.

I walked into the Terminal at about Gate 1, only to find that Midwest was at Gate 30, at the opposite end of the horseshoe. No biggie. I can use the walk, so off I go. 5 minutes later, I'm at Gate 30 watching Gus' plane slowly pull up.

Gus' airplane

Shortly thereafter, Gus was standing in front of me, luggage in hand, as you can see:

Gus with luggage

'Here we go with all the pictures ...' muttered Gus.

'Say cheese!' I replied.

We started loping down the hall of the Terminal, Gus a few feet in front of me.

Gus walking down the terminal

'So,' said Gus, 'you parked over there?' He pointed to the above-ground parking area about 50 yards away.

'Uh, no,' I said. 'We need to keep walking.'

'How far?'

'Oh ... to the other end of the terminal.'

'What! Why? Where did you park?'

'In the parking garage! I walked in at the other end.'

'Why did you do that? Midwest is at the far end. You're supposed to park by the airline where you're picking me up.'

'Um ... I ... wasn't sure?'

'Well, let's just walk outside here and go find the car underground.'

'But I parked over at the other end. That'll never work!'

'Scott, this terminal is shaped like a horseshoe, right?'


'And the parking area is in the center, right?'



'I'm not sure about that ...'

'Just follow me!'

'Gus, I'd really rather just walk to the other end ...'

'Just follow me!'

And outside he went, so I scurried along behind. We crossed the raod, avoiding cars leaving the terminal, and walked downstairs into the parking garage.

'OK, do you remember where you parked?' Gus asked.

'Sure. 2, 3.'

'2, 3. What's that mean? 23?'

'No, I looked when I parked. Section 2, row 3,' I said proudly.

'Well, here we are.' He was right. We were at 2, 3. 'Where's your car?'

I looked around, panic growing in me. I was completely lost. Sure, I knew it was the same garage that I had been in less than 20 minutes before, but you might as well have spun me around 5 times, poked my eyes out with knitting needles, and then dropped me into the outer reaches of Siberia and asked me to find my car.

'It ... was ... around here ... some where?'

Gus wasn't happy. 'Ohmygodthisisagreatwaytostartmyvacation! Drive me back to Marshall! I can't do this!'

And that's when I started to laugh. Let me explain what was going on with an analogy. When the Incredible Hulk gets mad, he gets strong. As he gets madder, he gets stronger. When Gus gets mad at me, which is often, it makes me laugh. He's very funny when he's angry, and the madder he gets, the funnier he gets. The funnier he gets, the more I laugh, which makes him angrier. It's a vicious - but very funny - circle. Sometimes it can go on like that for hours.

We asked the old man taking money at the booth for help, and he offered to call a cop to drive us around, but we declined. I swore over and over that it was Section 2, Row 3, and once we walked around enough, I found it. It was at the other end of the garage, but I wasn't crazy: 2, 3. Finally! Gus just shook his head.

In the car with Gus' stuff, to the rental car place to pick up our brand new Buick Lucerne (with just 17 miles on it!), then to long-term parking for my van. Gus is driving the entire trip - 'I want to live, so you're not driving!' is his sensible explanation - and off we went.

We stopped in St. Joseph, MO for lunch. I offered to make Gus a wrap using the food I had packed into the cooler, but for some reason he wasn't interested.

Scott: Hey, how about a wrap?

Gus (suspiciously): What's on it?

Scott: Some very yummy mustard and wasabi sauce, fresh organic romaine lettuce hearts, tasty cheese, and delicious fake meat! Fake smoked chicken, I think.

Gus: I am not eating fake meat!

Scott: It's good!

Gus: I am not eating fake meat!

Scott: It's good!

Gus: No.

Scott: It's good!

Gus: No. That sounds terrible.

Scott: It's good!

Gus: No! I like real meat. Not (in a high-pitched 'proper' voice as he waves his hands around) 'Ooooh fake meat! How lovely! I love fake chicken!' No!

Scott: It's good!

Gus: I'm goin' in the Burger King.

I ate two wraps. The fake meat tasked like crap. Actually, it really is good!

As we drove through Iowa, I enjoyed the green fields.

Iowa farm

We drove for a few more hours, finally stopping at the Wal-Mart in Council Blufs, Iowa.

Wal-Mart in Council Bluffs

I wanted a tripod for my camera and a splitter for the cigarette lighter, so we could power more than one device. Gus bought an energy drink and a pillow to sit on, so his very tender derriere could better withstand hours of driving. My feet burned and part of my soul died as I walked through Wal-Mart, but we really didn't have much choice.

In the car again, Gus chugged his SUPER-POWERED AMPED-UP DIET PEPSI TO THE MAX HOLY CRAP I'M AWAKE NOW drink while I sipped a Starbucks Iced Coffee that had been nicely chilled since the night before. Ahhhhh. Much better.

We hit South Dakota at about 4 pm. Gus and I were both amazed by the temperate, jungle-like climate with its thick green vegetation and palm trees everywhere. And the monkeys! My goodness, but the cries of the monkeys echoed for miles, only broken occasionally by the calls of the macaws and the parrots.

OK, it was actually hot and dry. What did you expect from South Dakota in late June? But at least it didn't have the nasty, 'Oh my God I had no idea I could sweat in that part of my body' humidity of St. Louis in the summer.

Unfortunately, we still had a 6-hour drive ahead of us, as we had a motel room waiting for us in Wall, SD. Gus wanted me to call the motel.

Gus: Hey, call the motel.

Scott: Why? We have a reservation.

Gus: We're going to be a few hours late.

Scott: So?

Gus: We need to tell them we're going to be a few hours late.

Scott: Aw, it'll be fine.

Gus: I really don't want to sleep in the car!

Scott: Aw.

Let me explain where that 'Aw' comes from. Our Dad was a very ... interesting man. He had a unique personality that I intend to write up completely some time. One of his vocal mannerisms was an 'Aw' he would utter as a way to end a conversation, but in a way that left a lot of things hanging. Like this.

High school Scott: Hey, Dad, can I borrow the car for Friday night?

Dad: Well ... last week you didn't get in til 3 o'clock in the morning.

Scott: Well, that was last week. I need it this Friday.

Dad: Aw.

Uhhhhhhh ... So that's what I used with Gus. Works every time.

On we drove, our Buick Lucerne gladly covering the miles. Since I was sitting next to Gus, it was easy to see his callick.

Gus' callick

What's really funny is that I have one in roughly the same place!

Later in the afternoon we stopped at Mitchell, SD to see the Corn Palace. Our Mom absolutely insisted that we stop to see it, and I have to admit, part of it was pretty impressive. When we got out of our car a block or so away, we could see the roof rising ahead of us.

The Corn Palace from a distance

Basically, the Corn Palace is a huge building that's completely covered in corn, as you can see in this photo. It's kind of wild seeing it. Who woulda thought of doing that? Was there too much corn one year? "Hey, I know what we'll do! Let's glue our excess corn to a large building in town!"

Corn Palace

It has quite the rural theme. Love those cowboy boots!

Cowboy boots on the Corn Palace

Boy, this picture is just crying out for something sarcastic or snarky, but I'm going to leave that as an exercise for you.

Cowboy with cow boy

Mustn't ... make ... joke ... about ... corn ... and ... little kids ... holding hands ... with ... cowboy. Must ... control ... self.

Right next door to the Corn Palace is City Hall. It's plain to begin with, but man, next to the folk art of the Corn Palace, it's kinda funny.

Mitchell City Hall

That's the front of the Corn Palace. It's really pretty cool. But if you drive around the side of the Corn Palace, things ain't quite so impressive.

Side of the Corn Palace

Side of the Corn Palace

Correct me if I'm wrong, but that looks like plywood with corn glued to it. Not nearly as classy, eh?

On the way back to the car, Gus wanted to stop in a tourist trap and buy a refrigerator magnet commemorating the Corn Palace. Evidently he collects magnets about sites he's seen. News to me. On our way in, Gus stopped by one of the weird fake Indians they had sitting on benches around the building.

Gus by a fake Indian

While we were there, I convinced him to try on what will hopefully be the first of many silly hats.

Gus in hat

Although I gotta say - I think he's looks pretty good in that hat! If he had on a pair of overalls with a dirty t-shirt and his hair was a lot longer, he'd fit in beautifully at a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert, circa 1975.

As we left town, we drove behind some utter idiot who had their dog in the bed of their pickup. The dog was happy as could be, running from one end of the truck to the other.

Dog in bed of moron's truck

The dog was happy, but I was angry at the driver. You freakin' hick moron - what happens to your dog if you get hit, or your truck has to stop suddenly? Dammit, that sort of thoughtlessness for animals really gets me mad. Here's the license plate of this fool.

Moron's license plate number

For dinner, we stopped at the Doo-wah Ditty's Diner in Kimball.

Doo-wah Ditty's Diner

Here's my recommendation for travelers: avoid. There's no non-smoking section. Strike one. Service was terrible, with the waitresses in chaos, forgetting to bring us things, and kind of rude on top of that. Strike two. And finally, the food wasn't good - with one exception. Gus had the Walleye, and the fish was really pretty good. His salad, though, was iceberg lettuce and dressing. That was it. Nothing else. Just lettuce and dressing. Mmmmmm. I ordered the "Doo-dads" buffet, which, once I walked over and looked, had exactly two entree options: chicken, which I'm sure not eating, and fish. Cod sticks. Not nearly as good as the walleye. Canned corn. Canned green beans. And what appeared to be real 'smashed potatoes', as they were advertised. When I walked up, though, they were out of potatoes. No problem. 5 minutes later, there were fresh potatoes out! Great! Except that they were cold. I mean, ice cold! Yuck. Strike three. Doo-wah Ditty's Diner, you're out. Avoid unless starving.

We got in the car and continued down the road. A few miles outside of Kimball, we saw this lovely scene, so Gus actually stopped and let me take a picture or two.

Lake near sunset outside Kimball, SD

Lake near sunset outside Kimball, SD

Gus and I talked about a bunch of stuff along the way. Life at the New York Jets. The iPhone, which came out today (hint: I want one). Friends we know. The rental car. Ducks. The lack of much traffic anywhere on the road (what a surprise!). And while we were zooming along, we had the quote of the day:

Scott: You've never read any of my books!

Gus: Who has?!

Nice one, lil' bro. Oh, and a few minutes later, Gus had what I consider the second, or other, quote of the day:

Gus: Hey look - a shooting gallery.

Scott: I'll go shoot some guns.

Gus: Not at the same time that I'm there.

The terrain of South Dakota really is pretty. Oh, it's flat in a lot of places. Flat as the proverbial dinner plate.

Flat South Dakota

But then there are some really unusual, beautiful hills. I find these really lovely.

Low South Dakota hills

Low South Dakota hills

How'd you like to live on that farm?

There weren't a lot of folks on the road in South Dakota. Shocking, I know. When you did see someone, they tended to stick out, especially if they were driving a car that was as clean as this one.

Dirty car on the road

Gus was terrified that the people in the car would start chasing us to the death, a la Steven Spielberg'sDuel. I figured we could Mad Max 'em if they tried.

The sunset was gorgeous. That flat landscape makes it more dramatic, as sunsets should be.

South Dakota sunset

South Dakota sunset

Finally we arrived in Wall, SD at about 10:45 pm. What a long day! Gus and I immediately found our room at the Super 8 ('What?!' I said, 'TWO beds?!' Gus just shook his head.) and settled in. Our heads weren't on the pillows very long before we were both out.

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