Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lambeau Field

Location: Green Bay, WI

We met our friends Bob and Jan in Green Bay, where they live, and after a quick auto tour of the area they took us to see Lambeau Field, the newly refurbished Green Bay Packer's stadium. The stadium's atrium area is open to visitors, although access to the field itself is not.

On the outside of the stadium, huge statues of Vince Lombardi (head coach of the Packers from 1959-1967) and Curley Lambeau (founder, player, and first coach of the Packers) greet visitors:


Inside, the huge atrium is flanked by the stadium itself on one side, and restaurants and sports games on the other. As we were entering the elevator, I noticed a huge "50" inlaid in the floor. It turns out this is the 50 yard line, extended from the playing field through the atrium. All the yard lines are represented this way, and a huge "Green Bay" is inlaid at the extended goal line:

We had a beer at Curley's Pub overlooking the atrium. As I got to the bottom of the glass, I noticed ... something... starting to form from the indentation in the bottom of the glass. Turned out it was a football! Very cool (and, yes, they are for sale, but heavy, real-glass drinking utensils are not the best choice for RVs!):


Thanks for a fun time, Bob and Jan! We'll catch up the next time we're in Green Bay.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Seen Along the Road: What People Travel In

Location: Seen somewhere between Nebraska and Wisconsin:

Every truck needs an emergency exit (click to enlarge):

Why not hitch your horses to your pickup (pivot point one) and then hitch a carriage-thingy to the horse trailer (pivot point two). What could possibly go wrong?

News flash from the 60s -- hippy buses are alive and well!


Sunday, June 28, 2009

The SPAM Museum. Really.

Location: Austin, MN

"Well, there's egg and bacon; egg sausage and bacon; egg and spam; egg bacon and spam; egg bacon sausage and spam; spam bacon sausage and spam; spam egg spam spam bacon and spam; spam sausage spam spam bacon spam tomato and spam ...or Lobster Thermidor a Crevette with a mornay sauce served in a Provencale manner with shallots and aubergines garnished with truffle pate, brandy and with a fried egg on top and spam."
-- Waitress reciting the breakfast menu in Monte Python sketch

Yes, Virginia, there really is a SPAM museum. It's the place where all things piggy go to celebrate Hormel's sense of humor when it comes to their famous canned meat product. Served primarily at breakfast or lunch, it is made from Shoulder of Pork and hAM (or sometimes said to mean SPiced hAM). Thanks to a Monte Python sketch the word has taken on a new meaning -- you may know it better as bulk advertisements posted on the web or through email. But the food product lives on -- especially in Hawaii, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, which have the largest per-capita consumption of Spam in the United States -- around 16 cans per person, per year. It has been referred to as "Hawaiian Steak," and even the McDonalds and Burger Kings there have Spam on the menu.

But on to the museum:

You can get Spam recipes from computers there -- the butter is the clicker and the egg is the roller-ball mouse:

Who does the door to the theater remind you of?

I don't think I'd throw cans of Dinty Moore Ox Tails (bottom left) into my shopping cart very often:

They get an award for Humane Slaughtering, and display it next to a picture of a pig with a ribbon around its neck? Did the rest of the piggies humanely get a ribbon, too, perhaps to make them feel that they are all winners -- just before taking that long, long walk to the Pig Sty of Destiny?

And finally, a day at the museum wouldn't be complete without a photo op with Spammy! Oops -- just where is that big hunk o' meat putting his hands?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Seen Along the Road: Harmilda and the Giant

From Harvard, IL:

Meet Harmilda, the large bovine ambassador for Harvard Milk Day (as I was taking this picture, a lady in a mini-van pulled over for no reason other than to tell me the cow's name. The town seems to be freakishly proud of Harmilda).

From Blue Earth, MN:

As alluring as Harmilda might be, she can't compare with the Jolly Green Giant, a major source of pride for Blue Earth, MN. The city of Blue Earth is named for the river of the same name, which is named after the bluish clay on its banks. Blue Earth has a second claim to fame, however: in 1978 the city painted a "gold stripe" (it really looks eerily similar to yellow paint) on I-90 to memorialize the point where the last few miles of the highway were paved, just as the golden spike in Promontory Summit, Utah symbolized the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869. Instead of two trains meeting at the spike, Blue Earth proudly celebrated this milestone with the historic meeting at the stripe of two Minnesota National Guard trucks. You just can't make this stuff up.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Location: Chicago, IL

I don't often get to a major league baseball game -- even when I was in Baltimore I made it to, maybe, one game a year. Since I left the Orioles roost, I've made it to two -- a Tiger's game in Detroit's Tiger Stadium and this week to a Cubs' game at the venerable, ivy-covered Wrigley Field. The Cubs played the Indians, and easily won. It was fun to see the iconic Wrigley Field and a few of its quirks:

  • There is no Jumbotron, and therefore no instant replay for fans whose seats are not near a monitor. There is just a manually operated scoreboard, and the guys who are the number-flippers occasionally stick their heads out the small windows to watch the action on the field. The number of outs, balls, or strikes are displayed from a grid of small round doors, various doors opening or closing as needed to create the appropriate number. Each door audibly clicks as it slides into place. How analog!

  • On the sides of Wrigley Field, where the bleachers are low, there is nothing to block the view of the field from neighboring rooftops. So entrepreneurs have set up their own roof-top bleachers and charge corporations and groups a franklin or two per person to see the game. We counted at least six different businesses, some running several rooftops in the area. Party hardy!
  • After a winning game, very few fans stream out. Instead, they all sing the WGN jingle, "Go, Cubs, Go -- The Cubs Are Gonna Win Today!" Yes, I know they have already won at this point, and perhaps the lyrics could be altered to reflect that, but you know what they say about Cubs fans: you can always tell a Cubs' fan -- you just can't tell them much!

All in all it was a fine day at the ballpark -- a bleacher seat ($55), a couple beers ($6 each), a hotdog ($4), and a team that just kept scoring left us both smiling as we finished the day with one other typical Chicago experience -- taking the El back home.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Fly's Shadow

Syrphid Fly, found in Illinois. I especially liked the fly's shadow on the flower:

Friday, June 19, 2009

Lake Michigan Is No Longer The Only Lake Here

Location: Zion, Il

Last night's storms were nothing compared to today's. We had one storm line pass by this morning, and then something odd happened... the sun came out! But that was just a tease as it turned out -- by early evening, another huge line of storms was poised to march into the area.

I had been watching the Doppler radar on Weather Underground, and knew the storm was coming. The situation started getting serious when the on-screen triangle that signifies a "hook," or possible forming tornado, showed up ten miles north of this location. My weather radio was in an almost-constant alert mode. A few minutes later, the local warning sirens started to go off (a sound I haven't heard in 20 years or so).

Campers were spilling into the street, and what we saw was amazing and scary. Dark, ominous clouds were billowing and rolling right above our heads. Do you remember what the sky looked like in the movie Independence Day when the aliens ships arrived? That's what it was like.

Park personnel were there to direct us to shelters (i.e., the showers/restrooms) and about 50 or so men, women, children, and dogs all crowded into the sturdy, block building. In the interests of reporting honesty I have to admit that most of us stood outside, some with Happy Hour drinks and snacks, watching the clouds approach and the lightning strobe -- but we were standing really near the door, ready to dash inside at the slightest hint of an actual tornado!

Here's a short video of the event, taken before the rain started. The more severe rolling movement of sky was in the lighter areas and is washed out in this video.

We never did get the tornado, but we have had torrential rains for literally hours. Even with raincoats or slickers, the downpour was so heavy that the water found its way inside the cover-ups to drench everyone's clothing and shoes. The guys camped in tents across the road decided they couldn't get any wetter, so why not play catch in the road? Everything is covered in water -- the lake in the lot has merged with the lake behind the hookups and the tent sites are now lakeside camping. This morning I saw ducks swimming behind the rig; now they can swim underneath it!

A Dark and Stormy Night

Location: Zion, Illinois (on Lake Michigan, between Milwaukee and Chicago)

Last night was a doozy. About 1:30 a.m., my weather radio started to go off for all sorts of warnings: severe thunderstorm, marine, flood, and even a tornado possibility. The storm soon hit, bringing strobe lightning, torrential rain, and unrelenting wind. It was after 3:00 when it was finally quiet enough to go back to sleep.

This morning, I went outside to survey the damage, and found these two ducks:

And, no, they are not in a pond -- they are swimming just behind the campground parking area, where the grills and the picnic tables go:

As I write this, more is on the way. This morning's blue sky is now dark gray, and I can hear thunder in the distance. Here's the doppler radar from a few minutes ago -- that little circle with the plus sign is my location.

Hey, at least I'm not in a tent!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Day the Music Died, Part Two

Part Two

The final concert performed by Richie Valens, Buddy Holly, and the Big Bopper was at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, IA. Unlike many of the once-popular ballrooms, the Surf Ballroom is still intact, providing a minimal stage and a fabulous dance area for concerts of all kinds. And during the day, the ballroom and its history-lined walls are open for anyone who wants to see where that momentous day began -- and where those fateful decisions regarding who got the quick, warm trip to North Dakota in the plane and who had to ride in the cold, drafty bus were made.

Photos of past performers at the Surf, encompassing pretty much everyone you have ever heard of, are hung in row after row on the available wall space. Most are autographed. Most played here to stand on the same stage as the doomed rock n' rollers, and now we go there to do that, too. There are literally rooms filled with photos packed side by side, covering almost every inch of wall space.

And we come to see the small, cramped "green room" where the performers waited to take the stage, now each wall, surface, sink, and table covered with words of grief, adoration, and respect -- not graffiti, but it would be difficult to say why not -- we just know the honor bestowed on the performers changes words scribbled in magic marker from distasteful to reverential. Even Don McLean scrawled some of the lyrics to American Pie on these walls.

And we can gaze at the wall pay phone Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens used that night to call home before boarding the plane, and almost see them standing there, shielding the phone's earpiece to better hear over the loud music just feet away, wishing they were home with their loved ones instead of going out into that snowy cold night.

The stage was empty while we were there, the door to the graffiti-covered room ajar off stage right. The next performance would be Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, scheduled for later this month. As full of photos as the walls are, there is always room for more.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Day the Music Died, Part One

Location: Clear Lake, IA

A long, long time ago...

I can still remember

How that music used to make me smile.

And I knew if I had my chance

That I could make those people dance

And, maybe, they'd be happy for a while.

But February made me shiver

With every paper I'd deliver.

Bad news on the doorstep;

I couldn't take one more step.

I can't remember if I cried

When I read about his widowed bride,

But something touched me deep inside

The day the music died.

-- Don McLean, American Pie

Part One

February 3, 1959 lives on in legend and lore as one of rock and roll's darkest days. After playing a concert at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, IA, Buddy Holly, J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, and Richie Valens borded a small airplane that would fly them to their next gig in North Dakota. They made it 5 miles before the plane, flying in a blinding snow storm, crashed into an Iowa farm field. The picture to the left was taken the day after, and shows a pitifully small amount of wreckage piled up along a fence in a snowy bean and corn field.

People can easily drive through the Clear Lake area and never realize that this is where "the music died." If they dig a little deeper, they'll find that the crash site and a fan memorial are waiting to be found in that same bean and corn field just north of town. Until recently, the half-mile path from the unpaved road to the crash site was marked only by small orange flags (a nice gesture from an unnamed landowner), but now a huge pair of Buddy Holly glasses has been added to mark the entrance, while the little row of flags continue to run off into the distance. The day we were there was rainy and the ground muddy, but John, Vivian, and I trekked off anyway to visit this memorial to rock and roll (this picture and the previous picture show the fence-line path from opposite ends).

When we reached the site, we found a rain-soaked memorial consisting of a permanent metal marker and temporary "leavings" such as cardboard guitars, poems, grocery store loyalty cards (why?), and even an Hawaiian driver's license!

After we contemplated the event for a while, we hiked back out, shoes covered with mud, happily singing American Pie, Peggy Sue, Chantilly Lace, and LaBamba as we went. Vivian snapped a final picture of John and me looking through the glasses, and we were off to Part Two of the adventure.

Part Two will be posted tomorrow.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Field of Dreams

Location: Near Dyersville, Iowa

" ...people will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past... Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come."

-- Terence Mann, Field of Dreams

And they do come, sometimes in droves, to visit the movie site tucked away in Iowa cornfields. Some arrive with gloves and balls to "have a catch with Dad." Some walk the bases, carefully touching each bag. And some just sit in the bleachers like Ray and Annie, watching the field and enjoying the sun. Most will ask their friends and family to take their picture as they walk out of the corn, appearing just like Shoeless Joe and the other Ghost Players did.

Of course, it helps to come a bit later in the season when there actually IS corn to walk out of! Still, you take what the road gives you, so we walked out of what corn there was and made the best of it:

ZoAnn appears out of the corn:

John appears out of the corn:

No one could see us coming through that corn, could they?

The site could easily be missed if one is not looking for it. It is marked only by small signs, and even these are few in number. There are no billboards, marquees, or flyers, and there is no admission charge for visiting the ball field (although donations are accepted). The house is not open to the public, but the porch swing, where everyone would want to sit, is no longer there as it was borrowed for the movie and had to be returned.

This place is one more interesting find in Iowa, a state I am liking more and more. When John Kinsella asks Ray if this is heaven, Ray's reply is simply, "No, it's Iowa."

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Three Iowa Oddities

Location: Iowa City, IA

  • This is ONE pork tenderloin sandwich from Joensy's in Solon, IA. It's even on a largish sized hamburger bun.

  • In Cedar Rapids, IA, not only are your telephone needs taken care of, but a similar kiosk can take care of your spiritual needs, too (if you are the type to have those sorts of needs):


    If you can't make out the instructions in the above image, they say:

    Prayer Booth Instructions:

    To Operate:

    Lower the kneeler, rest arms at the base of the enclosure, and knees on the kneeler.
    At the completion of your prayer, please return the kneeler to it's (sic) upright position.


    This device exists to facilitate and control prayer in a public space. Improper use may result in a penalty or fine.

    Please avoid the booth if you are sensitive to or feel threatened by actions that are religious in nature.

    For complaints, info, requests, questions, contact prayer@rivercitychurch.com

    O.K., it IS street art, but I still wonder how many folks have earnestly knelt there in the hopes of finding a Divine Operator to God!

  • On to Riverside, Iowa, the future birthplace of James T. Kirk... err, what? You see, Gene Roddenberry wasn't all that concerned about James T. Kirk's earthly birthplace, only stating it was a small town in Iowa. The town of Riverside got to thinking... "hey, WE'RE a small town in Iowa...!" So they self-nominated their town as the Captain's birthplace, and ran with it.

    Until the end of June when the annual Trekfest hits Riverside, it's a forgotten corner of the world that can count the number of its downtown blocks on one hand and thinks sushi and hummus are exotic beyond belief. But the end of June is nearing, and the symbols of Trekkie obsession are now slowly moving, if not into the mainstream, at least into convenient parking lots.

    At a little roadside fan museum The Voyage Home Resource History Center, the parking lot contains both the town's proud mock-up of the Enterprise (ball-hitched and ready to be towed somewhere like Vulcan or Romulus or maybe the Enterprise launch facility on Risa), and its shuttle which is conveniently parked out front and ready to deliver its riders to the earth-like planet of their choice:


    Although the center was officially closed, we met the museum's Vice President on the sidewalk and he offered to open the door and let us look around. A one-room display area that shared space with its gift shop greeted us, and we got a special pre-Trekfest opportunity to see Star Trek cast pictures, Star Trek Action Figures, and even a Star Trek poster from the latest movie! The highlight came as John stuck a pin in the large U.S. map on the wall to indicate the museum had just received its first visitors from Livingston Texas, and the Veep and John posed for a photo with a life-size cutout of the Captain himself. Yippee!!!

    And then, assuming we were Trekkie Insiders, he let us in on the secret location of the memorial to Kirk's birth! Following his directions, we backtracked to town and found a small opening between the antique store and the beauty salon. Could this little alley really be the portal to the secrets of Riverside? Let's go through it and see!

    Yes, there it is! The town's memorial commemorating James T. Kirk's birth!

    And in case you need more proof that this humble back yard is really the site of the memorial to the anticipatory birth, here is the view from the back:

    Happy Birthday, James Tiberius Kirk! We'll watch for The Big Day in 2228.