End Loop

#Merica Tour, Stories from the Road, Segment 24


End LoopBack on the road, I realize a little too late that my vanilla cream soda has a cork rather than a screw cap. “This is why they offered to open it for me back at the candy store,” I say, showing Brent.

“Oh,” he says. “Look in the center consol. There’s a tool.”

I just blink at him for a moment and wonder what else he’s hidden away in the Jetta all this time. Sure enough, there’s a Swiss Army Knife-like tool, packed so Brent-like in its original packaging despite its use. I get my soda open and wash down my fudge as Brent says, “I’ve been thinking…”

This’ll be good.

“I think we can fit in the State Fair.”

“We have time?” I ask, savoring my soda.

“If we take the right roads from here, we’ll have a solid chunk of time to do it–unless you have things to do back at the apartment.”

“I’m pretty much packed,” I say, wondering if that’s true, and realizing that it wouldn’t be the first time I traveled with a variety of wet, clean-ish clothes.

End LoopWe agree to our no-dawdling rule and arrive at the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul, which is known for having the highest daily attendance in the U.S., and it’s also known, deliciously enough, for offering all kinds of food on a stick: corndogs, fried cheese, cheesecake, Twinkies, even beer.

In 1758, a fella named Elkanah Watson was born in Massachusetts. That was in the middle of the French & Indian War, which set up the colonists’ fight for independence in America. Well, in 1810, in order to promote better agricultural practices, Watson organized the first county fair in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He organized activities for men, women, and children so that the entire community could be included. Over the years, with industrialization, fairs have expanded to include carnival rides and the unveiling of new and innovative products. And today, the Minnesota State Fair is one of the largest in the world.

End LoopBrent and I strut down the main drag of the Fair in the intense Minnesota heat as zombie-like people wade passed us, looking wilted and some even appear to be wet. There aren’t any water rides, yet everyone looks drenched. We shrug it off, smelling the carnival-like aromas of sugar and fried food, and head immediately to our personal favorites—anything meaty for Brent, and for me, cheese curds with yellow mustard followed by the milk dispenser.

End LoopThat’s just gross,” Brent says, but he agrees to wait in the milk line with me.

“It’s the greatest booth since sliced bread,” I say and we laugh. I pay a dollar for a cup and I’m allowed to have it refilled as many times as I want.

“Two percent or four?” I’m asked. Yeah, I like this place.

We head into the Kemps Creamery exhibit, which is blissfully air conditioned, and proceed to learn some fast facts, milk a fabricated cow, and sidle up to the milk bar. For this adventure, we also get some ice cream on a stick. Score!

End LoopWe round through a kiddie area where Brent finds Math on-a-Stick. Truly this state fair has everything on a stick. Math on-a-Stick encourages kids (of all ages, apparently) to play with math concepts through games and activities. I drag Brent away from the math and we find our way to the St. Paul’s own Summit booth with beer flights on a stick. And that’s when I hear a familiar voice over the loudspeaker. I can’t quite place the voice and, knowing that this fair is huge, I start to feel it’s improbable that I’ll track down its origin just by looking. It’s a woman’s voice, and I’m zeroing in on it in my mind and then it suddenly comes to me: It’s Mollie B.

End Loop“Mollie B!” I tell Brent, wide-eyed, and, knowing the voice, I now know where to look. We approach the stage nearest to Summit, and there she is, Mollie B herself.

“I don’t recognize her,” Brent says.

End Loop“You’ve never watched RFDTV?” I ask, and then I remember this is Brent. I start talking fast. “Okay, while you’re busy watching scifi all-the-time, there’s also a channel on TV called RFD-TV; it’s rural television. Mollie B does a Polka show on Saturday nights, the Mollie B Polka Party, that my parents are crazy about.” He frowns at me, so I go on. “Make that face all you want, but she’s our age; she sings, dances, plays a number of instruments—sometimes simultaneously–and she travels around filming polka dances for her show. She’s even got a Polka cruise. And that’s her! My parents are gonna flip. I’ve got to get them souvenirs.”

End LoopBrent guards our beer on a stick, which I know is disappearing as I stand in line to get t-shirts. Mollie’s on stage talking and I’m filming away with my trusty phone because my family is never going to believe I’m standing so close to her, and that’s when Mollie B suddenly looks my way. I wave like a crazed fanatic dufus, which I am, and she stops what she’s saying for a moment, catches a laugh before it can escape, and then gets back to her speech. It’s totally true; I have it all on film. T-shirts in hand and dignity mostly intact, I return to Brent and what’s left of the stick beers. And maybe it’s the heat, or our incredible brush with fame, but Brent and I soon realize the heat is getting to us.End Loop

“Where were those misters?” I ask.

“This way,” he says. We wander away from the music pavilion, zombielike, toward the open air shower heads we’d seen upon our entry. We find one and hop in, beer and all. The shower heads, for all the water they’re spraying at us, are just misters after all and aren’t cold or refreshing enough, not like the ones at the Minnesota Zoo, so we hop out and decide to track down some final cold items on a stick before leaving the fair. It occurs to us that we’ve now joined the ranks of the wilted, soggy zombies we’d seen upon our entry. We look at all the pretty new arrivals walking into the Fair, fresh as daisies, and Brent and I laugh at ourselves. “Get a good look,” we say to each other. “We’re your future.”

We make our exit and get back to Brent’s with just enough time for me to shower and change clothes before heading to the airport. As fun as it was to get this way, I can’t sit on a plane in this wilted, sticky, zombiefied condition.

With that done, and my belongings literally thrown back into my suitcase, we head out into rush hour traffic toward MSP. Just before the turn onto the highway, the Jetta’s check engine light turns on.

“Look at that,” Brent laughs. “I wondered when that would happen.”End L

“Looks like 1908 miles,” I say, and we discuss sliced bread, the underground bar, Truckhenge, Trampled by Turtles, the Volkswagen spider, the giant cottonwood tree in the road, and all of our things done and things learned in these 1908 miles.

We arrive at the airport, somehow on time, and Brent stops the car outside my flight company. He sighs. Somehow, after all this, it just seems too early to be done.

“This just loops around, doesn’t it?” I ask after a moment, pointing to the airport road.

Understanding flashes across his face. “It does,” he confirms.

Even as I ask, “Do you think we could go around again?” Brent is already putting the Jetta back into gear for a victory lap.

And just like that, with goofy grins on our faces, Brent and I drive off into the loop.

~The End~

Jody BrownMy heartfelt thanks goes out to all of you for reading this saga, sending me comments, and for the encouragement to “write the next segment, ASAP!” I appreciate your excitement for this crazy road trip through the middle of our great country. And, of course, very special thanks to Brent for his enthusiasm, driving skills, photographs, and for thinking up this trip and asking me to tag along.

May all your adventures include joyous wonder. Go forth.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.

Outtakes:

This Side of EerieTerminus & GatewayI’m thinking about salt and idioms. That is, I’m thinking, “This is where Brent earns his salt.” (Actually, the idiom is to be worth one’s salt, dating back to those good ole ancient times when Roman soldiers were either paid in salt or paid money specifically to buy salt. Historians have late-night arguments over this, while still more historians join the fray claiming that Greek slave traders in ancient times sold slaves for salt.) In any case, I’m thinking about salt as currency, historians in fisticuffs, and the curious way Brent greets each roadside stop with enthusiasm and gives each one its due exploration. This Side of EerieAnyone else would quit while we’re ahead and would drive straight through to Rochester, or would cut out a stop or two in order to make good time. Anyone else—but then, anyone else would have been antsy about spending a week in the car in the first place. It takes a different kind of person to plan such a trip, a person of commitment and fortitude, and of those, few dare to stay the course.

The Dreams of MenSo, here I sit in Iowa, knowing I’m in the company of someone with the right combination of patience, attention to logistics, determination, and sense of adventure–someone well suited to road exploration. I’m sitting in good company.

Imagination is King

#Merica Tour, Stories from the Road, Segment 23
(For links to previous segments, scroll to the bottom)

It’s a hot, sunny morning outside in St. Paul as Brent and I sit in his kitchen, running through our options. It’s my last day in town, our road trip was a complete success as we arrived back safe and mostly sound, and my laundry is currently dirtying up Brent’s washer since my clothes have done some serious living lately. But my flight doesn’t leave MSP until 7 p.m., giving us ample time to plan a local venture.

Imagination is King“Do you remember the candy store?” Brent asks.

“The yellow one?”

“That’s it.”

“Is it open?”

He laughs. “It’s open this time.”

A year, maybe two ago, we drove through the rolling hills of Minnesota on our way to a candy store that sounded too good to be true, but Brent said they had the best root beer. After a lazy day adventure, we arrived to find the giant store was closed and wouldn’t open for the season for another week. So, of course we hung out in the parking lot and watched through the windows as workers restocked shelves and readied displays. I was preparing my argument for knocking on the door “just to have a look and not to buy anything, I swear,” when Brent reminded me we had a Wes Anderson movie waiting for us at a historic theater. I have yet to step foot inside the candy wonderland.

“Or we can go to the State Fair,” Brent tosses out there.

“Everything on a stick? Hmm, that’s tough,” I say. “But, I want to do both.”

“You can’t do both.

We negotiate this, based on Brent’s argument of Time-Space-Relativity in relation to getting to the airport on time and my argument of Sure We Can.

“Well, we’ve been to the State Fair before,” I say. “But I’ve not been inside the giant candy store.”

Candy store it is. And after a hearty breakfast of junk food, we’re on our way.

Back in the Jetta—you’d think we’d be sick of it by now—we remind each other what happened the last time we tried to go to the candy store, about finding a sinking barn that we decided looked as if a giant had stepped on it. And then there was this long, lolling road through two fields where we could see what I can only describe as a giant armadillo up ahead.

I laugh as the scenery rolls by. “I remember saying, ‘Is that an armadillo?’”

Brent agrees. “From far off, I had no idea.”

Turns out, it was not an armadillo, which are not native to Minnesota, but a massive snapping turtle with an armored, spiky tail and a shell nearly two feet tall. The turtle was crossing the road–and making good time about it, too. Brent stopped the car to give the turtle room, and we just stared in amazement. We had driven most of the day without another car in sight, and now suddenly there were about five cars behind us, all of us waiting for this giant turtle because Brent had stopped the car mid-road. When the turtle got by the Jetta (the same Jetta), I cheered, “Go, turtle, go!” which prompted this massive creature to turn around fully and look at me, eye to eye. I half expected him to wear little glasses and say hello. We drove on, and Brent and I spent the rest of the trip to the candy store coming up with the perfect name for such a turtle, a dignified and masterful name: Mr. R. Sullivan. And the mind of this writer began weaving a children’s book.

Back at present, we drive along Highway 169, following a long span of bright yellow farm fence that leads to the yellow barn.

Imagination is KingMinnesota’s Largest Candy Store, which is part of Jim’s Apple Farm, is barely contained in a long yellow barn that seems as though someone expanded it, one section at a time, about six times. The heat of the day is surging and we’re excited to get inside to some candy and air conditioning, but we take some time to check out the pumpkins and to threaten each other with the watering hose in the parking lot before finally setting foot inside.

Imagination is KingAnd what awaits us is astounding. Immediately to the right are rows and aisles and tables and shelves of brightly-colored candy, sectioned off by type from hard candies, caramels, flavors of taffies, chocolates, lollipops, gumballs, European candies—over 3,000 types of candy from around the world–as far as the eye can see. In front of us is a section of homemade pies, jams and jellies, brittles, and fudge, and also a section of meats and jerkies. To the left is a section of glass grocery refrigerators filled to the brim with multicolored sodas.

Imagination is KingThe story goes that what began as a family-owned business, Jim’s Apple Farm, expanded into selling candy to offset a couple bad apple years. (Hopefully with the Minnesota-developed Honeycrisp, those days are far behind us.) And now, it’s still family-owned, cash-only, sans website and sans telephone though it does have a Facebook page, and the business has grown and grown.

Imagination is KingThe building is filled with happy nostalgia (Pac-Man Band-Aids!), delicious discoveries (orange fudge!), and new favorites like candies in the shape of Pixar’s Minions. There’s even a shelf of puzzles in their own section among the candy. And in the corner sits a full-size TARDIS, the Doctor Who time machine that travels between worlds. Brent and I, clutching our prized candy and root beer, run to it and act out crash scenes and do our favorite monster impressions.

Imagination is KingEverywhere we look is something we remember from childhood, something that evokes a memory big or small. For me, a slogan I memorized at a Pennsylvania amusement park (Idlewild?) comes to mind: “Where Childhood is Eternal and Imagination is King.”

Imagination is KingAnd in the middle of what feels like an action-packed candy store, I pause and muse that Brent, with all of his reason and rationale, and I, with my heart leading the way, both explore our surroundings with childlike wonder. And with that acknowledged, I dive back into the fray.

–We’re not done yet! The final episode is coming soon!

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.

 

(For previous Stories from the Road, click here: Segment 22, Segment 21, Segment 20, Segment 19, Segment 18, Segment 17, Segment 16, Segment 15, Segment 14, Segment 13, Segment 12Segment 11Segment 10, Segment 9, Segment 8Segment 7, Segment 6, Segment 5, Segment 4, Segment 3, Segment 2, Segment 1)