Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Back Again

I know what you're thinking. The road trip is over, how dare I post again. Well I never got around to posting this final post. (Unless we decide to reunite for a greatest hits tour in a few weeks). So without further ado I present to you the exciting conclusion of Road Trip: The Lost Days.

This time I will use neither bullets, nor numbers but funny symbols.


!- Another great modern stadium where the seats are designed to give you a much better, closer view no matter where you sit. The ushers all wore goofy black hats with the D-backs logo. At Angels stadium they wore those goofy white straw hats with a red sash like old timey steamboat operators.

*- Confusion sets in approaching the stadium because it isn’t visible from a few miles away like most stadiums in America. The reason is because it isn’t so much a baseball stadium as an indoor baseball field that seems like it’s in a small mall. The building is composed of the same boring red brick as every other downtown building. Instead of factories, offices or stores inside there are bright lights, and uniformed men chasing a little white ball. (Butch's note. JJ Jansen's pops confirms this. He is from Arizona and finds it strange as well. Though, he adds, inside it is a wonderful stadium. JJJ is the long snapper for the Panthers. We sat behind poppa Jansen, and the rest of the Jansen clan, sans Cam, at the Giants pre season game. which was awesome. Look for 44 to have a huge impact this year)

Phoenix ---> Tulsa

%- I had another first today, - using cruise control. At first I hated it. It felt like cheating because I wasn’t really driving. My main problem with cruise control was that I couldn’t figure out what to do with my feet. Eventually it grew on me. Great story I know.

#- Isotopes Park, home to the Albuquerque Isotopes, which was actually so named because of the Simpsons episode, was the only stop we made in a full day of driving. I’ll never be like Av but 13 hours was fun. I got a great backhanded compliment from the one guy in the store, who was folding T-shirts the whole time. He told me I wasn’t telling the worst jokes that he had ever heard.

&- We left a little late and forgot about the two hour time change, so my sorrow was great that we drove through OKC and missed the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.

+ - I overheard a woman eating breakfast at our motel talking to a Navajo Indian woman say “I love Indians. My son is Creek, and I have another kid that is half Cherokee.” So, what, does this woman troll the country trying to seduce Indian men of various tribes? Is she Playing Native American Baby Bingo?

St Louis

^ -Anheiser-Bush Brewery Tour. The Miller tour was so much cooler than this place. Though this place was way bigger. Staggeringly huge. If not for chilling with Greg this place wouldn’t have been anything too special.

@- Key differences- No video about “Budweiser Time” The gift shop basically just had T-shirts. A backgammon set and a billiards ball set were the only interesting variations. The Miller gift shop was like a branded Ikea. They had couches, and chairs and coffee tables… You could have made your apartment into the coolest bar ever. Until six months later when you realized you were a tool.

*%$- It seems like George W. Bush consulted with the brewery to name the 7 Augustus Bushes that ran the place since 1889. First came “The Originator,” followed closely by his son “The Preserver,” then his son “The Re-organizer.” Next in the alchoholic line of succession was “The Modernizer,” who was also our beer nation’s fattest, shortest, and youngest president. Despite the Bush family’s vast wealth he was also born in a one room log cabin.

(-)-(-) -The arch- If I spent more than ten minutes in and around it I would have more to say. It was a very very cool view from the top to be sure. The three minute tram ride breathing recycled hot air closely resembled the experience of being jettisoned from a space ship in an escape pod.

$- Busch stadium- Now this is a ballpark. This is a tremendous temple to the baseball gods, a place you can see from miles and miles away that dominates the downtown landscape. Since Wrigley and Fenway don’t count in normal stadium conversations I can safely say that this is the nicest ballpark out there. There is no comparison to the view from behind home plate with the Arch in right center. And they love their cards here. Everything is red.

!-Pujols hit it a shot to left so hard that it bounced off the ad of the second deck.

The Last Leg

=-We stopped at a TA outside of Columbus so that I could stop driving and write a draft of this post. Matt from London, OH approached us and asked if we could help him out. You see, unfortunately his truck broke down a few miles down on I-70 E and he needed to get back to it. Well is this a road trip or is this a road trip? So we got to talking, or as Matt preferred to phrase it, “conversatin,” which he preferred to listening to music. Though if he was to listen, he preferred some real good country Like Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, and his favorite, Conway Twitty. You know, any good down home Kentucky Bluegrass. If Matt could stress one thing it would be this. Don't do tons of cocaine

End Notes

* I was 4-0 on the road trip. (Since it was already 4-0 D-backs by the time we got there I can’t in good conscience count that game. Obviously I would have been rooting for the Mets in that game. And I was rooting for the Rangers over the Angels cause F$#% the Angels). Though sadly the walk-off streak ended at two.
* Wal-Mart beat out Target 18-13 on this trip. It wasn’t even close until LA. At that point it was 11-5 for the biggest employer in the world until the big red dot tied it up. But Wal- Mart just could not be beat.
* I wish that I had kept track of McDonalds also. It would have been nice to begin a concluding paragraph/monologue with “All told we drove for 7,250 miles, passed 962 McDonalds, ate 9,400,231 bags of Funyuns and drank 1,490 bottles of Diet Dr. Pepper..."
* We bused through NY, NJ and drove through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and a few miles of West Virginia. 20 states. Not bad.
* Every single state of the Union performs road work on their freeways in the summer, but only New Mexico really had their act together. Everybody else closes lanes randomly and doesn't appear to do much work in the designated zones. Other states- take a lesson from New Mexico.
* Colorado is by far the nicest looking state in our country. Just driving through the Rockies was awe- inspiring.
* Western states have Speed limits as high as 75. Though Ushi goes 90 no matter what, so what's the difference.

* This is the part where I am supposed to say what I learned form the trip. How I will be a better person that leads a more fulfilling life because of the valuable lessons I learned from this trip. I would even use that speech format about McDonalds from earlier. Sadly It's too soon for meaningful perspective. While on the trip I had an uncontrollable ear to ear grin talking about the stops we made, yet when I got back to New York describing my travels seemed hollow and perfunctory. Falling back into old rhythms was shockingly easy. I guess the lesson is to live every day like it is your only day.

Bored again in New York,

'till RD11,


Thursday, August 13, 2009

There and Almost Back Again

Sorry for the delay. As always I prefer numbering over bulleting.

La Brea Tar Pits.
1-Sciency and fun all at the same time. There was a humongous white board above Pit 91 with fun facts. Here are some: It is a common misconception that Dinosaurs are found in the pits. Dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago (sometime in between minute three and four of the third hour of the sixth day of creation) The tar Pits only formed 50,000 or so years ago. They do have tons of cool stuff though. Full Mammoth skeletons, over 150 bison. Thousands of wolves.
1-The tar isn't hot.
1-They find about 2500 full skeletons each year
1-If I may think aloud for a sec, I have a dumb question. Why do only bones come out? Shouldn’t most of the bodies be intact because there’s no oxygen or anything to cause decomp. The bodies are basically in a black sludgy vacuum.

1-The Paleontologists work in the middle of the museum behind glass. The pressure must be intense. I for one would never have been able to consult on bank taxes if snot- nosed kids and Japanese tourists were knocking on the glass in front of me.

1-The LA Jewish community is so much bigger than I thought. Also so much frummer.

1-Biggest pet peeve about LA- The sidewalks are two feet off the ground. Try as I might I couldn’t open the car door without it getting stuck on the sidewalk or grass. This is why nobody in LA carpools. It’s impossible to get out on the passenger side

Shabbos in Hancock Park-

1-Some firsts. I tried my first piece of herring. It was slimy and weird and I felt like I was eating Flipper. Nothing is sacred anymore.

1-Somehow there are enough Yiddish speakers in LA that Rabbis give shabbos drashas in Yiddish.

1-Saturday night I had my first Chimichanga, a fried burrito. This was followed by my first morning of not sleeping and being sick as hell.

Angel Stadium

1-Now this is a nice new classy ballpark. It was one of the first to have the now ubiquitous and mandatory dark green seats. It gives a fan the opportunity to walk completely around the park and chill in the Budweiser Patio in the outfield above the bleachers (which I sat in on Achva west on what can be considered road trip part 0. I think the Indians won. I remember Jim Thome having a huge Homer.) and more efficient terracing of all seat are effectively closer to the field than in parks of yesteryear.

1-There was a 60 ish woman wearing all red angels gear cheering on every play. She even yelled to john lackey after each inning as if he would acknowledge and wave back saying something like "thanks for shouting my name so much and encouraging me. Otherwise I just might not have had the strength to come out to the mound each inning." What made this better was that traditional roles were reversed. Her husband was absolutely disinterested in the game. He had headphones and was reading the newspaper. He also had a page of the paper on his head to block the sun. I don't think he looked at the field for one pitch.

1-Oh and did I mention that our tickets were free? We were very late and were negotiating with the woman behind the ticket window when some guy just taps Ushi on the shoulder and hands us two tickets. No white board required. I try to repay him with a beer or some such inside, but he says he's not drinking today.

Huntington Beach
1- Ran for a while on the beach in the morning. It should go without saying that, it was unbelievably amazing. I tried to cool off with a dip in the ocean. Only the water was zero degrees. Did not expect to freeze on a beach in CA in August. Happily, this also allowed me to fulfill the mandate of this trip by making it a legit coast to coast trip.

1-The garbage trucks here are from the future. They have motorized arms that pick up the cans and dump the garbage into themselves.

1-I was privileged to have front row seats to another spectacular performance last night. I sat on a beach chair and watched the sunset listening to some Arcade Fire, Pearl Jam, and other chillaxingly awesome songs. Sadly no stars came out because of the famous California smog.

So close and yet so far.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Wherever I am is where amazing happens

I will now pick up where AV left off. Though it is a hard act to follow.And I am still recovering from Vegas.

Again I number. Because bullets kill people.

And Math is good for your brain.

More Vegas.

Man, so much happened. So much of it was insane. So much of it was stuff I would tell people about for the rest of my life. But unfortunately I am bound to stay mum. We were supposed to leave the morning after Av left. We extended the trip for one more night. Because Vegas is Awesome. Pretty self explanatory really. Now some random thoughts on Vegas.

  1. Penn & Teller- Way lamer than I expected. Though I have never seen them perform live I had seen half of the act in other places. Notable examples included the “Teller smokes a cigarette while Penn plays the bass like a jackass” and “That thing we did on the episode of the West Wing with the flag” bits. (Don’t be surprised by a WW reference in every post. WW is like torah. Kulah bah).

  1. Mystere – Way more jaw dropping, eye bulging, heart stopping, and “how the F^&$ did they do that” inducing than I could have ever imagined. Truly an unreal experience. To say more would rob you off the pure joy you’ll experience seeing it as I did. In the front row and not sober.

  1. The Wynn- Our faithful followers already have heard of my utter disbelief that the swankiest hotel on the Strip doesn’t get HBO. Well I’ll tell you something else they don’t get, Economics. Paying extra money for the luxury of They Wynn should entitle guests to exclusive perks unavailable at other hotels. Instead it grants guests the opportunity to pay even more ludicrous sums of money for things that are complimentary at other hotels. Access to the fitness center for one day was $30. It is complimentary with a $75 spa/salon treatment, but the cheapest one was $150. Also I hated the toilets, too high off the ground.

  1. The greatest trick the devil ever played was tricking people into paying money to vacation in a desert. You roast just walking across the street. Matzoh Balls are kind of the same. It is being served in gourmet restaurants now. Like the Village Steakhouse in Vegas, or Abigail’s in NY, as Jeff Nathan famously publicized when he beat down Bobby Flay. This was barely even really food back in the day. It was made with the mushy detritus from real cooking because people had nothing else. Now it costs 8 bucks a bowl.

So we drive to LA.

  1. Went to Pico Kosher Deli. I have heard rave reviews. I thought it was pretty good. But it’s hard to screw up a turkey sandwich.

  1. Off to the Dodger game. In reverse order let me tell you what happened and then my impressions of the stadium and its fans. Please keep in mind that 11 days ago I was present for Soriano’s walk off Grand Slam at Wrigley.

  1. The dodgers won. And in very impressive fashion I might add. Down 4-2 in the bottom of the ninth. Pierre leads off with a weak infield single that the pitcher can’t handle. Furcal singles so it’s first and third. I now realize that if Ethier walks. Manny would be up with the bases loaded , nobody out - giving me an opportunity to witness my second consecutive walk off Grand Slam. Alas - history was foiled because Ethier didn’t walk. He ended it himself with a walk off three run homer. 11 days ago I saw Soriano hit a walk off homer, and tonight I witnessed a Soriano surrender a game winning walk off homer. Though in a way Ethier’s is more impressive because Soriano only needed a single.

  1. In the eighth I mentioned to Ushi that Chipper Jones was a triple short of the cycle (he walked, making him still a triple short of a mega cycle) and Ushi said that Chipper hits them all the time. This seemed very wrong to me, as I pointed out how rare they are and how few players have hit multiple cycles. Elias and Wiki later confirmed my understanding. Only three players have ever hit the cycle three times. About a dozen more have done it twice. Chipper Jones has done it zero times.

  1. Going off on a rant here. ChaCha sucks big time. Sucks bigger than Tommy Tammisimo. They answered my Q about Jones’ cycle as follows “Chipper Jones has had 7,337 hits altogether in his career Cha Cha On! So I texted back that nobody could ever have that many hits. And please keep the answer to the topic of cycles. They responded “Chipper Jones has appeared in 2119 games with a .309 average…” Cha Cha sucks, sucks big time.

  1. Dodger Stadium is unlike any other stadium. It sits at the base of a ravine or valley. The entrance is on the third level, which is built into the hillside of the rim surrounding the field and you have to walk down to the field and main level seats. It’s so 1950’s there. It just looks weird. The seats are cheap plastic in garishly bright yellow for the main levels. My seats on the third level were aquamarine.

  1. Despite the stadium only filling to more than 30% capacity between the 5th and 7th innings, they really do love their Dodgers out here. A lot of Dodger blue, and it gets crazy loud, and never more so than for Manny.

  1. This shows you one of the main reasons why it is better in life not to be an A-hole than to be an A-hole. A-rod took steroids but did not miss games. He is routinely booed. Manny missed 50 games and they cheer for him as if he single handedly defeated an advancing army.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Arizona, Vegas, & Parting Thoughts

We spent most of the day on Monday in Arizona.

- We spent the morning in Sedona, AZ, home to the famous and beautiful Red Rocks formations. First, we drove up to a looking point that also serves as the site of a church that is built into the rocks. We then hiked up to the top of one of the Red Rocks, from which we got a stunning view of the vista in all directions.
- We spent exactly 0 seconds searching for the non-existent "vortex." Suck it, Craig.
- While we were hanging out on top, a family that we had seen along the way reached the peak near us. When they decided that they had seen enough and it was time to turn back, their young daughter was exasperated that this was it. She couldn't believe that they had come all this way and there wasn't even anything at the top. Apparently, one of the most magnificent views in the world doesn't excite an 8 year old, so I told her that if she climbs a little further, that at the top of the next peak there's a roller coaster and a castle.
- Desperately needing to cool off, we headed to a nearby creek, where people can chill and go for a swim. Additionally, the creek runs alongside a cliff that has a spot about 15 feet above the water that you can jump into the water from. It was incredible.

Grand Canyon
- The Grand Canyon was either carved by the Colorado River over a six million year period or by Paul Bunyan when he walked through the area and dragged his axe behind him.
- Words can not properly describe the magnitude and sheer awesomeness that you see when you look out into the Grand Canyon. The view and scenery are so surreal that you have to keep reminding yourself that you're actually there.
- We were next to two Israeli girls who we tried talking to, but they for some reason didn't believe us that we actually knew Hebrew. I decided that the one word you can drop to prove that you know Hebrew is "hitpael." If you know what "hitpael" is, you know Hebrew.

- We then proceed to my final stop, Las Vegas. We stopped at a rest stop to get gas and while chatting with the clerk, I mentioned that I had actually also been to Vegas a few weeks ago. She replied "I thought I recognized you. You passed through here a few weeks ago! That's where I saw you!" I informed her that last time I flew.
- Butch called the front desk at the Wynn to complain that our TV didn't have HBO. "Are you sure you don't have it? I'm just confused because every other hotel I have ever been to in my life has had HBO." Apparently, this was an homage to his brother.
- As for everything else we did here, ...

Parting Thoughts
I sit here in our hotel room, getting ready to leave to the airport to catch my flight back home. (Incidentally, because I booked a one way flight to NY through Vegas, for the last week they have been sending me emails with suggestions of activities to do during my visit to NY. Idiots.) Before I pass the blogging baton on to Butch -- who, with Ushi, will be completing the cross country drive as they continue on to Los Angeles tomorrow before driving back home over a few days next week -- I would like to share some parting thoughts on this trip as a whole.

Last Wednesday night, when we were at Mount Rushmore, the park ranger who led the presentation told us that when she worked in the Peace Corps in Africa, she was often asked "What is America like?" and spent a great deal of time trying to articulate an answer. Over the past few days, as we ventured across this great land and seen a good deal of it, I have given some though to this very question. Here's my answer:

America is a land that is both demographically and geographically diverse. It has places that are hot and places that are cold, regions that are flat and others that are mountainous. It has forests and parks, snowy peaks and deserts. America has a little bit of everything because its people come from everywhere.

America is a place where you can come to escape where you came from or to find a community of others that came from the same place. America is a place where people of different religions, ethnicities, and nationalities can become Americans without shedding their culture or heritage. Of all the verses in the Bible, the one that to me most defines the American experience is Deuteronomy 10:19, which reads
וַאֲהַבְתֶּם, אֶת-הַגֵּר: כִּי-גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם, בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם --"And you shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." America is a country of immigrants. With the exception of Native Americans, every single one of us is from somewhere else.

America is a beautiful country. Many of you spend a great deal of time traveling all over the world and you should. The world is full of many incredible and exquisite destinations. But don't forget about the beautiful country of ours we have right here at home. To spend your entire life living here without taking the time to really travel it would be a tremendous shame.

Thanks to all of you for following along with us on our journey. Even more so, thank you to Butch and Ushi for joining me in what was an unforgettable two weeks. I made it to places I wasn't sure I ever would and it was truly amazing. Good luck on the rest of your trip.


P.S. Who the fuck is Matt?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Let's Take The Scenic Route

We spent the previous few days in the Denver/Boulder area. After driving through Wyoming (where there is nothing, not even trees on the side of the road or anything of even remote interest in the state capital of Cheyenne) we moved on to Denver. We spent a few hours there on Thursday afternoon, checking out the downtown area (most stuff was closed) before heading to Boulder.

In Boulder Friday morning, we climbed Mount Chautauqua. Or at least most of us climbed most of it. I made it about 85% of the way before calling it quits. A tragic combination or heightened Colorado altitude and heightened Av stomach weight collided to prevent me from reaching the peak. Still, from where I made it, the view was incredible and the atmosphere was sublime. And if pain and suffering builds character, I am now one hell of a guy.

We also spent a little time on Pearl Street, a gorgeous pedestrian mall filled with both mainstream and uinique shops, as well as a wide array of talented street performers wherever you look. It was the perfect central location for a thriving city that other cities should attempt to emulate. I'm looking at you, Manhattan.
After returning to Denver for a lovely Shabbat and a Saturday night viewing of "Funny People," we were ready to make our way towards our penultimate destination, the Grand Canyon.

John Elway, Joe Montana, and Peytom Manning can all take a lesson from the incredible drive we completed yesterday. Last Sunday, we worked to redefine the words "loud" and "fast." This week, let's work on the word "scenic." There are "scenic routes" and then there is the route we took yesterday from Denver to Sedona, AZ along I-70W in Colorado and down through the Moab region of Utah. It was extremely long but it was breathtaking and was far and away the most enjoyable route I have ever driven in my life.

Mt. Evans
We left Denver at 6:15 MDT. Our 1st stop was Mt. Evans, host to the highest paved road in the United States. In order to reach the 14,000 foot high summit, you must first drive along a narrow windy road, mostly without a guardrail at any time, instilling you with the fear that death is nearby. When we finally reached the top, we opened the door only to have it slammed shut by a freezing gust of wind. Despite being over 80 degrees on the ground, it was more like 40 on top. Also, there was snow. Snow in the summer! Is there a snowball in our cooler right now? Maybe.

Glenwood Springs
We continued along our route and stopped off at Glenwood Springs, home to a natural hot springs pool. I thought it looked pretty cool, but we rebuffed the venue's demand of an $18 entrance fee. If Rubby is reading this, he is shaking his head disgustedly right now.

The drive through Western Colorado
Literally, the most beautiful road I have ever been on. You wind along the Colorado River at time, where people are rafting below, and cruise alongside glorious mountains with different color schemes and different formations. It's absolutely glorious.

We then proceeded southward through Moab, which has an array of indescribable craters and rock formations. I had never heard of this place before Thursday, but it is now near the top of my list of places in America that everyone should visit.

Four Corners
I am not referring to Dean Smith's UNC basketball offensive scheme or to the types of garmnents that require tzitzit. Rather, I am referring to the only place in America where four states meet. We got to stand on a monument in the "exact" location where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah meet.
The pro: When you go to the gift shop in "Colorado" you can negotiate by citing "lower sales tax in Arizona."
The con: When Butch or Ushi inexplicably disappear, there are now 4 possible states they might be in.

One of the aims of this drive was to once and for all determine whether the sun does indeed set in Flagstaff, AZ. We raced the sun towards Flagstaff, but our efforts proved inconclusive. We were about 100 miles East of Flagstaff when the sun disappeared from our view, and although it looked like Flagstaff was indeed its final resting place for the night, we couldn't be sure. As we drove through Flagstaff, there was no sign of it anywhere, leaving us further bewildered.

We finally stopped for the night in Sedona, AZ at 11:00 MST (idiots here don't observe daylight savings time), ending the longest and most beautiful drive I have ever been a part of. All said the trip was 17 hours (approx 15 of which we were in the car) and 800 miles. And oh ya, I was at the wheel for every minute of it.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

North Dakota, South Dakota, Marilyn Monroe

Mitchell, South Dakota

  • We had our first bad weather day as it rained most of the morning and early afternoon. Classic South Dakotan rainy summers.
  • We visited Mitchell’s “Corn Palace,” a tremendous building first constructed at the turn of last century and the brainchild of two men with awesome mustaches designed to serve as the centerpiece to an annual corn exposition that would promote South Dakotas’ corn production. A huge sign when we walked in declared it to be the “world’s only corn palace.” We were shocked to learn that there weren’t many other corn palaces scattered across the globe.
  • The palace was littered with puns everywhere we turned. Snacks were sold at “Corncessions,” an event was described as “a-maize-ing,” and our guide referred to a “cornparison’ between two murals.
  • The exterior of the building has murals from previous years depicting incredible pictures and scenery. The murals are made entirely out of corn. Other murals hang in the auditorium inside, which is also used to host basketball games and concerts.

Kimball, South Dakota

  • En route to the Badlands, we stopped when we saw a sign for a tractor museum on the side of the road. The museum was made up of 3-4 buildings, which mostly contained old John Deere tractors.
  • Our tour guide asked Butch and Ushi if they were twins.
  • The highlight of the museum was a small, one room schoolhouse. They had two old gradebooks from the 1940s still intact with names and grades. I love the potential of being able to confront someone with the knowledge that they got a C in math in 3rd grade.
  • Ushi asked our tour guide if he could buy a book from the schoolhouse because he likes “vintage stuff.” They negotiated a price of $5. Classic New Yorkers it starts with a $5 book. By this time next year, we’ll own half the real estate in South Dakota.
  • She asked us where we went to college. When she didn’t know what Yeshiva was and we explained that it was a Jewish college in New York, she made a quizzical look that implied she had never heard the word “Jewish” before. And I supposed we all look the same, too, right?

The remainder of this post was authored by Butch. It is presented to you in its full, unedited form with several “Av’s notes” where indicated.

The Badlands

As always I prefer to number than to bullet. And not just to be different.

  1. Like most days of my life I was automatically reminded of The West Wing today because of Mount Rushmore. Let me say this in very definite, certain terms. There is no competition between North Dakota and South Dakota. It is not merely a relative temperature or geographical discrepancy that favors the southern state. Nor is it because the word South inspires more fun. South Dakota is the only Dakota that matters because of the vastly entertaining nature of its landscape and the good humor of its people. (Av’s note: Of course we haven’t been to North Dakota, but we rightfully assume that it sucks.)
  2. Imagine a mini version of the Grand Canyon that possesses tall sweeping crags that rise seemingly into the clouds, and also has the dramatic, beautiful chasms. Now also imagine Av's face when we passed one of many "Beware- Rattlesnakes" as we ambled up to a small peak. (Av’s note: It is still extremely unclear to me why nobody else was taking these warning signs seriously.) Imagine also that a duo of New Yorkers that had driven to the Badlands in 33 hours straight asked us for ways to enhance their trip. Of course we knew they were Jewish because they were from New York. The Chai necklace also helped. But the best part is that the US Government was good enough to build a highway that loops through this wonderland of the Dakota prairie which has glorious viewpoints every few thousand feet and offers spectacular views in all different varieties of elevation, and easy access to many walking/hiking trails. Woe was us that we didn't have time to camp and hike more.
  3. The first hundred or so signs for Wall Drug on I-90, beginning way back in Mitchell, were ignored. The next hundred or so got us curious. By the third hundred we had no choice but to research the early drug store whose claim to fame was that it offered Mt. Rushmore visitors free ice water. The small drug store from a town of 231 in a town "in the middle of nowhere" (as quoted by Mr. Hustead, the owner, and most genius marketer in the history of the world) became popular enough to spawn a restaurant and second coffee chop. Then the restaurants and coffee shops got together and had little souvenir shop babies and adopted all manner of cowboy themed shops, banks, art museums, hotels, an 80 foot dinosaur replica, and a chapel. I think Wal- mart stole its business plan from Wall Drug. They sell everything and they have an entire town of stores. Needless to say we created a photo album of the fourth hundred Wall Drug signs. And the coffee was only a nickel. A Nickel!

    Mount Rushmore

  1. With just minutes of daylight left we first glimpsed the perfect blend of natural wonder and man made art for the first time. You don't really need to keep reading because there are no words. But then you'd still be bored at work, so I'll just throw some up here, you know, for the kids. With time to burn before the lighting ceremony at 9 we visited the museum. All museums would be more fun if they had displays that allowed you to mimic blowing up parts of mountains by pushing old school dynamite plungers. We learned many fun facts. For example, the mountain was named after Charles Rushmore, some lawyer from NY that visited the site in the Black Hills Mountains some time in 1885 (Av’s note: more national monuments should be named after lawyers from NY.) Apparently he just asked for it to be named after him. It seems that nobody until then had thought such a dumb move could work. It took 14 years to build and cost $1,000,000. Which back then was still a lot of money. The actual work only took about six years due to constant funding problems and political battles. Washington's head was completed in 1930, but Lincoln's was completed in 1937.
  2. Classiest Park I have ever been to. A park ranger spoke to us about her experiences in Africa during her time in the Peace Corps. Having to speak about America every day to try and explain American life to the natives helped her gain a deeper love for the vast differences all Americans bring together to weave the beautiful tapestry of our country.
  3. Next there was a video giving an overview of American history, stressing the importance to the nation of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt- because the 4 Presidents chosen were meant to personify the growth of our nation from Revolution and infancy, to vast western expansion, to renewed strength and unity, and finally to a national will exerted on the global stage. (Av’s note: We learned that at 21 inches, Washington’s nose is 1 inch longer than the other 3 presidents. Perhaps a certain incident involving a certain cherry tree caused George’s nose to grow slightly longer than Honest Abe, Tom, and Teddy.)
  4. A Boy Scout troop ceremonially took down our star spangled banner and folded it up so that all the military servicemen present could place his or her hand on it and tell us in which department of the armed forces they served. After the video we sang the National Anthem as the lights gradually illuminated the sculptures atop the mountain. It was touching and felt patriotic. Since I'll clearly not have to opportunity to defend Freedom my next best option was to practice the capitalism so dear to our hearts. So I bought a T-shirt at the gift store with a big eagle on it.
  5. Before the ceremony began we had a nice round of presidential trivia with a park ranger. Some were obvious. Taft was the biggest, Lincoln the tallest, Madison the smallest. Adams and Jefferson died on the same day... Some were interesting. Clinton never met his dad, Teddy Roosevelt, not Kennedy, was the youngest president. But the best question was indeed the trickiest. Who becomes president if the Vice President passes away? Most, but definitely not all, of the people in the amphitheatre shouted out "The Speaker of the House.” They were all wrong. The president would still be the president. He wasn't dead in the example. Better Shtick could not have been had.

Av's note: We departed Mount Rushmore and drove southbound. We stopped for the night to spend Tisha B'av in a small town 2 hours north of Cheyenne called Douglas, WY. Next year in Jerusalem...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

From Non-Heaven to Somewhere in Middle America


Dubuque, IA
  • We spent the night in Dubuque, IA, which rests on the Mississippi River. At breakfast, the news was on and Nancy Pelosi was speaking on TV. The woman sitting at the table next to me called her a "maniacal woman" who claims to know what Americans wants but clearly doesn't because "you don't live in my house!" Glad to be in red-state America.
  • We found a local attraction called the Fenelon Place Elevator. It is a mini-tram that you can ride about a hundred feet up and down a mountain, at the top of which you can see a stunning view of the Mississippi River and into Wisconsin and Illinois. (The elevator was originally built to accommodate a local state senator who didn't want to have to climb up.) The address we had for the place was at the top, though, and since we already had access to the view, we didn't see any point to pay them $1 to go down the mountain, where there is nothing. We think someone in their marketing department should change the official address of the attraction to the bottom of the mountain, so that people have a reason to use their service.
Dyersville, IA
  • On Monday afternoon, I was somewhat down on baseball. As one of our commenters alluded to, it was a confusing and embarrassing day to be a Mets fan, with the debacle that was the Minaya press conference still fresh in our minds. I needed to be inspired. First, I got word of a dramatic Mets win on a huge Tatis grand slam, a win so eloquently described by Faith and Fear in Flushing: "The intrinsic beauty and joy of the game of baseball is asked to redeem a lot about the sorry and ugly business of baseball. Sometimes the asking seems like too much. But incredibly and improbably, baseball often manages to pull it off. Nothing about the Mets' team coming back to beat the Rockies makes the Mets' organization less of a mess. But for three hours, somehow, the Mets made me forget about the Mets. And for that I'm grateful." (hattip Binny.) This feeling was amplified by watching in person as the Cubs won on a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the 13th and a near full crowd poured out onto Waveland Avenue singing "Go Cubs Go" in unison. The icing on the cake, however, was the Field of Dreams.
  • The Field of Dreams is located on a farm in Dyersville, IA, and was constructed in the summer of 1988 for the filming of the legendary Kevin Costner movie of the same name. It is wondrous to see in person.
  • We spent the next hour or two running around the field like little kids: playing catch, taking batting practice, watching families take the field and run the bases. For that short time, I was brought back to a place in my life that was pristine and pure and untainted by the havoc of real life, a time and a place where "Field of Dreams" was the defining piece of culture in my life and baseball was the only thing in the world that I truly cared about. (To those who might claim not much has changed, I would respond that now I also care about Pearl Jam.) For two hours yesterday, I was a child again.
  • In the words of the great Terrance Mann: "The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come."
  • They built it, we came. You should too.
Des Moines, IA
  • Des Moines was a decent looking city and definitely much better than we expected (sometimes your impression of a city has much more to do with your expectations than with its actual qualities - see below), but there wasn't too much going on.
  • We found a central monument area that contained the Iowa State Capitol (a beautiful building) as well as monuments to those Iowans lost in Vietnam, Korea, and at Pearl Harbor.
  • We found a local bar to try to get a sense of the life there. The bartender was holding a one year old baby behind the bar. They don't have that in bars in New York.
Omaha, Nebraska
  • The image I have of Omaha, Nebraska and of any person that is from there was radically altered by the 2 hours or so that we spent there. A locale that I envisioned as a tiny, farm town is, in fact, a stunning city with parks, arenas, and stunning architecture. We were shocked.
  • We walked across the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, which is the only purely pedestrian bridge in the US that connects two states. It was opened to the public on Sept. 28, 2008. One day, I will be able to tell my grandchildren that I walked across the BKPB (that's what they'll call it then) during its inaugural year.
  • The bridge spans the Missouri River, which we were surprised to learn, at 2,341 miles, is the longest river in the country. We had just assumed it was the Mississippi, which it meets in St. Louis. It must be a crazy party when the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers get together.
  • There were signs on the bridge that identified the Missouri River as "a river of hope", "a river of change", and "a river of the people." Hmmm, hope and change...where have I heard that before? And once we thought about it, the words "Obama" and "Omaha" kind of look and sound the same. There's definitely something going on here. From now on, both will be referred to as "Obamaha."
  • Butch: "This is a bridge to nowhere. Why doesn't everyone get all up in arms on Nebraska's case."
  • We then visited Heartland of America Park, which is adjacent to the Old Market, a lovely part of town filled with bars, shops, and ice cream parlors. It might sound crazy, but Obamaha would not be a terrible place to live. Just saying...
  • Obamaha may have the highest graffiti per capita of any state in the US. Unsure how to verify this.
We had planned to drive up to Sioux Falls, SD to spend the night, but when we called to book a motel room, we learned that literally every room in the city and nearby area was booked for the night because of some massive softball tournament going on there today. We had to venture an hour deeper into South Dakota, where we found a gorgeous, affordable motel in Mitchell, San Diego. We passed the Laura Ingalls Wilder (author of the "Little House on the Prairie" series) home about 20 minutes outside Mitchell on the way here, but assumed it would be closes at 3am. Today we will find out what else South Dakota has to offer.