"It ain't easy being that way around here."
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"Iowa smells like dookie. Minnesota sucks. South Dakota is Beautiful!" - Burqa Boy
We left Chicago and headed west across Illinois to Iowa. Leaving Illinois isn't easy. The Illinoisians have downright lousy freeways carefully marred by bone-rattling, transmission jarring bumps every quarter mile. These freeways aren't free either. The first tollbooth is 60 cents per car, which seems a reasonable fee for a hundred miles of crappy pavement. However, Illinois collects another dollar every fifth mile. By the time you reach the border you're too poor to leave and your car won't make it much further if you do. It's either a very clever plot to encourage use of public transit or a co-branding effort to boost American car sales.
If you think there isn't much in Iowa, you're nearly correct. There isn't much if you compare the state to say, Indiana or Ohio. But Iowa has some unique charms you won't find elsewhere. Iowans take great pride in their freeways which are as smooth and solid as a sixteen year on his first date. Along these freeways are America's finest rest areas. Witness: entirely new facilities with free Wi-Fi Internet access, computerized weather and traffic reports, modern art and smoke-free (signs implore you to smoke only inside your "sealed private vehicle"). This isn't just one rest area but the vast majority across the state. We checked.
Oddly, Iowa's rest areas also boast some rather old "Point of Interest" signs. Just across the Missouri River one such plaque states "the railroad slaked it's thirst in the cold waters of the Missouri" and "the ancient Red Man once lived, loved, and killed each other here." I'm hoping the same sign makers will have a contract with New Mexico with news about the lives of ancient Green Men. Stay tuned.
Iowa also boasts the World's Largest Truck Stop. It is huge. Gigantic. Large even. The stop is so big that it houses two semi-trucks, a barbershop, showers, a diner, twenty seven thousand gas pumps and a still has room for large collections of Christian kitsch. (While there we met the driver of another Smart Car - the first we've seen since leaving New Jersey - see photo.)
On our second day in Iowa we passed through Orange City, a tiny metropolis located somewhere between four large farms and just north of the Ice Cream Capitol of the World (which we missed by accident). We visited with my brother, who is a father but not a priest, his wife and their lovely daughter. In an attempt to attract tourists to this two-hotel, one bank town, the locals have erected a number of mock windmills, from which the town derives it's rousing slogan: "We got windmills, bitches!"
On to South Dakota
To get to South Dakota, we had to cut through the corner of Minnesota (Did you know you can see a map of our route? Click here to check it out!). While we were in Minnesota for only twenty minutes, Burqa Boy announced his judgement and decided never to return. Sorry Minnesota.
Like Orange City, in places where there is nothing, locals attempt to build something. One fine example is the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. Imagine a building festooned with murals made entirely of corn. Now imagine Laurence Welk playing shows inside this building. Finally, consider the work necessary to keep all that corn adhered under the onslaught of a bubble machine. Yes, it's fantastic and well worth a visit.
Two hundred miles west of Mitchell is Wall, South Dakota. You may have heard of Wall where Wall Drug offers free ice water for weary travelers and enough kitschy entertainment to keep even the most video game addled toddlers entertained. (As a side note, it's a shame to see kids on road trips staring at DVD screens embedded in the headliners of their minivans. DVD screens in minivans is a sure sign of crappy parenting.) Burqa Boy refused the free ice water, but we did stay to watch the T Rex roar and had our quarter stolen by the piano playing monkey.
We spent two days in Rapid City, South Dakota visiting Mount Rushmore and the Badlands. I'll post plenty of photos of both and leave the descriptions of these fantastic places to more gifted writers. Sister Betty did make an official appearance near the Badlands to provide communion to prairie dogs and you might find a related video if you look around.
(Before going further, Burqa Boy wants me to note that hotels with indoor water slides are the bomb diggity.)
Then to Wyoming
We finished our week crossing Wyoming to the tiny town of Thermopolis (population 3,127). In addition to having a fantastic name, Thermopolis boasts both the Wyoming Dinosaur Center and a hot spring that feeds three (three!) different bathhouses. (Sorry gay boys, not the kind of bathhouse you're used to.)
(Side note: Burqa Boy and I became some of instant celebrities with the arrival of the first Smart Car to Thermopolis, an event which may appear in the local newspaper when it is published again next year. While residents of other states are mildly interested, Thermopolites actively seek us out to talk about the car and a small boy announced he'd been watching the brand on the Internet and television for months. We even had to wait while two local police officers inspected the vehicle.)
Despite it's size and location, Thermopolis is amazing fun and ranks in my top ten places every road trip should include. We've hunted for fossils in a giant dig site, floated in the hot springs, danced across a swaying bridge above a river, and listened to wizened locals croon country songs at a place called the Safari Club (which is outfitted with so many mounted heads that Burqa Boy dubbed it "The Hall of Death").
One night in town, our youthful waitress asked us friendly questions every time she passed our table. After three or four exchanges, she quietly said "Are you two....?" and waved her hand in the air to imply the final word. "Of course," I replied in a regular voice. "We're boyfriends." The man at the next table regurgitated his bread through his nasal cavity.
The waitress smiled. A moment later she passed close to our table and leaned in to say: "It's hard to be that way here. I should know." Then she smiled shyly and brought us some amazing dessert.
I doubt many of us will forget why Wyoming holds a special place in gay history, and being a young gay person in a tiny, remote town must be a special challenge. Darling, if you're reading this, there are lots of folks across the country sending you their thoughts.
(A few key details of the story above have been changed to ensure our friend isn't easily identified.)
We've now reached a place in our journey where men wear baseball caps advertising some sort of Republican approved activity and women look a lot like soft-butch lesbians. It may be time to fit a gun rack or steer horns to the Smart. Before we do that, we're headed further west to where the mountains are higher, the mountain goats plentiful, and Old Faithful isn't a whiskey or someone I once dated.
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