The Great American Road Trip II - 6 - Big Utensils, Little Flavor
Our first stop of the day was in Northfield, a short drive from Minneapolis and a cute college town, home to crosstown rivals Carleton and St. Olaf.
What should have taken thirty minutes took instead about fifty, as the Interstate down was closed.
Every state has its own type of road construction, but Minnesota has its own special brand of messed up. The signs that should have denoted the complete and utter closing of the Interstate were cryptic, and we were forced to detour along a county road out into the middle of nowhere. We made our way down back roads to Northfield and poked around the St. Olaf and Carleton campuses - but mainly Carleton's, as the architecture is more interesting and diverse.
In addition to housing the two colleges (whose rivalry traditions include a massive annual snowball fight), Northfield is on the 45th parallel which we crossed in Michigan on the second day of the trip, and is the site of the near-capture of Jesse James and the start of a cascade of events leading up to his assassination. The place has annual Jesse James days where they do a re-enactment of that day's events.
It was pouring rain by the time we'd finished looking around, and found a small cafe to have some lunch. Their sandwiches and wraps were nominal, but the real treats were in their ice creams. My dad got some coconut almond while my mom and I split praline pecan.
(While poking around in an adjoining shop, I found what was possibly the most innately wrong book on the entire continent: a bizarre picture book about Finland which featured, on its cover, a naked family in a sauna. Leaves were placed in convenient locations but this did not make the scene any easier to deal with; if anything, the foliage made it even creepier.)
The rains had gone, so we left Northfield and headed back up to Fargo via Minneapolis. The traffic was bumper-to-bumper going 75 miles an hour and the rains were intermittent. Eventually the traffic peeled off into the suburbs and we were left on I-94 bound for the North Dakota border. The terrain had begun to flatten considerably, and any low areas were filled with standing waters. I could not tell if some were outright lakes or simply glorified puddles from the record days of rain in this section of the country.
A little after 6:00 we crossed over into North Dakota (state #8) into Fargo and continued on past the I-29 interchange to get to the deserted welcome center, which featured sinks that jutted far enough out to wash a small farm animal and a lady behind the desk who had the personality of a sedated anteater. Not knowing where the independent Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks might sell a pennant for the collection, she directed us to a place down the street called Scheel's, which is apparently a local chain of stores.
This place was a shrunken-down Mall of America, except it was all one store - kind of like a multi-story combination of Wal-Mart and Bass Pro Shops sprinkled with uncanny mannequin doppelgängers of various US Presidents and a ferris wheel inside.
Clearly, when it comes to attractions, these folks prefer the great indoors.
We found many cool items and more than a few RedHawks-related hats and t-shirts, but we did not find a pennant. The employees told us that they might have something inside the mall a little farther into the city, but after walking around a few levels of the store and getting progressively more disturbed with each disturbing fake President we passed, we decided to head on up to Grand Forks. One look at the weather solidified this notion for us.
We could not outrun this weather.
North Dakotans are possibly the craziest of all drivers when out in the elements, as they flew past us going 85 or 90 when 65 was pushing it in the torrential downpour and gusting winds. While completely flat out there, the road construction did not help matters. Occasional reprieves from the rains made for a somewhat faster drive but we could not make ideal time because we'd just run back into another wall of rain.
After eight we were out of the road work and nearly to the hotel, and before 8:30 we made it. The madness of today combined with leftover tiredness from yesterday made the decision to eat at the hotel easy, especially because the hotel chain we're at usually has pretty good food.
They had one waitress, one cook, and about thirty people to serve. How very badly this particular hotel is staffed cannot be overemphasized. Food came out from the kitchen at a snail's pace and was delivered even slower. With no one to clean the tables, the lone waitress cleaned them on a need-only basis and did so five minutes after we had sat down.
Our food showed up after what felt like an hour, and the flavor was absolutely nonexistent. The bread I had with my chicken parmesan was the most flavorful part of the entire experience, as the chicken was not only nearly burnt but tasted like it had been reheated twenty-nine different times over the course of a week and a half, and I'm pretty sure what little sauce was present on my pasta was scraped from the bottom of an old bottle of Ragù.
I cleaned this plate off because it was sustenance. Under circumstances where my hunger was not nearly so dire I would have probably only gone as far as to sniff it.
Tomorrow: the exact center of North America in Rugby, ND, then north to Manitoba.