Adam Savage can be a noisy fellow when it comes to something he likes.  One of those things is the magic show/one person show “In and Of Itself”.  In it, Derek Delgaudio does six tricks in some 75 minutes wrapped together with some narrative work.  The overall theme seemed like it was supposed to be something to do with identity and what we call things and ourselves but that felt thin.  Importantly, that integument was unnecessary.

Most of his tricks were somewhat predictable in the sense that you knew what the trick was going to be well before it unfolded creating an attitude of “this guy is going to x” followed by a kind of madness when the guy did x.  There’s a kind of boldness to “this is what I’m going to do now watch me do it”.  The penultimate trick involved a memory or hidden communication trick that had me going “this guy is going to point at me and say a thing and I’m going to cry” and lo and behold, at the end of the trick he had pointed at me, said a thing, and there I was crying.  This trick was quickly followed up by another where I think the audience collectively shit itself in amazement.  I nearly leapt up yelling “WITCH!”.

My theater partner and I bolted for the train which we narrowly missed and then waited for 15 for the next.  That was enough time to get a donut and a water and cool down from turbo walking a mile through the hot city.  Over that walk the magic wore off a bit.  The contract between the sublime construction of the magic tricks and the greasy real-ness of the city.

When we returned to my place, sirens were going off throughout the evening.  My area loses a fair number of residents to drug abuse, about two a day by my math but recently there’d been a string of problematic overdoses where drugs had been spiked with something.  Possibly fentanyl and possibly some sort of muscle relaxant.  Earlier in the evening, I waved at Sarah Silverman who was also in the audience and now I’m listening to people clinging to life.  It’s about as much juxtaposition as I can bear.

The day was driving and if I were lucky I’d get in at 2-3am.  Chicago was unkind and the Philadelphia Turnpike was under heavy construction so I wound up getting in arount 5am.  Such is the way of things.  I have no great notes on the drive home except that it was long.  Whenever I take a long drive, I miss returning to my previous house in the burbs.  The roads would go from Interstate, to US route, to state route, to county route, to driveway.  For the city, it goes from highway to big street, to home and the whole time the city is visible on the horizon.

Overall Thoughts: The Dakotas are beautiful.  The upper midwest is an area where I’d like to spend more time and I hope to make time to do so.  The distances are long but not too long compared to east of the Rockies.  The terrain created by glacial movement is quite pretty.  After I got back, I compared my actual map with what I came up with on Roadtrippers and am amazed at how much I missed.  Dozens of sites.  Guess I’ll need to go back.

Total distance: 5,264 miles
Gallons of fuel: 149.9
Fuel Economy: 35.1 mpg

Total cost: $1508.84

As a note, I spent about equal amounts on lodging, food, transit, and attractions.

What was the goal?
I’ve driven something like 400,000 miles in my life. In that time, I’ve spent little time in North Dakota, South Dakota, or Minnesota and I wanted to fix that. Much of my travel was to visit members of my Team Fortress 2 team and since few lived in those states, I mostly crossed them rather than properly visiting. These states also contain a lot of good Americana. It’s “farmers with sheet metal welding equipment and time” country and there’s some gorgeous installation pieces that seem to fit that theme. Also, a coworker of mine from mainland China wanted to take an American Roadtrip so she was going to join me for the first week. Ideally, I’d hit about five National Parks and some dozen other sites.

OKCupid
I periodically check OKCupid while traveling to see what kind of people “match” me in an area. I’m generally progressive but with a strong free speech streak. Younger folk tend to be more progressive than older ones so if I tend to match with people younger than me, I’m inferring that the area is less progressive as it takes a “younger” person to be in the same part of the political as me. Also vice versa as on the west coast I tend to match with older people.

So far, Chicago seems to have the most people with which I mesh and a significant number appear to be red heads.

Also areas become less densely populated, the “looking for someone with this distance” distance tends to increase. In Chicago 5-10 was common, in Duluth and Ely, 100.

I rose early as today would see two national parks and three other sites. I quickly packed and headed to Wind Cave National Park where I found out the tours were not running as the elevator was not operating. I had signed up for the Natural Entrance tour which I assumed involved taking the natural entrance but apparently the elevator was required to run any tour and thus the tours weren’t running. I sped off to Mount Rushmore to visit before it was overrun with tourists on a Sunday and found: 1) The fog there was comically dense 2) the place was still over-run by tourists. So, on to Badlands.

Before Badlands, I saw a sign for a tribal area with a scenic overlook and stopped. It was a badlands formation. The Dakota Badlands are a byproduct of very soft sediment being washed away and there’s little proper rock or vegetation. Badlands look the like the geographic equivalent of a Weierstrass function being at all places rising or falling. I went back to my car to grab my drone an encountered a….man:

Him: Neat isn’t it?
Me: Yeah, it’s pretty spectacular what water can-
Him: What do you think caused this?
Me: Just soft material that’s been washed away by wind and wat-
Him: Think an earthquake did it?
Me: Nope just water.
Him: Huh….you know a lot about this stuff, why is the grass so short?  I live in Chicago a long way aways and wish my grass were this short.
Me: I mean, it’s not that short, if you look over there it’s much much taller and it’s probably short because people walk here.
Him: I wish it were this short. I have to keep mowing my lawn in Chicago.
Me: You have grass in Cook County?
Him: Nah, we’re outside of Chicago but pretty close.
Me: Really?
Him: Good to talk to you, I’m going to talk to my family.

Oooooooookaaaaaay.  This was a special kind of violent boring.

Badlands National Park started with 18 miles on an unpaved road approaching the park from the south.  After another few miles of poorly paved road I came upon the first turn off which was at a prairie dog town.  This was a new type of prairie dog that was the size of a dachshund and would waddle over looking for food.  A woman was feeding one sunflower seeds from her hand and another was feeding one almonds.  I remembered that contact with a prairie dog was one of the few ways to get bubonic plague and I smiled.  The park was slow going and contained much more badland formations.  I got my fill and exited early into Wall, South Dakota.  Home of the ur-tourist trap, Wall Drug.  I had a few people ask about this place and after giving it a glance, decided to move on.  I’m fine with someone creating or promoting the kooky but such an obvious ploy was a bit much for me.  As a gift, headed east on I-90 there was a skeleton person walking a skeleton T-Rex.

I shot east in an attempt to make a sculpture garden before it closed and not just any one.  This one is a spot on the morbid side with a red-eyed jack-in-the-box smiling with blood about his mouth and a giant bull head.  Traffic slowed me to the point where I missed it and I floated on fumes to refuel.  I was done.  I had driven for four days and covered some 1300 miles by myself and that was enough.  I had spots that I wanted to see on the way back but it was late and none would be open until tomorrow which would likely delay my return back a day.  Let’s go home.  With that, I put my home address in my GPS and I set back.  Working backwards from it being 8pm or so, I’d have 20 hours of driving plus losing another hour to a time zone.  Five hours today would put be at 16 hours tomorrow plus stops.  Ugh.

When driving, I tend to drive as long as I can before I feel sleepy. The moment my head bobs, or I feel like it will soon, I call it a day.  Sometimes this causes problems as wind up driving until 3am, check in at a hotel, and then get kicked out at 11am after having slept for 7 hours which makes for a crappy driving day.  So now I start looking for a place where I can land between 1 and 2am and on this trip, that turned out to be La Crosse, Wisconsin.  The Motel 6 fit the bill and the obvious signs of an area dealing with opioid abuse were present.  I already felt like I was home.  The room had an air conditioner that seemed incapable of reducing the humidity, oh well.

This post is backdated and was published on August 2nd, 2018

The dryer at the airbnb was nigh useless and I lost two hours to it just heating up the clothing in the dryer without seemingly drying. On inspection, the dryer had no vent and had some sort of condensation tank that was in no way collecting condensation. Anyway, off to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

I’m now in the land of prairie dogs. In the same way an ant hill will seemingly destroy an 8″ x 8″ plot of grass, a prairie dog hole/warren/den does the sae on a much larger scale. They are one of the few ways one can encounter the bubonic plague so it’s good they don’t generally let you get close. When approaching an area with nests, at about 75 feet away, the prairie dogs would go up on their hind legs and stare at you. At 50 feet, they’ll lie low in the depression made by their dens. At 25 feet, they’ll start chirping at you and disappear under ground. These three concentric rings were centered on you and followed you as you moved, giving you a nimbus of chirping prairie dog as you move around.

…or at least that’s how I thought prairie dogs worked. With a little more experience with them, there seemed to be three types:
1) Those as listed above
2) Those used to cars where you could practically run them over but that would scurry away if you opened your door
3) Those used to humans and who’d waddle over if you had a peanut

Theodore Roosevelt was pretty as a park but didn’t have any exceptional areas. The geology again was the geology of glaciers plus a river. I took pictures, looked at more prairie dogs, and moved on.

At the visitor center, I asked if there was a good place outside the park to fly my drone. The guide indicated it was illegal in the park. I said that I asked for something outside the park. The guide said “oh, yeah, you did” and proceded to circle some places on a map for me to look at. I thanked him and drove to the first spot with drone in hand. Wow. The guide was right. There were some lovely rock formations separated by verdant valleys where he recommended and considering the high and pointiness of the flora, I would have stood little chance on foot. From sufficient height, a field of prairie dog dens look like prairie acne or a field overtaken with ants. I saw a group of antelope for the first time as they scampered majestically, later realizing it was probably due to the sound of the drone being that of a cloud of angry bees.

Then next stop was the Enchanted Highway in Regent, ND.  For about 32 miles there are large metal sculptures at 4-6 mile intervals with a little parking lot and turn out for each.  Each is quite large, made of scrap metal, and planned by a local artist as an attempt to not have local towns go extinct.  At the end in the town of Regent I stopped at a small gift shop.  The elderly shopkeeper asked “coming on going”.  I assumed coming was coming for the highway and going having seen it.  I said “goin’.” he said “right”.  I bought a small Christmas ornament and some local fudge.  Small towns in this area seem to usually have public bathrooms.

In Meadow, South Dakota, near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation there is a spot that is 120 miles from the nearest McDonalds.  Referred to as the McFurthest point, this spot is as far from you can get from a McDonalds in the lower 48.  I stopped, tried to take a picture, and was eaten alive by mosquitoes.  My next stop was….wherever I was staying for the evening which was still a good number of miles off.  The next urban center was Art Alley in Rapid City, SD and the next other site was Mt. Rushmore/Wind Cave National Park.  I opted to skip Rapid City and head straight to Hot Springs, SD to rest.

This post is backdated and was published on August 1st, 2018

The first morning without company was dull.  Families with fathers wearing polo shirts and wives in white fluttering around the reasonably good breakfast offering at the hotel.  Every time I got up for more coffee my plate was taken even if it has something on it.  I wonder if this is just borne of the reasonable prior that empty plate was a sign of departure with someone failing to drop their plate at the bus station rather than it being someone getting a refill.

The first stop was at the KVLY mast.  This antenna 2,063 feet tall and when constructed in the 60s was the tallest artificial structure and first over 2,000 feet.  It held the record for tallest until the Burj Kalifa was built and is now #4 but still highest in North America.  It’s hard to register that it’s over a third of a mile tall and is seemingly jack straight.  The guy lines extend out to a distance that the total area under it is 160 acres of which most is cropland.  I got a little hit of adrenaline driving to the next site.  I was far enough into North Dakota that I would pass a vehicle a few times an hour at best and in those cases the oncoming driver usually waved.

The next stop was the Nekoma Pyramid or the Pyramid of the Dakotas.  The approach involved seeing large fields of yellow medium height something which was likely rapeseed or canola.   The pyramid itself was the radar array for a missile defense base that’d include dozens of nuclear tipped surface to air missiles that’d notionally shoot down incoming ICBMs.  Now it’s a slightly weedy monument to the hopes of technology.  I wanted to drone over the area but it’s within the airspace of a special air region used by the air force. Boo.

Next was W’eel the Turtle.  This turtle was made by a mechanic who had collected 2,000 or so tire rims over 16 years and who had them welded them together to make a large turtle.  The turtle is inspired by the nearby turtle mountains.  The mosquitoes were large and aggressive to the point that slapping them involved blood smears on my hands.  The turtle sat in park about 14 miles from the Canadian border through the region of the upper midwest that’s simply a band of hills and lakes formed by the ice age.  I opted against it as I had another 260 miles to drive that day.  Headed west across North Dakota was a glimpse of a different place.  The most ubiquitous bird was the red winged blackbird which I saw at the regularity of a mourning dove or house sparrow.  Next were the fields.  The crops were canola, flax, barley, and wheat with very little corn.  The fields weren’t labeled like in many other areas and most farms seemed to have one or more apiaries.  Railroads tracks were ubiquitous and I felt like I was constantly driving along side them even as I made my way through the state along right angles.  Finally was how quiet it was.  The birds weren’t particularly noisy.

I set off from Dunseith and headed towards Dickinson in western North Dakota near Teddy Roosevelt National Park.  The drive was lovely and I made several failed attempts at acquiring laundry detergent.  Google twice directed me to a non-existent stores and then to a string of several closed ones.  I failed to consider how large Dickinson was and there was a 24 hour Walmart that had detergent in spades.  I got my detergent, some drinks, and went to my Airbnb to start cleaning my clothes.

This post is backdated and was posted on August 1, 2018

We departed the Hungry Hippy Hostel at 6:30am and drove 90 minutes made it to the dock to catch our Ferry. The dock wasn’t open yet so we jetted to a convenience store where I accidentally bought and then ate a donut breakfast sandwich. It contained egg and possibly a meat and after 60 seconds of microwaving it was a hot soggy slightly sweet mess. Thinking I had minutes to consume calories before being on a ferry for 90 minutes to an island for a day without other provisions I wolfed it down. Returning to the dock we learned the lake was too choppy and the ride was cancelled. I think I would have been angrier if anyone else had been in any way angry but staff and other visitors shrugged with a “whatcha gonna do” look.  Almost all of the other day visitors were fit women in their 50s and 60s and I was curious what would happen to the people on the island expecting the ferry to return them to the mainland.

We drove back to Duluth to hit the Glensheen Estate and the Great Lakes aquarium which I had been told was amazing. It was not. One exhibit of note was the sturgeon petting tank. Shark petting tanks are common and the sharks will sometime swim by and you can two finger pet them. The sturgeons seemed to seek out fingers like they enjoyed being pet. If only they had enough face muscles to smile.

We continued on to the Glensheen mansion where the ticket vendor recognized us from our last time. The tour went through the house as it was in about 1910 where it was quite modern for the time. Central vacuuming, a central boiler, and electricity were present in each room. While the house was neat, the depth of knowledge from the tour guides was amazing. Most were students at University of Minnesota at Duluth and knew the origins of most of the major objects, most of the symbols used, and even what was original and what was redecorated. Guides were broken into three tiers and then one became a manager. I asked a question on one of the internal windows looking like it was in the Prairie style and he brought up the blog post he was working on about the history of windows for the house. One guide was particularly incredulous that I was in Duluth on vacation.

Guide: So you’re from around here?
Me: No…
Guide: Went to school here?
Me: No…
Guide: Here for work?
Me: No…
Guide: You have family in the area?
Me: No, I’m
Guide: Then why the heck are you in Duluth

Our next stop was lunch and we found that Duluth’s main corridor was being torn up. The Indian restaurant we wanted to go to had literally no side walk in front of its door but they were open. “Just take the skyway”. Duluth has a network of aerial bridges and corridors used to connect the area when it’s covered in snow. We took a back entryway and came upon a pair of white Duluth residents serving toothsome Indian food with all the patrons talking in a thick Minnesota accent. “This pah-nyeer is delish, don’t ya know” and such. The mango pudding was amazing.

Our next stop was Minneapolis which would be where my travel partner departed but first we had a goodbye dinner that a now long-time friend from the area joined. I’ve known him for about 9 years and he was the majority of the reason I visited Chicago so many times over the years. He’s doing well, having finally completed a large property sale his family had been working towards for nearly a decade and also having finally gotten treatment for a medical issue. He’s in his early 40s and trying to build. I feel spoiled that I got to spend my early 20s figuring out who I was and then my mid 20s figuring out a social toolbox. Sometimes I feel like I’m coasting on the work of previous Terries and will need to pay some bill for the social riches I’ve reaped. We went over much and it was just grand to see him.

This post was made on 2018-07-31 and is backdated.

Duluth got its start as a shipping hub along lake Superior. Its peak population was in 1950 like many cities in the Rustbelt. It has its museums and its venues and its shops but it clings long and tightly to the lake. Lakeward is a direction in this area in the same way that out West “mountainward” is a direction. We mulled our options for the morning and afternoon before heading out to make our tour of the Soudan mine. The options were: Accordion Museum, Great Lakes Aquarium, or the Glensheen Mansion. The last was listed as The Murder House by the internet so, after finding out the Accordion museum was only open like 10 hours a week and we’d be there for none of them, we opted for the Murder House.

Me: Two tickets please.
Cashier: For which tour?
Me: The murder-iest tour.
Cashier: We don’t talk about the murders.
Me: You sell a book in the giftshop called “The Murders at Glensheen”.
Cashier: But we steer away from that on the tour.
Me: Given what I’ve said, what tour do you recommend?
Cashier: Whichever you wish.
Me: Not helping, boss.
Cashier: The next open tour is in 3 hours.
Me: That settles that.

We departed and tried to catch an earlier tour at the Soudan Mine which would take us deep into Minnesota. The drive was gorgeous and with a speed limit of 50-65 miles we got almost 40 miles to the gallon that tank. Roadside constructs started to appear like the two or three storey Tinman with what I can only describe as Kardashian-esque lips. The trip was through forest studded with wetlands and lakes. We followed behind cars puttering around 55 and adaptive cruise control proved helpful. When following another car, my Subaru would easily slow down to a full stop at a stop sign, and then resume when the car in front has passed the intersection.

The Soudan mine was a iron ore mine that produced oxygen-rich ore that was common before the advent of the modern blast furnace.  The rise of modern blast furnaces and the incredibly rich ore seams in the Iron Range shut down the mine in favor of taconite ore which could be surface mined.  The shaft into the mine drops a half mile winding up 600 feet or so below sea level at a constant 51 degrees Fahrenheit.  The tour started out 3/4s of a mile from the shaft and worked its way back and forward in time from the 1880s to the mine’s closure in the 1960s.  After surfacing, I asked to drone and was informed it was not permitted in Minnesota parks but they were working on it.  The Vermillion Soudan area previously held a neutrino detector which had been removed the previous year….just missed it.  We stopped at the sole store in Soudan for ice cream and gas and continued on to Ely on the way to Grand Portage.  My travel partner looked at the history of Ely while we were waiting for our dinner to make it to table and she calculated that had she visited in 2000 she would have approximately 8% of Ely’s Asian population.

That evening was in a hostel where of the 12 inhabitants, both human and canine, I was the sole male.  I hope I’d wake up.

This post was made on 2018-07-31 and is backdated.

This was a work day. Part of the agreement that allowed me to take three weeks off was that I’d have periodic work days to attend to things. This was one of those days. Our Chicago office had grown considerably since last I visited with the standard people I work with now being highly outnumbered by everyone else. I hope this is a good sign. Their office was much more casual than the head office in which I work and several people were around a large television working on things while watching the world cup. I heard no screaming or other jubilation so either people were polite or unmoved….or maybe all the matches were 0-0 ties.

We finished at work, returned to our host’s place, and quickly departed for Duluth. Not quite Duluth but Superior, Wisconsin. The important part was that hotel prices were lower. Leaving at 6pm and with 450 miles or so to cover, I was pleased that with traffic we arrived before 2am. My travel partner started out and drove for about 300 miles for a proper 4 hours and over that time she went from “I’m going to go the speed limit” to “I’m willing to go slightly above the speed limit to move with traffic”.  I’m considering this progress.  We arrived at our hotel in Superior, WI at about 2am on the button and quickly went to bed.

This post was made on 2018-07-27 and is backdated.

Today we visited the Chicago Art Institute bringing our museum streak to three. The Art Institute has an exceptional collection and impressive temporary collections. I said hello to my friends in the Thorn miniature gallery and then looked over the American work from 1800 to 1975 or so. This was the third museum with a large American wing that I had seen in five days or so and trends and themes previous invisible popped out. Names and movements were less alien. I wonder if the same thing would have occurred if I had visited the same museum three times instead.

I visited my friend “Time Transfixed” as its commonly translated. Magritte prefers “ongoing time stabbed by a dagger” but there were fights that lost.

After museum time, we quickly got dinner at what I can only call an Asian Diner. The menu was thick, much thicker than I’ve ever seen for a place like that and one set of pages was just options for smoothies with about 120 on the spread. We wound up mixing Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese food and everything was a solid B. The servers were even diner surly which made me feel at home.

That evening we took an architecture boat tour of Chicago. Over the span of about two hours we covered the portion of the Chicago River from the Post Office to Lake Michigan. This was the first time I’d seen the Chicago river walk which seemed like a pretty big oversight having visited some dozen times. It was pretty but the buildings started to blur after a bit. There were a large number of boat goers taking pictures of themselves giving Trump Tower the finger.

After the tour finished we decided to half walk back to our hosts. We walked to the edge of the loop and then took a Lyft back. I talked with our hosts for a bit before calling it a night. We slept in.

This post was made on 2018-07-27 and is backdated.

I was pleased to wake up after nine hours of sleep on an air mattress that was still largely inflated. We made a hasty exit as our first stop for the day was to meet someone in Holland, Michigan for lunch. Michigan felt like a state where as one radiated from some central point, one went further to the South. The person we met for lunch spoke of his difficulties as a person of color in an area with so many Confederate flags. I didn’t even know there was a South to Michigan but apparently there very much is. He hoped to leave the area, and I hope he gets to. I’m willing to put in a little help to make that happen. Let’s see if it works out. After leaving Holland, we headed around Lake Michigan and made our way to Chicago. Along the way we stopped at the Frederik Meijer Gardens which is a mix of a botanical garden and sculpture park. There were large installation pieces by contemporary American artists which is a bit rare but was quite nice. Seeing the DeVos name everywhere was a bit jarring. We didn’t have much time and quickly ran out the clock on the gardens being open.  Grand Rapids was featured in Our Towns and I hope at some point to revisit and the see the rest of this city as well as the rest of Michigan.  Another time.  We left for Chicago but didn’t have time to visit the zebra breeding facility.  There’s a zebra stallion that has been tamed and has successfully made zorses, zonkeys, zonies, and other equids.

Chicago is one of my favorite cities for the embarrassment of riches it has for art, reasonably inexpensive mass transit, architecture, view, and history. Chicago is a place for people doing things. Our host was someone I generally only talk to when in Chicago. I’d like to find a way to fix that but we don’t have much overlap in our lives otherwise. Maybe I need to find a way to change that. We arrived and were offered air fried taquitos. Air fryers in my experience were the fastest route to a mediocre french fry but these were amazing. Like, maybe I should get an air fryer amazing.  We caught up, and full of taquito, we slept on a pull out.

This post was made on 2018-07-26 and is backdated.