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Our 2009 Road Trip, Part 6: How Green Was My Giant

Giant + Anne!

Remember, kids: eat all your vegetables — especially the canned ones — and you can grow up big and strong like this vegan colossus.

Everybody loves advertising mascots! Granted, kids may not fully appreciate mascots trying to convince them to eat things they think are terrible. They’ll follow those characters’ extremely short cartoons, but stop short of paying attention to their endorsement. In that sense, the Jolly Green Giant is one of those heroic hucksters who may appeal more to nostalgic adults with broader palates than to kids who don’t understand why they never get to see him stomping on bank robbers. Sure, the Green Giant could use his powers for good rather than for capitalism, but then he’d be taking valuable jobs away from our hard-working police forces. Also, good luck trying to convince him to wear a body-cam.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, marvels, history, and institutions we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Beginning with 2003’s excursion to Washington DC, we added my son to the roster and tried to accommodate his preferences and childhood accordingly.

2008 was by far our least favorite road trip to date, and still holds the ignominious title as of 2018. Our next vacation had to be better. Step one was plain enough: we looked at Anne’s brainstorming list of future road trips and chose the one that screamed “dream vacation”. That’s what led to our long, long drive out to the farthest reaches of South Dakota and beyond. At nine days it was the longest we’ve ever taken. The farthest point of 1,180 miles made it the longest drive of our lives. It would be the farthest west we’d ever been up to that time. It was also our first vacation using exclusively digital cameras to record the experience, leaving behind the 35mm film of our childhoods forever. They weren’t expensive cameras for their kind, certainly not the most advanced as of 2009, but we did what we could with the resources and the amateur skill sets available to us.

We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.

DAY THREE: Sunday, June 14th.

This was scheduled to be our longest driving day, so we had breakfast early. Fortunately, we were able to avail ourselves of our hotel breakfast buffet coupons this time. We packed up and headed toward Sioux Falls, South Dakota, following the same stretch of I-90 that we took for our 2006 vacation to Wisconsin and Minnesota. We returned briefly to Wisconsin Dells for gas, but otherwise didn’t hang around Wisconsin long.

SPARTA!

THIS! IS!

…not our stop, but the last interesting sight in the long, lower, unremarkable half of Wisconsin before entering the long, lower half of Minnesota. We stopped in St. Charles for lunch, only to be confounded by the limited choices: either my old nemesis Subway, or one of the three local cafés that were all closed Sundays. For want of a lockpick, Subway won.

We couldn’t help staring at all the windmill farms along I-90 farther west into Minnesota, a very new sight to us.

Windmills!

Kids, be sure to ask your parents about the days of yore when wind power was a mere myth started by Greek worshipers of the Four Winds.

I understand we now have these in distant agricentric parts of Indiana, but we hadn’t seen them for ourselves. Some time after our vacation, the Indianapolis Star published an article about the health problems and side effects caused by these windmills, including but not limited to balance problems, nausea, headaches, irritating noise (the bane of many a countryside dweller), and a reverse strobe-light effect from their looming, rotating shadows. That’s all on top of allegations that they don’t operate at capacity most of the time, thus making their energy-saving impact almost negligible. (That original article, which sounds odd in hindsight and which I’ve never seen corroborated since, is now archived on a third-party site behind a paywall that not even my IndyStar subscription is good enough to let me access.)

On that day, all we knew was the windmills were big and weird and had spikes on them and looked impressive.

Farmlands!

Some landowners weren’t into the whole windmill scene yet. Their properties made for boring panoramas.

Passing once again through Austin, home of the Spam Museum, we cruised on by and stopped instead in the town of Blue Earth, home of a 55-foot Jolly Green Giant statue that’s been a fixture since 1979 in honor of the local cannery at the time. That cannery later changed corporate hands, but the Giant lives on. In our lead photo Anne is posing upon its mighty altar, located behind a Dairy Queen and next door to an amateur rodeo.

Giant Plain!

The Giant stands alone.

Giant Butt!

True story: prior to 1979 the Jolly Green Giant’s butt had never appeared on TV and therefore had to be created specially for this 3-D rendition without preexisting reference materials.

Sprout!

A cardboard version of his sidekick Sprout spooks crows and tourists away from a nearby garden. At upper right you can see the rodeo entrants’ trailers.

Pseudo Sprout!

Jolly Green Illegitimate Offspring stood at the gas station down the street, offering pizza and beer to customers of all ages.

Since it was a hot summer day and Dairy Queen was next door, we treated ourselves despite the long afternoon line that kept us waiting and unfed for twenty minutes before our turn. Nice to know the service at Dairy Queen is just as bad elsewhere as it is at home. Years later that same day, we exited Minnesota and kept going. Some light foreshadowing awaited us before we reached the border.

Wall Drug!

If you don’t know who this is, we’ll come back to them in a future chapter.

South Dakota sign!

Next stop: South Dakota!

Soon we reached our next destination in Sioux Falls, SD. We completed several laps around the spot where the Internet swore our hotel should be, only to find it lying in the center of a road construction maze. We dumped our stuff in our room and headed out again for supper a couple miles south at the Pizza Ranch. We had planned this meal months in advance as soon as our vacation research uncovered it, because “pizza” and “ranch” sounded like the setting for an irresistible cheap spaghetti Western. We were close — it was a cowboy-themed buffet chain that kept its vittles a-roastin’ and constantly replenished. It reminded me of the CiCi’s Pizza buffets back home, only with more wood paneling, one or two quasi-eclectic toppings (spinach! hot sauce!), and no resemblance to Giordano’s Pizza in Chicago, thus avoiding the threat of meal repetition.

Later back at the hotel, we enjoyed yet another first for our family: our hotel had a built-in indoor water park, the use of which was absolutely free with our stay. Indianapolis had such a hotel, too, albeit at extravagant prices that discouraged us from trying it. AAA nabbed us a good deal on this reservation and its unexpected side order of carpe diem.

Their setup was modest but better than nothing — two 20-foot-tall slides, one average hotel pool, one typical hot tub set at soup-cooking temperature (I’ve never understood the appeal of self-boiling), one smaller pool set up with a water basketball net and a half-dozen different balls, and a pirate-ship play-area for the kiddies. We stayed until closing time and had most of the area to ourselves on this desolate Sunday night. While Anne took turns winning against herself at water basketball, my son and I had fun goofing around the kiddie pirate ship. No meddlesome poolside security ruined all that fun despite our flagrant violation of the posted age limits…though we garnered some perplexed glares from the singles crowd trying to mingle and engage in dignified adult leisure at the bar next to us. The place also had a casino in the basement, so those lonely winos had relocation options if my manly shirtless frolicking made them feel uncomfortable, inadequate, or hot ‘n’ bothered.

To be continued!

[Historical notes:

1. We started seeing windmills in Indiana more often when Chicago became a twice-yearly convention destination for us, herds of them along I-65 North between Lafayette and the Illinois border. Progress marches on.

2. A month after our visit, Blue Earth added another attraction, the awkwardly named Giant Museum Featuring Jolly Green Giant Memorabilia, convoluted for legal reasons. As mentioned in previous chapters, this wasn’t the first time on this trip that we missed out on a future opportunity because we traveled this direction too soon.

3. In 2012 the gas-station faux-Sprout was taken down when the joint went out of business. It later reopened under new management with a different vision. As I understand it, today not-Sprout remains in place, but his pizza and beer have been replaced with arguably more conscientious alternatives — a block of fudge and a canister of Jelly Belly jellybeans. That hollow li’l copycat will shill for anything but canned vegetables.]

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email signup for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

Giant + Me!

My turn with the Giant, who made an excellent leaning post during our long drive.

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