Some of the roadside attractions that catch our attention are all about indulging our geek sides. Some are highlights that speak to Anne the history aficionado. For such a tiny town, Ticonderoga pulled off the neat trick of catering to both facets in her. It was a little jarring transitioning from a tour of the 23rd century to a time capsule of the 18th, but we managed. We are large; we contain multitudes.
Upstate New York is populated by the remains of so many famous dead people that it’s tough for any serious history aficionado like Anne to pass all of them without at least a cursory courtesy visit. Hardcore fans of the Revolutionary War who want to complete their gravesite set will have to detour far into the sticks west of the Adirondacks to pay respects to one particular Prussian whose assistance was instrumental to securing America’s freedom from the British monarchy, at least in a bureaucratic sense if not necessarily in a head-space sense.
Our previous photo gallery featured statues bearing likenesses of twenty Presidents of the United States of America, highlights from the City of Presidents art-walk around downtown Rapid City, South Dakota. Now we present the rest of them because YOU, the viewers, demanded it!
Wait, no, you didn’t. But I don’t feel like relegating 43 American Presidents to the outtake pile, and Anne co-wrote a joke I really want to see in print. So here we go again!
Longtime MCC fans have seen photos of more U.S. President statues in these pages than the average citizen will ever see in their entire lifetime. When your wife is a big history aficionado and the two of you share an inclination toward roadside attractions, Presidential art is an inevitable objective in all your vacation itineraries. But prior to 2021 we’d only seen statues commemorating a handful of Presidents — mostly the popular ones, plus a handful of lower-tier Commanders-in-Chief whose museums, preserved homes, gravesites, and peculiar fan bases we’ve visited. One American city was bold enough to ask: why not bring all of them to life?
Our presence in Iowa this year was an entirely intentional navigation for the sake of pursuing one of our recurring motifs. We could’ve trimmed a few hundred miles off this year’s drive if we’d bypassed it and taken the more direct route up I-90 through Wisconsin and Minnesota. However, one of the many unseen attractions on our to-do lists was in east-central Iowa — small enough that it was unlikely to be a primary destination in itself, and remote enough that the odds of it being “right on the way” to some future Point B were negligible. We’ve missed so many off-path stopovers in years past that we’re tired of missing out and have become a bit more amenable to long detours. Well, the fun kind of detours, anyway, as opposed to road construction detours.
(Prime example of one out-of-the-way challenge that’s stymied us: a complete Laura Ingalls Wilder historical tour would require days and days of backroads, virtually no interstates. Multiple tiny towns have historical homes or museums in her name because Pa Ingalls did a stellar of job of never living near a single Podunk anywhere that grew into a conveniently connected metropolis.)
Sometimes we stop at historic sites that celebrate figures or events with which we’re well acquainted. Anne the history buff is far more versed and versatile than me in this regard. Oftentimes she’s read multiple books on a given subject and offers her own supplemental trivia as we walk along, especially where Americana is involved. Also oftentimes, I’m reminded of that episode of The Office where Ryan Howard, living avatar of skin-deep youth culture, anguished over premature reports of the death of Smokey Robinson and scolded others for not grieving as intensely as he, only to reveal he only knows one Smokey Robinson song. Sometimes in our travels, I can be kind of a Ryan.
At our next attraction, we were both the Ryan. We were faintly familiar with the subject, and “faintly” is an overstatement, but we were curious to see what was to be seen. Bonus trivia for the skin-deep youths out there: our subject was a strident socialist. It’s not the source of his renown, but it’s something that a fair number of the internet’s Ryans can latch onto and add to their idol collection.
Anne and I saw the new documentary Final Account in a county where masks were required of all patrons regardless of inoculation levels, in an auditorium where the A/C was on the fritz. Posted signs and the clerk warned us, but we insisted on proceeding anyway despite any consequences ahead. The environment was livable at first, but our comfort levels fluctuated as time went on and the air quality went from breathable to stifling and back again. Eventually we convinced ourselves to overlook our nagging concerns, but at no point could we simply sit back and pretend everything was fine.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: last spring my wife Anne and I binged the first three seasons of Netflix’s The Crown and soon caught up with the rest of fandom. One slight hitch: while Anne is a major history aficionado, that was never my forte, especially not the story of Queen Elizabeth II and her ruled subjects, some of whom are incidentally also her family:
Compared to my blissfully ignorant self, Anne is far more knowledgeable of history in general and British royalty in particular. My interest in their reigning family went dormant for decades beginning on the morning of July 29, 1981, when my family woke up at 5 a.m. — over summer vacation, mind you — to watch Prince Charles marry Princess Diana, two strangers I knew only as frequent costars of my mom’s favorite tabloids. Their wedding lasted approximately six days and was performed entirely in slow motion with British golf commentators prattling through the lengthy silences in between the happenstances of nothingness. For the next 15-20 years I retained nothing of British history apart from their role as the Big Bad in the American Revolution. Frankly, I’ve learned more about their country’s storied past from my wife and from Oscar-nominated movies than I ever did from school. Sad, unadorned truth.
So far I’ve enjoyed The Crown anyway, and understood most of what’s gone on…
Season four may be its best yet. Olivia Colman gets comfy enough to have fun on the throne, Tobias Menzies bemuses and is bemused from the sidelines (for a while, anyway), Helena Bonham Carter selectively empathizes with other outsiders in their own skewed orbits, and Josh O’Connor triples his screen time as Prince Charles, the put-upon whiner who thinks he’s aged into a thwarted hero, doesn’t see himself becoming the villain. They’ve managed to survive into those lovable ’80s, when two new names emerged to take places for themselves in the British pantheon. Gillian Anderson transforms into Margaret Thatcher, the uncompromising Prime Minister who inspired thousands of destitute punk bands and numerous low-budget films about the political rage and hopelessness she instilled; and Emma Corrin (Pennyworth) as young Diana Spencer, who inspired thousands of tabloid reporters, paparazzi, impressionable little girls, and fabulous fashion mavens.
War. What is it good for?
For inspiring movies, TV shows, novels, video games, a few board games, protest songs, and museums about war.
Your move, Edwin Starr.
Anyone who really knows Anne is well aware of her long-standing interests in American history in general and World War II in particular, with an intense specialization in the European theater. When opportunities arise to learn more about it and to view its remnants in person, those tend to rise near the top of our travel to-do lists. And so it went in Vincennes.