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.

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2014 Road Trip Photos #32: Outtakes, Minnesota

The Source!

Alternate closeup of “The Source” in Rice Park, a gift to the city from the erstwhile Women’s Institute of St. Paul. in Part 16 I posted a wider shot from the other side that captured the whole fountain and a few gratuitous, ubiquitous cranes.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

With each year’s travelogue we like to conclude with a second-chance review through the hundreds of photos we took to see which photos were unfairly cut from the final roster, which ones didn’t fit into the narrative but possess their own merit, and/or which ones slipped through the cracks for no valid reason…

In the penultimate chapter of our 33-part saga, we take a look back at scenes from Minnesota, mostly the Twin Cities, that were skipped the first time around for a variety of reasons. No photographer shares every shot they take, but sometimes a few keepers get unfairly lost in the shuffle.

Right this way for one final mini-tour through the North Star State!

2014 Road Trip Photos #20: Monkey Donuts and the Rest Stop Lake

Mojo Monkey!

Two of the four creations we sampled at Mojo Monkey Donuts in St. Paul: Hanna Banana and the Maple Bacon Bar. (Click to enlarge! That way you get even more donut!)

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Each year from 2003 to 2013 my wife, my son, and your humble writer headed out on a long road trip to anywhere but here. Our 2014 road trip represented a milestone of sorts: our first vacation in over a decade without my son tagging along for the ride. At my wife’s prodding, I examined our vacation options and decided we ought to make this year a milestone in another way — our first sequel vacation. This year’s objective, then: a return to Wisconsin and Minnesota. In my mind, our 2006 road trip was a good start, but in some ways a surface-skimming of what each state has to offer. I wanted a do-over.

My wife and I awoke on Day Five in St. Paul a little grateful that our lodgers did not offer the sort of free continental morning snacks we’re used to seeing in our hotels every year. Being deprived of this standard money-saving amenity forced us to hunt for breakfast options in our surroundings, preferably on the imaginative side.

Right this way for more donuts and Minnesota greenery!

2014 Road Trip Photos #15: Under the Dome

Minnesota Capitol Dome!

Day Four’s self-guided morning tour of the grounds of the Minnesota State Capitol would continue inside. We’ve photographed domes in other capitals — Harrisburg, Charleston, Denver, Madison, Hartford (barely), our own in Indianapolis, et al. — but we usually admire them from a distance, on the assumption that the interiors might resemble ordinary cubicles or BMV offices. No one wants to risk seeing that and ruining the patriotic mystique.

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2014 Road Trip Photos #10: The Enterprise Incident

Enterprise bridge!

We spent actual dollars having this souvenir photo taken just so we’d have visual evidence to share with friends. Unfortunately my color-correction skills aren’t up to the task of overriding the exhibit camera’s “Radioactive Circus” filter.

Captain’s Log, stardate 2114.198, Day Three of our trip. Our time frame, destination, and course were all charted months before our missions were chosen. During the itinerary process we discovered one optional assignment that was not indigenous to our target area, but had been established in the Twin Cities area a mere two months before our arrival. While surveying the metropolitan areas themselves was our primary objective, my First Officer and I agreed this might be the sole opportunity of our lifetime to take advantage — not only as a recreational side quest for the sake of our crew (both of us), but as a fact-finding investigation for our colleagues back at HQ.

So that’s why we returned to the Mall of America: not because we love shopping (meh), but because we figured such excellent timing obligated us to check out the traveling museum tour known as Star Trek: the Exhibition.

Right this way for our report!

2014 Road Trip Photos #9: Another Hick in the Mall, Part 2

Nickelodeon Universe!

Welcome to Nickelodeon Universe at the Mall of America! Also, there are stores.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Each year from 2003 to 2013 my wife, my son, and your humble writer headed out on a long road trip to anywhere but here. Our 2014 road trip represented a milestone of sorts: our first vacation in over a decade without my son tagging along for the ride. At my wife’s prodding, I examined our vacation options and decided we ought to make this year a milestone in another way — our first sequel vacation. This year’s objective, then: a return to Wisconsin and Minnesota. In my mind, our 2006 road trip was a good start, but in some ways a surface-skimming of what each state has to offer. I wanted a do-over.

Readers who followed along last summer with the remastered edition of our 2006 travelog may have been disappointed at the dearth of photos in the Mall of America chapter. The great and powerful Mall is an enormous structure with hundreds of places to visit and acquire stuff, but last time we just didn’t think to use our cameras much because shopping and photo ops are two activities that tend to be mutually exclusive activities in our minds.

Right this way for more mall pics than last time!

Our 2006 Road Trip Photos, Part 17: the Season Finale and the Lost Outtakes

Piggies!

Outtake #1 of 5: baby piggies napping at the Minnesota Zoo. When we arrived home late at the end of our drive, this is how peacefully we slept that night.

[The very special miniseries concludes! See Part One for the official intro and context to this MCC remastered edition.

Fun trivia: the original 2006 version of this entry was posted entirely without visuals because neither of us took a single photo on Day 7. As a special bonus to break up the monotony for today’s readers, especially for anyone who craves photos but couldn’t care less about my writing, this evening my wife and I delved into the deep end of our closet and disinterred the rest of her 35mm hard-copy photos from 2006. Previous entries used a combination of excerpts from her scrapbooks and saved files from my first year as a digital camera owner. The five unrelated photos seen here, each of which reference activities from previous chapters, have never been scanned or shared online until now. Nothing fancy or disappointing about them; we basically forgot they existed.]

Right this way for the extended epilogue!

Our 2006 Road Trip, Part 16: Another Hick in the Mall

[The very special miniseries continues! See Part One for the official intro and context…]

Day 6: Thursday, July 27th

By the third day of our stay at the same Bloomington hotel, we were finding it difficult to make the same breakfast buffet seem novel and appetizing. We ate much less than usual, contenting ourselves with watching in amusement as a whole new line of hotel guests each found their own way to screw up the waffle-making process. The instructions were right there on the wall, but we were amazed at the damage to be done by forgetting to use cooking spray, by pouring in the wrong amounts of batter, by pouring the batter unevenly on one side, by neglecting to turn the waffle-maker to the ON position and thereby negating the timer, and so on. As former longtime restaurant employees, Anne and I are elitist like that.

Our objective was the one and only Mall of America. Our family and friends back home were more excited about this stop than we were. When Anne and I first traveled together in 1999, one of the first and unhappiest lessons we learned was that chain retail stores, with extremely few exceptions, carry the exact same merchandise from state to state. Walmarts in Kentucky have the same Star Wars figures as those in Indiana. Toys-R-Us-es in Missouri line their shelves with the same clearance worst-sellers as those back home. By logical extension, we assumed even the Mall of America would be subject to this guideline. We figured we had to try it anyway, on behalf of our friends and family demanding their vicarious thrills after the fact. Besides, when in Rome, and all that.

Mall of America!

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Our 2006 Road Trip, Part 15: Superior!

Lake Superior!

[The very special miniseries continues! See Part One for the official intro and context.]

Day 5: Wednesday, July 26th (continued)

After the aquarium and our glimpses of the Aerial Lift Bridge, we walked a few blocks along the bay to the quaint mom-‘n’-pop business section of Duluth, on the isthmus between Superior Bay and Lake Superior.

Right this way for scenes from a Great Lake!

Our 2006 Road Trip, Part 14: the Road to Superior

[The very special miniseries continues! See Part One for the official intro and context.]

Day 5: Wednesday, July 26th

A second round at the same breakfast buffet was a precursor to our long drive down I-35 North to the northern end of Minnesota. Along the way we zoomed past the official campaign tour bus of one Rod Grams. The Internet tells me in retrospect that he’s a former anchorman turned construction company president turned US Congressman who’s up for reelection this year, but at the time we didn’t know Rod Grams from Rod Flanders. Had I known, maybe we could’ve run him off the road and asked for an autograph. For want of a monster truck, a brush with greatness was lost.

Once again thanks to Roadside America, we didn’t stop till two hours down the road, a bit out of our way in the town of Cloquet, home of the only gas station ever designed by the one and only Frank Lloyd Wright.

Wright Gas!

Suggested motto: “Get the right gas for your car at Wright Gas!”

Right this way for stuff that’s not quite Lake Superior…

Our 2006 Road Trip, Part 13: Like the Minnesota Zoo, But Stiffer

Rhinos!

Painted elephants in 2-D; rhinos in 3-D!

[The very special miniseries continues! See Part One for the official intro and context.]

Day 4: Tuesday, July 25th (continued)

Before leaving Austin, I stopped at a gas station across the street, filled up on cheap gas, then sat for several minutes waiting for an old lady in her jalopy to sloooowly finish her business with the air pump so I could refill our leaky rear driver’s-side tire. After our interminable stakeout, we took care of the tire and retreated back in the direction of Minneapolis, stopping for supper on the way in the town of Owatonna at a chain joint called the Happy Chef. To be honest, I didn’t realize it was part of a chain until I saw others like it along the same stretch of freeway. With a name like “Happy Chef”, I’d hoped it was either a cornball buffet or an earnest Chinese restaurant. The reality was a standard diner, competent and low-priced but otherwise unremarkable.

While in town, on yet another recommendation from Roadside America (who likewise tipped us off to the Rock in the House and the Spam Museum), we stopped in Owatonna at a sporting goods store called Cabela’s. Like Happy Chef, it’s a chain we don’t have back in Indiana. Unlike Happy Chef, this franchise offers a special attraction: the largest collection of action-posed taxidermy you’re likely to see in a sporting goods store.

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Our 2006 Road Trip, Part 12: Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam!

Spammy!

Spammy bids you welcome! Enter freely and of your own craving!

[The very special miniseries continues! See Part One for the official intro and context.]

Day 4: Tuesday, July 25th (continued)

After several hours of gawking and photographing the animals, then a few minutes of fairly priced zoo cafeteria lunch, two more hours of driving took us southeast to the town of Austin, home of Hormel Foods and the world-famous Spam Museum.

Does this really need an introduction?

Our 2006 Road Trip, Part 11: Mandatory Zoo Visit

[The very special miniseries continues! See Part One for the official intro and context.]

Day 4: Tuesday, July 25th

Our hotel in Bloomington rewarded us with the largest breakfast buffet of the whole trip. The offerings weren’t all that different, with the notable exception of a positively luxurious three waffle-makers. Their buffet was much more spread out and streamlined, rather than crammed into a leftover nook like those of the previous hotels. Although they offered three times as many tables and chairs as we were used to, they were also just as crowded as the pool had been the previous night.

Once we were tanked up on too much sugar — I know I was, at least — we drove due south to Apple Valley, home of the Minnesota Zoo. This part was a concession on behalf of my son, the wildlife lover. We always schedule one vacation stop for his appeasement, though a zoo was a welcome change of pace from the ride-alike amusement parks of previous years. (Fun opinion I wish I didn’t hold: Six Flags parks are as interchangeable as McDonald’s franchises.)

Birdie on Lake!

Lakes and birdies, hand in hand: Minnesota’s nature scene in a nutshell.

Right this way to walk with the animals!

Our 2006 Road Trip, Part 10: We’re Gonna Make It After All

[The very special miniseries continues! See Part One for the official intro and context.]

MTM 2006!

Our nothing day suddenly seemed worthwhile!

Day 3: Monday, July 24th (continued)

After plowing through several more small towns and self-described villages on the Great River Byway, some of which had smaller populations than my son’s elementary school, we eventually passed through a downpour and over the border into Minnesota, where our hotel awaited us in Bloomington, a suburb/town/city/city-state on Minneapolis’ south side. Rather than soak ourselves even more thoroughly in a potentially vain search for local cuisine, we grabbed dinner at the Outback Steakhouse conveniently attached to our hotel. Their shared roadsign gives the Outback top billing over the hotel, suggesting that their symbiosis suffers from a peculiar imbalance. We had to dip into other monetary reserves to supplement the food budget that Crabby’s so thuggishly devastated the night before, but we appreciated the immediate faux-Aussie relief.

Once the rain abated, we made one last jaunt out to downtown Minneapolis, which I fully lapped twice (pausing only for an unfair giggle at the expense of St. Olaf Catholic Church — blame The Golden Girls) before I got the gist of the layout and parked in a garage that offered a cheap fare if we were in and out in less than thirty minutes. From our space we sprinted toward the eastern end of Nicollet Mall along 7th Avenue to photograph one of Anne’s must-see stops: the statue of Mary Tyler Moore. TV Land had it installed four years ago, one of several fictional historic landmarks they’ve commissioned across America.

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