Our Retroactive “Nomadland” Vacation Memories

Frances McDormand and friend in "Nomadland"/

“We’ll keep pushin’ till it’s understood / And these Badlands start treating us good…”

It’s that time again! Longtime MCC readers know this time of year is my annual Oscar Quest, during which I venture out to see all Academy Award nominees for Best Picture, regardless of whether I think I’ll like them or not, whether their politics and beliefs agree with mine or not, whether they’re good or bad for me, and whether or not my friends and family have ever heard of them. One of my few accomplishments in 2020 was at long last filling a gap in my list by catching the elusive 1996 nominee Secrets and Lies, which had been out of print for ages but of course is just now scheduled for a Criterion physical release at the end of this very month. Regardless, having crossed that off, I can now say I’ve seen every Best Picture nominee from 1988 to the present, many of which were worth the hunt, Secrets and Lies enthusiastically included.

The eight nominees for Best Picture of the Pandemic Year may pose more of a viewing challenge. In a standard Oscar season, the Best Picture nominees would be re-released to theaters for a limited time, I’d run out and see each one, and that would be that, a bit costly but easy-peasy. Since March 2020 I’ve walked into theaters exactly twice (which each left me frustrated and disappointed) and haven’t been eager to test those revolutionary new air filtration systems or the other patrons’ pandemic manners. Using my four-step listicled viewing method helped calm my fears and, I think, helped not to get myself or my family killed, so it wasn’t all for naught. I’m not sure how many more times I feel like tempting fate. Getting fully vaccinated would allay all remaining concerns, but as my schedule happens to be working out, I won’t reach peak immunization (i.e., 14 days after my second Pfizer shot) until literally the day before the Oscars.

By the end of 2020 I’d seen Mank and The Trial of the Chicago 7 of my own accord. Two weeks prior to the nomination announcement on March 15th I caught a third nominee in advance, certain that it was a lock for a nomination based on its universal critical acclaim — Nomadland, the one with Two-Time Academy Award Winner Frances McDormand, from the director of Marvel’s eventually forthcoming Eternals. The Powers That Be were kind enough to release it on Hulu as well as in theaters. I appreciated the humane gesture, and was surprised to see several scenes were filmed in locations familiar to me and to longtime MCC readers who’ve followed along on our road trip experiences.

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Our 2009 Road Trip, Part 24: Outtakes Off I-90 West

Day 6 Devils Tower!

Welcome to Devil’s Tower. I’m your host, TV’s Wilford Brimley.

It’s a time-honored MCC tradition: every road trip concludes with bonus photos I skipped while compiling all the preceding chapters. However, this finale is a little more special than average.

Effective with this very entry, every single one of our annual road trips is now officially available for perusal and literary analysis on MCC from 1999 to 2017. All the major vacations from MCC’s 2012 inception to the present have been housed here exclusively from the get-go. As of today, all our prior travelogues from 1999 to 2011 have now been reposted and reformatted here for our own personal library to be shared with one and all — our lifelong, immutable road trip canon. Some write-ups were reprinted word-for-word, but in several cases extensive rewrites felt necessary and/or fun.

This curatorial project has been years in the making, and has now reached its final major milestone. It’s kind of a nice feeling.

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Our 2009 Road Trip, Part 18: Last Exits in South Dakota

Tiny Church!

You say your congregation is dwindling? You haven’t seen a really shrunken church.

Another long day lay ahead — 520 miles of driving, over 370 of that in South Dakota alone. If you’re patient and don’t sleep the whole distance through, points of interest and oddity poke through the panoramas.

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Our 2009 Road Trip, Part 17: Deadwood’s of Hollywood

Wild Bill Shot Here!

If you’ve ever seen Keith Carradine’s version of Wild Bill Hickok on TV’s Deadwood, here’s your chance to add a caption. I haven’t, so I got nothing.

One of the hard parts of every road trip is realizing that once you’ve seen the biggest, boldest attraction on your to-do list, you can’t just teleport home. You still have hundreds of miles to go before you can relax, and a bunch of other sightseeing options yet to come, all of them inferior to the majesty of the awesome thing you just witnessed. You can’t surrender to discouragement, though. You committed to the drive, and now you have to finish it, no matter how some of your later stops may make you roll your eyes and wish you were back in front of the awesome thing again.

On a related note, here’s that time we dropped by the actual Deadwood, the capital of mixed-use casinos.

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Our 2009 Road Trip, Part 15: Cold Shoulders from the Cold-Blooded

tortoise!

“Do I look hungry? Do I look to you like someone who needs fed like a baby?”

In the early years when my son tagged along on our travels, we made a point of including at least one amusement park or zoo on every road trip. That requirement faded as we got older, but we were happy to make time for animals if we found any interesting habitats along our paths.

Technically we’d already filled our 2009 quota at Custer State Park. We found it wasn’t South Dakota’s only wildlife habitat, and were curious to see if the Mount Rushmore State had other animals to offer besides panhandling burros and jaywalking bison.

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Our 2009 Road Trip, Part 14: Rushmore!

Mount Rushmore!

Photo by my son, nailing the “homemade Christmas card” aesthetic.

George Washington. Thomas Jefferson. Ted “Theodore” Roosevelt. Abraham Lincoln. You might remember them from such films as North by Northwest, Superman II, and National Treasure: Book of Secrets. It’s okay if you don’t remember that last one, but it’s not the last time we’ll mention it in this miniseries.

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Our 2009 Road Trip, Part 13: Warrior in Progress

Crazy Horse!

Y’know what’s cooler than sharing a world-famous monument with three other guys? Having your own.

Some MCC readers may be following this miniseries and thinking, “When did you get to Mount Rushmore? Are you to Mount Rushmore yet? Where’s Mount Rushmore? How much longer to Mount Rushmore? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”

First of all, knock it off. Second of all, as of this chapter we’re seventeen miles away. We had someone else to see first. He’s taller, he’s wider, and he’s been funded with exactly $0.00 of your tax dollars, making one of the most independent art projects in American history. Show some respect and some patience. We’ll get to the white guys soon enough.

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Our 2009 Road Trip, Part 11: The Wall Drug Trip

Jackalope Rider!

Legends are whispered about the brave and fearless jackalope tamer bringing law and order to the Old West.

Camp. Kitsch. Hokum. Cheesiness. Roadside attractions are all about leaving an indelible impression, sometimes without regard for decorum, class, dignity, or societal aesthetic norms.

If you’ve ever been to South Dakota’s fabled Wall Drug, you know where this is going.

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Our 2009 Road Trip, Part 10: Bonus Badlands Bonanza

Badlands postcard!

Portrait of a guy who won’t stop posting Badlands photos. Because he can. It’s either this or take on politics head-on. I’d rather jump down one of those canyons.

I said in our last chapter that I would probably save our remaining Badlands photos for the eventual outtakes section at the end of the miniseries. Ten minutes after clicking the “Publish” button, I wondered to myself: why wait? Let’s go wild with ’em!

See, this is the kind of arbitrary about-face that a writer can pull when his moods swing and he doesn’t have enough readers to question his choices or hold him accountable for his promises. I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel.

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Our 2009 Road Trip, Part 9: Into the Badlands

Badlands!

No relation to the Springsteen song. Like, at all.

Longtime MCC readers with superhuman memories, including and possibly limited to my wife, may recall we previously posted pictures from our Badlands experience here years ago and then here last year, plus a teaser in the previous chapter. At long last we now come to the entry I’ve all been waiting for: our official Badlands chapter, within the original narrative context. Of all the natural sites we’ve ever visited throughout our travels, we took more pics of the Badlands than any other…which means these took twice as long to whittle down to the following finalists. It’s entirely likely there’ll be a bit more Badlands in the “outtakes” entry at the end of this series. For now: Badlands!

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