Posts Tagged ‘US travel’
How do you tell the quality of a diner? By its chicken fried steak, of course.
Maybe it was just the mid 80’s, when everything was better, but the finest I ever tasted was at Boz Scaggs’ Blue Light Cafe on Union Street in San Francisco. I’ve been chasing that high for three decades. (The Blue Light today, minimized and lost to new management, serves greasy, monotonous bar food paired with Jello shots.)
The award for Second Best Chicken Fried Steak went to a diner outside Grand Coulee Dam. Actual steak, with a bone, real and delicious. The coating, crispycrunchy. The gravy, oh god, the gravy: not too salty, and lumpy with pork sausage.
I towed into Pendleton, Oregon minutes before the Westward Ho! parade and faced nowhere to park; every empty slot and lot teemed with RVs and horse trailers and teepees. Somehow I squeezed into a miracle spot in the WalMart parking lot, stuffed to the curbs with motorhomes, tents, and rednecks camped in the beds of their pickups…like spring break for hillbillies. I followed the crowd and piles of manure on Court Street to the all non-motorized parade which showcased wild west wagons and buggies, all manner of cowboy, Indians, Mexicans, sheriffs, preachers, outlaws, firemen, Oregon Trail pioneers, weird timber equipment, every rodeo princess in the Northwest, longhorns, mules, donkeys, horses, miniature ponies, and State Treasurer Ted Wheeler.
The state fair may be legend, but Minnesota’s podunk summer festivals—Detroit Lakes’ Water Carnival, the Audubon Pet Parade (which took ten minutes, beginning to end), and “Looney Daze” (sic) in Vergas—deliver superior fun with easier parking.
Lakeside communities in northwestern Minnesota—frozen into a block of ice for seven-plus months—have to cram their pent up energy into the short tourist months of summer. In Vergas, where the loon is revered as a deity, you’ll find loon ball, the worlds largest loon, and, in August, Looney Daze. (Actual slogan: “WhAt HaPpEnS In VeRgAs!…StAyS In VeRgAs!”)
Jackson Center, Ohio: population 1365—where Wally Byam found the vacant paper factory in 1952 that would house his Airstream production center. Today, workers in JC continue to crank out the aluminum beauties at the only plant that builds new Airstreams and delivers them by flatbed to dealers across the country.
‘Streamers, plan a pilgrimage to the factory at your earliest convenience. (New buyer tip: order from a dealer, obtain the production number of your unit, and scurry to Jackson Center where you’re welcome to watch [and photograph] your very own Airstream being built step by step on the line during its nine day assembly process.)
Alumapalooza is an all-Airstream event sponsored by the good folks who bring you Airstream Life magazine, held on the grounds of Airstream, Inc.
Like a giant rally, but more, Alumapalooza crams back to back activities into a too-short six day event, presented by those who own and love Airstream: gear, technical and safety classes; workshops on interior design and vintage restoration; tax tips for fulltimers; morning yoga; numerous maintenance sessions; cooking and sketching demos; a short session on bucking rivets (“Buck Rivet”—best porn name ever)…
As I can’t resist a “world’s largest” or “home of” roadside attraction, I swerved off the highway in Iowa and followed signs to Winterset— birthplace of John Wayne (American). There I encountered bustle and excitement: bunting around the courthouse, a cavalry encampment, a Rotary-sponsored fun run, a band assembling in the town square, and everywhere, flags flying.
“What’s going on?” I asked a local Rotarian. “Memorial weekend?” He blinked at me. “It’s John Wayne’s BIRTHDAY,” he said.
Oh. Sorry! Didn’t know.
From the moment I was informed by the nice gas station character that filled the trailer tires that 38 tornadoes just had their way with my eastern destination states, the hostile spring weather has tried to run me off the road: torrential rain in Washington; fat wet snow flurries in Oregon (is the west not aware that it’s nearly Memorial Day?); fierce winds in Idaho that actually BLEW A PART off the Airstream (hopefully they’ll reattach it at The Mothership); and fog so dense in Wyoming that semi drivers on the I-80 formed a 30mph protective convoy, hazards flashing.
I didn’t see another Airstream on the road until two days into the journey—they waved to me from the other side of the freeway where I was shipwrecked with a blowout.
My mom and dad—married 65 years and counting—still live in the POS town in California where I went to high school, an hour’s drive north of Santa Barbara (which sounds far tonier than it is).
It’s also near Solvang, the ersatz Danish community where tourists flock to buy abelskivers and crap from the Thomas Kinkade gallery. Six miles further lies the promised land: the smoke-choked but otherwise upscale Chumash Casino.
My parents, frequent flyers of the resort, drag me there when I return home to visit. This trip to Chumash had three saving graces.
Later: “Donner, party of 84…” (And so on. Ha! I never tire of this joke, once told by restaurant lounge cover bands who used to call names when tables were ready.)
Returning from Bend during a holiday snowstorm on the Santiam Pass (my knuckles are still white), the subject of the ill-fated Donner party arose. What would that trip have been like without a heated, 4WD, 8 cylinder SUV with traction tires?
Well, it was unpleasant.
Grand Coulee Dam is 550 feet high! 5,223 feet long! Generates 6,809 megawatts of electricity! And other measurements as well. The best statistic comes from a jaunty pamphlet provided by the Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation: “Grand Coulee Dam is one of the largest concrete structures in the world. What else could you build with 12 million cubic yards of concrete? A sidewalk four feet wide and four inches thick and wrap it twice around the equator (50,000 miles), or a highway from Seattle to Miami.”
Ok, ok. Wow. A visit to Grand Coulee on the Columbia River sounds like it might be boring but it’s quite the sight and has the most fun visitor center.