Day One

May 30, 2007

Chicago, IL to St. Cloud, MN

We got off to a decent start, driving out to my parents' house, picking up the rental car*, and dropping off our dog by 11 AM. With 500 miles to cover, we quickly transferred our things from our car to the rental and hit the road. We got hungry around Madison, Wisconsin, but none of the roadside restaurants struck our fancy. We stopped in Windsor at Mousehouse Cheesehaus. Much like the more famous cheese places along I-94 south of Milwaukee (i.e., Mars Cheese Castle), Mousehouse offered everything from souvenirs to liquor to gourmet condiments along with a sandwich counter. My ham and provolone sandwich was great, and I felt good about not stuffing myself.


Back on the road, I put in the Violent Femmes CD Viva Wisconsin. I try to match music with geography on road trips, and the Femmes are one of Milwaukee's greatest non-alcoholic exports. Shame on me for neglecting to bring any BoDeans CDs. We detoured off I-94 at Osseo so I could "collect" a few counties on the way to the Twin Cities (one "collects" counties by visiting them -- collectors keep score here). There we answered the siren song of Dairy Queen for dessert. So much for our modest lunch. Along U.S. 10, we passed through three "new" counties and Ellsworth, the Cheese Curd Capital of Wisconsin.

Back on the interstate, we crossed the St. Croix River into Minnesota and stopped at the first rest area. Minneapolis is one of my favorite rock and roll towns, so I had plenty of Twin Cities tunes to play. I started off with the Replacements best-of that came out last year. My first experience of the band was when they opened for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers right before they disbanded. The band members were miserable, and they sounded awful. Twenty years later, I'm giving them a second chance. It started to rain as I got back in the car, and the downpour intensified as we drove into a construction zone on I-694. The lanes shifted frequently, and the temporary lane markers were impossible to see in the rain. Why at times like this can I never find a car to follow? Naturally, the skies began to clear as we left the construction zone.

We stopped in St. Cloud for the night as planned. As we drove around looking for a place to eat, I christened it "St. Cloud, City of Shithooks." Shithook is my brother's term for a U-turn (it's also a word that my wife hates), and it's almost impossible to go anywhere in the strip-mall area of St. Cloud without making a U-turn. The only median cuts are for streets, not parking lots. We finally settled on Timber Lodge Steakhouse, which of course required another shithook. We've missed the place since they closed their Illinois location(s). Our only mistake was ordering an appetizer. It was good, but then I struggled to finish my entrée and my wife ate only half of hers.

After dinner, I filled the tank of our rented silver Mazda 6 for the first time at $3.14 per gallon. I managed to find the Motel 6, which was located off the main highway, and we checked in.

* We always rent cars for long trips to keep the miles down on our car. If you are a Chicagoan and you can get to a suburban car rental location, it is well worth the effort -- Chicago charges 18% on rentals whereas most suburbs charge regular sales tax (one-third to half as much).

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