Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The End of the Drive (at least for now)

I made it out to Seattle in one piece. Today was definitely the worst part of the drive, although still very scenic (I'm at the Kingsgate Library and the computer only has a disk drive, but not one for CDs, so I can't post my new pictures). Idaho was short, very mountainous and thus rather pretty. The Montana/Idaho border area had a few too many winding roads and sharp turns, so it was a bit more intimidating than anything previously. Of course, once I hit Spokane, where there was (gasp) traffic, I would have preferred the turns.

I stopped in Ritzville for lunch because the map gave the impression that there would be no towns of note for at least an hour, and I was hungry. Unfortunately, that meant I ate at the slowest Perkins ever. I understand food taking a while, but I had gone to the rest room, returned to my seat, and read at least ten pages in my book before my drink even came. And then it tasted weird. Well, it's not like I'm ever going back to Ritzville anyway.

Today's drive seemed extremely long - I'm not sure if it's because it was my fourth day on the road (by the way, I think I have permanent sun-glasses indentations on my nose), or because I have other reasons to be a bit hesitant and reserved about actually being here (one of them of course being my lack of desire to be a TAC). Although, I probably shouldn't complain about the Army thing that much. One thing that this drive has helped me realize is the fact that I'm independent, which is nice. I have a few friends that are still living at home or had to move back home due to money issues. I might be in the Army, but I'm also financially self-sufficient, and I should be able to save up a nice nest-egg to help support me through grad school. And thanks to my parents, I was able to move out during college and live in dorms and apartments despite the fact that the University was in the same town, so it's not like I'm going to need to adjust to my new and complete financial independence (if anything, I might need to adjust to living with people again, since I might end up with a roommate in barracks).

Another thing I discovered today is just how grateful I am to my parents for the fact that we moved out of the Seattle area before it was time for me to start driver's ed. The traffic is crazy here: I was going 20 miles on the interstate at times, there were too many other cars, and then there was the elevation issue. At one point (off the interstate), I was behind a car on a hill, and it was stopped. Obviously I stopped and left a bit of space between us because I was afraid the car might roll back. For some reason, this made the car behind me honk, so then I started freaking out about rolling back when I took my foot off the brake. My solution: hit the gas and then take my foot off the brake. My tires squealed but at least I didn't start rolling down the road into the people behind me. (And for anyone thinking I'm an idiot: I'm from Illinois, it's flat, and I have never stopped on a hill before - back off.)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Montana was much better than I expected. Last time I drove through here was almost exactly seven years ago, and it felt way too long. It's still long, but I enjoyed it a lot more this time. I think the fact that I'm doing the driving helps. Also, seven years ago we drove from Washington to Illinois so that the landscape became flatter (and more boring) as we went, while this time it's the opposite. Of course, I also had a friend who kept telling me how horrible Montana was so that may have clouded my judgment.

Little Big Horn

For the most part, I just drove straight through, but I made a stop at the Battle of Little Big Horn. I'm not actually sure why since I have always thought of General Custer as a pompous, self-involved idiot that got his men killed in his reckless pursuit of honor and glory. I always thought he deserved what he got, and felt sorry for his wife who devoted the rest of her life to his memory (although his memory was probably less demanding than the man himself). I think perceptions of Custer are changing, or at least he is no longer seen as quite as important in the battle. After all, the battle field has been renamed from Custer's Last Stand to Little Big Horn so I think that's a positive sign. It shifts the focus more on all the parts of the battle rather than some overly flamboyant general's death. The gift shop had quite a few books about the battle, and the different people involved, although a majority were devoted to Custer (or his horses). I couldn't find the biography I read many years ago but it might be dated by now (also, I think Stephen Ambrose's reputation may have suffered a bit among real historians as a result of some lazy use of sources). I read it back in high school, so I am not sure if it was really that good.

The Memorial at Little Big Horn

Big Sky Country


I loved Wyoming. Despite the fact that I had no cell phone reception and there were miles upon miles between any signs of civilization, I loved it. It was just so beautiful. Being from the flat lands of Illinois, I'll admit that I'm easily impressed by any sign of elevation but Wyoming really was that nice. Unfortunately, I was driving, and there weren't that many places to stop so I passed by most picture opportunities (they had one or two places to pull off the interstate to take pictures, but I think I would have put them in slightly different places - also, the entire area around Exit 88 was just neat - lots of hills and inclines). Closer to Sheridan, the landscape changed a bit; the whole area just looked big and vast, with mountains looming in the background. Unfortunately, my camera could not quite capture the feeling, since I can't do panoramic, but it's definitely worth the drive. Although, based on Wyoming (and also Montana), I have to say I'm still not that supportive of the idea of "scenic routes" as advertised in South Dakota: I-90 through Wyoming and Montana is basically a scenic route, and at points, I was having problems keeping my eyes on the road and not the surroundings.

Actually the very lack of civilization might have been the reason it was so picturesque. And another plus: very few billboards. Oddly enough, there were actually billboards for Wyoming in South Dakota: "74 more miles until Wyoming and cheap gas." Of course, once I got into Wyoming, I needed gas, and the first gas station was about twenty to thirty miles into the state.

Even the view from the gas station is amazing.

Monday, May 29, 2006

South Dakota: The Land of the Billboards

I spent most of today driving through South Dakota. Quite the experience.

Things I Liked About South Dakota:
  • 75 mile speed limit
  • The scenery (once I was two hundred miles into the state, up until then it was rather unremarkable)
Things I Disliked About South Dakota:
  • Too many cops on the interstate, especially in the area surrounding Rapid City
  • Lots of small road construction zones
  • The Anti-Abortion (ok, technically, Pro-Life) signs: included slogans such as "A choice that kills" and "God Gives Life" - now, I know by talking about religion I am a bit out of my element, but doesn't God also "give choice"? In fact, isn't the whole Christian religion based on the idea of choice? After all, we have the choice whether we accept Jesus as our Savior or not.
  • The billboards for Wall Drugs: The exit for Wall Drugs is the same exit as the one for the Badlands, so it's about two hundred miles into the state of South Dakota. I started seeing signs for this place before I'd even crossed the state line between Minnesota and South Dakota. Talk about overkill. Also, the wording on some of the signs annoyed me: "Wall Drugs as told by [insert magazine/newspaper here]." As told by? That doesn't even make sense. It just sounds bad. Did you mean "featured in," "mentioned in," "advertised in"? I wish I could say I didn't stop but after two hundred miles of billboards and the promise of homemade fudge, I pulled over. I never did find the fudge.
  • 20 mile an hour speed limit in towns: Well, actually I don't know if that's true everywhere, but there was a sign for a Sioux Museum so I took the exit. They actually expect people to transition from doing 80 miles an hour to 20 miles an hour? I couldn't locate the museum, either, and after crawling along for about a mile, I didn't care anymore.
  • "The Scenic Route": There were a few different places with the option of getting off the interstate to take the scenic route. Now call me crazy, but what's the point? There were a few views on the non-scenic route that were rather beautiful but I couldn't take a picture because I was driving; if I took the scenic route, I'd just be wishing I could stop and take pictures. Ironically, there was a rest area at one point made for the purpose of enjoying a scenic view but this stop was in the flat part of South Dakota. You'd think if they are going to have something like that it would be in a place where there actually is a view.

I also stopped at 1880 Town although I was sure it was going to be a tourist trap. I probably should have considered myself forewarned when I saw the "Kids Love It" billboard. It's a recreation of an old town. It's similar to New Salem for any Illinoisans out there, but smaller. The nice thing about New Salem is that you can actually walk around a little bit but the only walking in 1880 Town is the small path connecting all the buildings. They also have a room devoted to props from Dances With Wolves, and Kevin Costner horse (Sisco?) is in a corral. Unfortunately, being the absolutely brilliant person that I am, I couldn't take a picture of him because I remembered to bring my camera but I left the batteries in the car. Of course, the horse is the only thing I would have taken a picture of, so no real loss. They also rented out costumes for $3 so I could have taken a picture of myself in early 20th clothing, but they didn't have anything that interesting to wear. What can I say, I was looking for the show girl costumes (I'm pretty sure show girls back then still wore more than most college students today, and besides, it just sounds more fun than dressing up as a proper village matron). The best thing about the town were the two cats, who were extremely friendly.

Has anyone seen the show Deadwood? One of the billboards advertised the fact that the place had 80 casinos. I was actually considering stopping there since I'd heard of the series until I saw that little fun fact. Besides, I was sick of South Dakota by that point.

The goal for tomorrow is to make it through Montana. I'm currently in Gillette, Wyoming (the next city was an hour away, and I was ready to quit for the night). According to my map, I-90 is in Montana for about 550 miles. That's about how far I drove today.

Greetings from Worthington

As it turns out, I really need to figure out how to use my wireless internet. The hotel I stayed in last night had a wireless connection but I could not get it to work. My computer would tell me I was connected but it wouldn't actually go online. Fortunately, the hotel had a computer but there was a group of senior citizens monopolizing it so I had to wait till this morning to get on.

I made it to Worthington, Minnesota on my first day. My parents keep telling me to take my time and sight-see but what's there to see in Iowa? Or the southern part of Minnesota for that matter? I'll be driving through South Dakota today but I don't know if I'll stop anywhere. I know Mount Rushmore is in the state but I don't really want to get too far off the road to see a big rock. I mean that's basically what it is. Of course, when it comes to tourism, I've always been more interested in old buildings than nature (not that I don't appreciate a nice view but I'm not going to drive out of my way just to see it). As for museums, I am bit hesitant to go into any of those because I wasn't that impressed with the Lincoln Museum - I like art and sculptures, not wax figures and poster boards.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Two More Days

I moved out of my apartment today, and I'm staying with my parents until Sunday morning when I hit the road. I can't believe it's already time for me to leave. Of course, I also can't quite believe that I have to go back to Warrior Forge to be an instructor. I went there last year to be trained, didn't particularly enjoy it, and now I'm going back. There has always been something distinctly odd to me about the Army and the cadet-to-officer transition. After all, I've been in ROTC for a year more than the cadets that are going to Warrior Forge this year, but somehow that is supposed to make me experienced enough to train them? While I felt prepared to go to camp as a cadet, I don't feel like I have that much more knowledge now than I did then. The only thing that sets me apart at the moment is the fact that I've actually completed Warrior Forge, and have been commissioned. Other than that, I have more in common with the cadets than the other cadre members . I guess at least with this attitude I won't have to worry about making an ass of myself as a result of a misplaced superiority complex.
Speaking of getting ready for the Army, the colonel at my school recommended that we should all get laser pointers once we became officers. The Army simply does not work without Power Point presentations. I wonder if this is what he had in mind. Why would anyone spend $3500 on a laser pointer? Okay, it burns through tape, lights cigarettes, has healing powers (what the hell?) etc. - guess what: matches can do two of those three things. And you don't even always have to pay for matches. Although if anyone in the audience wasn't paying attention, maybe I could start burning holes into their clothes with the laser (I wonder if there is a "stun" option).

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Historical "Field Trip" to Springfield

I spent yesterday in Springfield with Lea and a few members of NOW (National Organization for Women). Lea is a very active member in the organization, and they had decided to drive down to the capital as a social/fundraising event. She invited me to join her, because a) I'm under thirty unlike the rest of the group, and b) Springfield is a shorter drive for me than Chicago. I'm leaving the state in a week, so this way we could see each other without dealing with the question of "what should we do." Springfield is of course littered with different historical Lincoln locations (tourist sites is not quite the right word since tourists don't tend to come to Springfield), and I've been to many of the big ones before (the tomb, the house with its hideous wallpaper) but the Lincoln Museum was not open the last time I was there, and I'd never even heard of the Dana-Thomas House so it was all new. I also have to say, Springfield's downtown is so much nicer than my town's. At least there is something to do.
The Dana-Thomas House was built in the early 1900s for Susan Dana, a rich suffragist. Naturally, that's not the reason the house has been preserved, because being involved in the community and the women's movement is not enough reason to be remembered. Nope, the house is now a historical site because its architect was Frank Lloyd Wright. The tour started with a video, which basically went something like this:
  • Wright's early life
  • Wright's creative genius
  • A quick reference to Dana and how she let Wright express his genius with her money
  • More of Wright's designs

It also went into a quick bio of Dana which basically describes her as a rich woman who goes through several husbands (one of them 22 years younger) and then dies alone and broke in a hospital. Apparently, that's what happens when women have money: they mismanage it and waste it (but that's okay because Frank Lloyd Wright benefitted). The tour was a little more balanced, and talked more about her life and the contributions that Dana made to her community. As for Wright, he was a bit of a control freak: he built some of the furniture into the house itself so that it couldn't be removed and mess up his orginal intent. So much for rearranging.

The Lincoln Museum wasn't bad but the wax figures were kind of freaky. It had a lot of information but it seemed like it might be better for children and school field trips (or perhaps my history degree has ruined me for life). There was one room which used wax figures to show a slave auction. The slave dealer looked demonic, and the red spot light only reinforced that impression. It seems like there could maybe be a less simplistic way of portraying history but that could just be me. Another room showed Lincoln and Mary Todd at their son's death bed. The background music sounded like carousel music. It was very creepy - I was expecting the clown from It to jump up out of the corner. I liked one of the displays a lot, though: there was a picture gallery of different war images with interactive computer screens that went into more detail about the pictures. Overall, the museum seemed like the slightly sanitized version of history. For example, The First Lady Gallery (a special, temporary display) gave a short bio of each First Lady but it focused on the positive. In the case of Betty Ford, it talked about her involvement in the Betty Ford Center but ignored the fact that she herself had dealt with alcoholism. While the dresses were neat, for the most part, the entire First Lady's display just involved walking around the room, reading posterboards with short bios. Aren't there books for that?

See what I mean by creepy?