Purging some thoughts before filling up with Friday Fish Fry

This trip through the Upper Midwest has given me ample doses of everything I sought this time around. New information from sources I know I'll engage with going forward. A chance to reconnect with people and stories I continue to research. Hours on the road to reflect upon what I'm trying to pull together for a big book on a subject no one seems to have searched for previously. Unexpected pleasures and pains in both unfamiliar surroundings and while tracking down some old favorites. Like so many of the trips I've taken this past year, this is what I've come to see as simply life on the road in America. Today is my chance to reflect and transcribe while visiting a town not far from where I grew up. This is a place where we would come for summertime waterskiing shows and the occasional movie or run to the Dairy Queen. Unlike so much of America, this town and the others around it have changed little from the 70s and 80s. Maybe it even goes back farther. But the ubiquity of coffeeshops with free WiFi and decent espresso even to be found in places like Tomahawk offer a chance to connect the dots with some of the places I've seen along the way.

As I often do, I've collected a mental list of places worth mentioning for others to keep an eye out for when they're similarly out there navigating the vast landscape of America. Whether I'm being a highly selective filter or just a traveler looking for an upside wherever my feet hit the ground, I'll mention a few. With one crushing bummer to show that all's not uniformly inspiring out there on the road.
  • I was lucky to arrive on the outskirts of Omaha, Nebraska just as their minor league baseball team (the Omaha Storm Chasers - the Royals's AAA squad) took the field against the Nashville Sounds (the Brewers's AAA squad).  Just outside the ticket office, a Little League coach was handing out free extra tickets - I grabbed one with a smile. Hot dogs were on special inside the stadium for a buck. Then the Sounds lit up the Omaha starter for 6 runs in the top of the second inning (on their way to a 9-1 victory). Baseball purists might look down their nose at what showed up on the field that night. But I was blissfully entertained after a day on the road.
  • For the second time - the prior being smack dab in the middle of winter - I made my way to the "Field of Dreams" movie site just outside Dyersville, Iowa. It was textbook example summer afternoon, with the outfield corn standing 9-feet-high (no drought conditions around a tourist attraction). Two pairs of Iowans asked me to take their pictures. Even if I'd had an anxious team looking to start practice, I couldn't have stayed longer. Just a run around the bases and a passel of pictures taken were more than special enough.
  • After visiting the Fort McHenry museum in Baltimore earlier this month, I'd had my interest piqued thanks to a reference to the solitary battle in these parts. So I planned for a stop in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin along the Mississippi River. The history part of town was a widely mixed bag, but there were many delights to be found. I even stayed at the Brisbois Motor Inn because of the epic kitsch quality of their signage around town. The motel was full of railroad workers and what I assumed to be a sizable number of drug mules. I didn't get even a little bit murdered. If you've got the time and itinerary to head through, also stop in at a coffeehouse on Blackhawk Avenue named Simply. It was all that and so much more.
  • When unpacking the usual Madison cliches, there should always still be a nod delivered for the shared energy that comes from State Street on a summer evening. But my favorite stretch while in there for little more than a day was to get a falafel platter from a stellar food truck (Banzo) and head out back of Memorial Union and to share the Badger familial energy. I followed that up with a visit to the Wisconsin Historical Society's Library on campus, stumbling into their "Wisconsin After the War of 1812" exhibit. I didn't go to school in Madison. I am a different cut of college-aged rodent (Gopher blood courses through these veins). But a lucky, happy sojourn like mine yesterday made me realize yet again how nice that would have been.
  • It's not all happy and inspired out there in America, obviously. The browned and sad fields of drought-stricken corn throughout Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin are just devastating to see. We'll be seeing the ripple effect of that sad sight in the grocery stores for the next few years.
There's more on my plate for the next few days before sticking a fork in this year's research travels. Up next I'm stoked for a Friday Fish Fry at the bar on picturesque Little Spirit Lake just two doors down from the house I lived in until I was 10-years-old. Because if you come to northern Sconnie without eating your weight in deep fried fish, you surely will be arrested. Not the cardiac kind, I hope. Here's hoping you get the walleye tonight, too.