Thursday, September 1, 2011

Across the Mississippi in 80 Days (or So it Seemed)

This weekend, Spousal Unit and I returned to my beloved homeland in the Northwoods to visit family.

It was a delightful time. Mom and Neal took us to Nelson, Wis., to visit the cheese factory. We had fun and ate food (this includes ice cream, of course). Later, we visited a winery in Alma which had really sweet wines - I don't think I could've handled a full glass of any that I tried.

But before we visited the winery, we went on a short trip to Minnesota.

Alma and Nelson are right along the Mississippi, lining the river with gorgeous bluffs, lush greenery, and delicious cheese. Across the giant bridge, Minnesota offers a chance for gas at a cheaper price, due to lack of sales tax. We've done things like this before to pinch a few pennies, but rarely has it been such an adventure.

I must first add that this was entirely Neal's idea, so we owe him credit for suggesting this wonderful venture, which started with backed-up traffic in Nelson, a town of 400 people. It seemed quite odd to us, sitting around a bend from the stop sign, until we reached the sign itself and saw construction on the other side, waiting to devour our souls.

We all groaned, but Neal plunged on. We all (foolishly) believed at this point that the construction wouldn't be too bad; they couldn't be repaving the entire bridge, after all. And they weren't. They were just repaving everything up to the sign that said, "Welcome to Minnesota," which was a pretty darn good distance.

As we meandered carefully past construction workers in the single lane of traffic, I noted the long line waiting to come back from Minnesota. Also, the terrible stench of exhaust and asphalt, baking in summer heat.

"Maybe we should just turn around now. It's going to take us forever to get back," I suggested.

"Too late! We're committed now," Neal said.

"We haven't even crossed the bridge yet," I told him. In my head, I was thinking, Some of us should be committed, at least.

Windows down, we plunged on through an enormous cloud of dust, our lungs filling with Wisconsin mud. After a brief respite, more delightful construction blocked our path before finally, we crossed the bridge into the unholy land of tax-free gas and Vikings fans.

Gas was $3.65, ten cents cheaper than where we originally filled up. (Later in the trip, we saw a Wisconsin gas station for $3.68.) I think we spent all the money we saved just in getting back to our homeland.

After crossing the bridge again, we were in the queue for a single line of traffic through the Mordor of construction, watching oncoming traffic meander past. Neal turned off the car to save the gas he'd purchased, and we hunkered down.

Five minutes passed. Nothing happened. A couple ahead of us walked away from their motorcycle, trying to determine what the hold-up was.

A second line of cars went past us, heading to Minnesota. We still hadn't budged.

"Well," I said in my best Western Wisconsin/Norwegian accent, "It sure is a good ting we went to Minnasoda for dat gas, doncha know. We all had a pretty darn good trip and saved lotsa money, too."

"Will you knock it off?" Neal growled from the front seat.

This (or something like it) was his response each time I reaffirmed the value of our exciting trip across the big river, as a third wave of oncoming cars went by. Our line remained still, waiting for the sea of heavy machinery to part and let us into the Holy Land. I'm pretty sure Neal would have enjoyed a big piece of Beboparebop Rhubarb Pie right then.

Finally, after twenty long minutes, we were released from the mangled claws of construction and set off for some badly needed wine. But I will always remember the overpowering reek of asphalt, the motorcyclist pretending to hitchhike, and Neal's insistence that he stay out of my blog.

All I have to say to that, is beware your actions around an English major.

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