The Astral Log

1 November 2015

Reason Fest Day 7: More Miles of Minnesota

Filed under: Artifacts & Holdovers, River City Reason Fest, US-Minnesota — Andrew T. @ 21:42

My seventh day began under the influence of the same lumpy mattress and same deafening air conditioner I had endured the night before. Not for long, though: I checked out as fast as I could. While on the way, I found a sign on the premises that appeared to have the words "Quality Inn" covered over by tape, reflective of a franchise change. Quality, it wasn't...but it wasn't quite the Budget Host of nightmares, either.

For lack of anything better to do, I wandered to the Crossroads Center mall. It wasn't quite ten o'clock; so while the interior corridor was open, the stores weren't. Were there any interesting relics to be found of retailers past? Yes, in the singular: The south anchor was a two-story JCPenney store that was disturbingly similar to the one at Dixie Square...right down to the vertical channels in the facade. There wasn't much else, though: The mall reportedly opened in 1966, but it had been expanded and renovated so severely and so often over the years that nothing else even the slightest bit original remained. The interior did feature a loop-shaped corridor that left about a third of the stores "mall-locked" in the middle, which was a bit unusual.

More roadside artifacts in and around St. Cloud: A vaguely Bavarian-styled service garage with a pegasus indicating a past existence as a Mobil station. Surprisingly, the business has its own website with a history page, which notes the construction year as 1927.

Moments later on U.S. 10, I stumbled upon a barn-style Dairy Queen with a 1960s mascot statue on the roof...worth a few points in rarity, if nothing else. (The picture also turned out as proof that my digital camera is brimming with dust, as splotches appear on any frame taken with the optical zoom on a sunny day.)

Sadly, I scarcely got to see any more of Minneapolis and St. Paul on the last day of the trip than I did at the beginning. After realizing that half the day was gone and I hadn't even gotten out of Minnesota's 6th congressional district yet, I drove...and drove, and drove, and drove, until all traces of traffic congestion and city life were left behind. I didn't catch a break until I was in Winona, where I got a bite to eat (promptly discovering both a price error on the menu board and a cent from 1930 in my change) and wound up with one more JCPenney picture for my collection...this time in the form of a bizarre construct split with a Fastenel industrial warehouse at the other end and a whole lot of nothing in the middle. Evidently an Econo Foods supermarket was housed here until 2005, but I really wonder what the full story behind this place was.

27 October 2015

Reason Fest Day 6: Miles of Minnesota

After making my exit from the clutches of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, I drove as fast as I could into Minnesota to put some distance between bad experiences and I. From that point on, the drive was pleasant but uneventful: Occasionally a freakishly alien piece of farm equipment two lanes wide would appear over the horizon, but otherwise for mile after mile there was no excitement nor any relic of civilization to see but for the road itself.

Eventually I came to the town of Thief River Falls, where I happened upon a strange, non-taxpaying reuse of what appeared to be an old Conoco station. The less said about their doctrine, the better: Near as I can tell, their members think they're deluged in original sin and are salivating for the rapture to arrive.

Thief River Falls was also home to my single best "roadside artifact find" of the trip: A downtown JCPenney store of 1950s or very early 1960s vintage, bearing no fewer than three generations of signage on the building...including the incredibly-rare "funky P" symbol of 50 years ago.

Another random Minnesota observation: License plates on passenger cars are replaced every 7 years, but license plates on other types of vehicles may never get replaced at all. As if to prove the point, here was a Recreational Vehicle plate in the pre-1987 graphic style with a current 2016 sticker.

I couldn't stay put for long, though. Minutes later I was back on the road, trying to cover as much ground south and east as I could...when I heard the single most satisfying news of the entire trip. Governor Voldemort was ending his presidential campaign (no, I'm not going to use his real name...hearing it is enough to make me smash my fist into the wall), and the United States had escaped a bullet from the foremost source of my life's anxiety and fear.

Dusk fell somewhere in Otter Tail County (how did they name these things?), and I started idly looking for a motel. Accommodations were a little tough to find, though, and I didn't finally stop for the night until I had driven all the way to Saint Cloud...and acquainted myself with the lumpiest mattress and the noisiest air conditioner I had ever endured.

It was luxury.

6 October 2015

Reason Fest Day 1: Journey through the Land O' Lakes

Filed under: Artifacts & Holdovers, River City Reason Fest, US-Minnesota — Andrew T. @ 23:32

When I launched the Astral Log earlier this year, all I knew was that it had the potential to develop in any direction. I didn't expect to use it primarily as a vehicle for travelogues. But I can never stay put in one place for it was probably inevitable. The latest raison d'être? My first international conference in 30 years.

I left home around 9 a.m., pointed the car northwest, and drove like hell until I reached the Minnesota border. Well, almost the Minnesota border: I wound up getting sidetracked in La Crosse long enough to visit the Valley View Mall, which features a JCPenney store with the (bricked-over remains of) auto service bays along one side. This wound up being a recurring theme on the trip.

Minutes later, I had crossed the Mississippi and was safely in Minnesota. Yes, Minnesota...the wonderful land of milk and honey I came within a hair's split of moving to in 2012; the state that legislated marriage equality while my back-stabbing neighbors were legislating Wisconsin Synod Sharia Law.

I was somewhat stingy with pictures on this portion of the trip. During my journey to Arkansas a couple months earlier, I ran out of room on my memory card and I was fearful that the same thing would happen again. Still, there were a number of scenes of artifacts and coincidences that captured my attention...and my photo frames. How often do you see one Geo Prizm hatchback on the road...let alone two in the same color? Both of these are probably '89s, since they have pillar-mounted seatbelts.

A former Ben Franklin variety store in Lake City, with a rather creative reuse of the original sign.

After creeping through Winona, Wabasha, Lake City, Red Wing, and Hastings, I reached the Twin Cities area...the cultural and economic epicenter of the upper midwest. Sadly this wasn't the day to stay there for long...and since my view of it was miles upon miles of a gray, gridlocked concrete jungle under the dim glow of a cloudy day, I didn't get to see Saint Paul or Minneapolis at their most congenial or inviting, either.

Soon it became apparent that there were two Minnesotas. There was the Twin Cities area, which was cosmopolitan, reasonably secular, and free of the worst kinds of economic disparities that affect many other cities in the USA. And there was the interior of the state, which basically consisted of farmland and wilderness peppered with anti-abortion billboards. By the time I was halfway to Fergus Falls, my arm was so tired flipping the forced-birthers off that I wanted to take a rest break then and there. But there were no facilities to be I drove on until night fell and I was able to cross one more state off my list.

The street grid of Fargo, North Dakota is divided into numbered streets and numbered avenues, each with directional splits. An incomplete address like "210 7th" is therefore useless unless you trek over all four corners of the city trying to find it. Some streets are disconnected, further complicating matters. After doubling back on myself and wasting time driving in Fargo for nearly an hour, I checked into a Motel 6 room with an air conditioner that leaked on the floor and plotted out the plans for the next exciting day.

Compared to the last motel I stayed at, it was bliss.

©2015-16 Andrew Turnbull