Monday, July 31, 2006

Beer & Now: Day 3, Part 2

Authentic Dutch Windmill, Elk Horn, Iowa

There is a Squirrel Cage Jail in Council Bluffs, Iowa right across the Nebraska border and only about 20 minutes from Omaha. Intentionally skipping a roadside attraction with a name like "Squirrel Cage Jail" would have been ludicrous, which is why we, unfortunately, were forced to skip it on accident.

Maybe we dilly-dallied too much on Day 3 (personally, I blame our over-exposure to the Black Hole of Stamps), but for whatever reason, we ended up in Council Bluffs about twenty minutes after the jail had closed. Had we have arrived thirty minutes sooner, we could’ve witnessed the beauty of our country’s only Lazy Susan prison, which locks its cells by spinning around the whole interior of the building. The City was forced to close it down due to fire hazardry (it’d be impossible to escape the cells should the building burn), but apparently it isn’t quite flammable enough to keep tours from occurring.

So we stood and pouted expressively for about three to four minutes before hitting the road again. We refused to take any pictures out of defiance, so there is no record of us ever having been in The Bluffs of Council in Iowa.

To make up for this, and believe me we were more bummed out than Chicago Cubs fans, we made an impromptu detour to Elk Horn, Iowa, home of the Authentic Danish Windmill. The structure itself was originally built in 1848 in Norre Snede, Denmark, but was moved to an apparently very Danish part of Iowa in the ‘70s to help bolster tourism to the town and celebrate the nation’s bicentennial. Sound like a real live party, eh?

The project, led by a man named Harvey Sornson, took several months and over $100,000, but it was finished in time for 1976’s July 4th celebration, and the structure still stands in Elk Horn today. And luckily for us, we were able to dabble in such things to help us get over the loss of our beloved Squirrel Cage Jail.

The tour was supposed to include a video, but we had already seen about forty-three economically produced movies on the trip and so begged our hostess to let us skip it. Instead we just headed straight up into the windmill, amidst its many wheels and gyros, which formerly participated in a process for grinding wheat. We climbed to the top of the 60-foot mill, took in the view, and then decided that Dutch Windmills probably aren’t anywhere near as exciting as Squirrel Cage Jails. But, in all honesty, the windmill was a great rebound attraction and really helped us get over our loss.

Thanks a million, Elk Horn, Iowa. We’ll never forget you.

Albert the Bull, Audubon, Iowa & The Birthplace of John Wayne, Winterset, Iowa

The days are as long as they’ll be all year in early June, which is extremely lucky for us considering how many places we’d hoped to see in Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa before the sun went down. Before it was all said and done, we’d gone from Kansas City to our buddy Phil’s place in Iowa City in just one day, stopping about 327 times along the way to visit stuff. But, we still had two more places to see before we could hit the hay.

The first of these was Albert the Bull in Audubon, Iowa. Albert is basically a giant bull that stands watch over a little playground and little league field in the small Iowa town. He’s made from 45 tons of cement and recycled steel from several retired area windmills. Surprisingly, even though he towers at a little over 30 feet tall, Albert’s most impressive feature isn’t actually his height; it’s his gonads, which are the approximate size and weight of my Honda Civic. Kevin mistakenly thought that they were giving him The Eye, so he picked a fight. But that was stupid, because the gonads won. The gonads always win.

The sun was starting to set a little over this serene little park, so we took seats on the playground equipment to soak in the beauty of the evening (even though there was a creepy unshaven pedophile-type in the canopied picnic area nearby). We couldn’t stay forever, however, because our daylight was quickly fading, and John Wayne was waiting for us in his hometown of Winterset.

Where Audubon was quaint, Winterset was rustic (and old, but I’m referring here to the townsfolk, not the architecture. The architecture was rustic). John Wayne’s birthplace is just a modest little four-room white house in the middle of town. You’d never know just looking that it was the childhood home of one of cinema’s most beloved actors.

We got there pretty late in the day, so the house wasn’t open for tours. But, unlike the Squirrel Cage Jail, we actually expected this. Inside is the eye patch Wayne worn in "True Grit," as well as some other artifacts, rare photos, and letters from celebrity friends like Lucille Ball, but we would’ve been too exhausted to take in that much more tourism novelty, anyway.

We did have the capacity for one more thing, though. Parked in the house’s driveway was an airbrushed 1980s van, complete with $50,000 worth of John Wayne murals painted on it. It was like "Pimp My Ride" for Gen-X’ers. An exemplary display of why we take these types of trips in the first place.

But that was it, and we were tired, so it was off to Phil’s place to get the most uncomfortable sleep of the entire journey.

Next Installment, Coming Soon: Day 4, The Great North (Minnesota, not Canada)...

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