Monday, June 22, 2009

Runnin' Wild, Day 3 (Part 2)

Da Yoopers Tourist Trap – Ugh. That’s all there really is to say about this place. Originally our intention was to go and snap a few pictures with the World’s Largest Chainsaw and the World’s Largest Shotgun, but there was supposed to be other things to do there, too. Because there’s literally nothing to do in the U.P. we would drive like three hours between stops and hope to have at least fifteen minutes to do something fun before hopping back into the car again.

Hence, we spent way more time at Da Yoopers than we probably should have.

After the chainsaw and shotgun, we explored the backyard of the gift shop, which was supposed to be decorated with fun and tasteless photo opportunities. Instead, it was mostly us walking in the rain to take pictures with stuffed dear in people clothes and creepy scarecrows with rubber masks. To this day I have no idea what the overlying theme of that place was supposed to be, but it creeped the crap out of us all.

Definitely, without a shadow of a doubt, this place was funless. We couldn’t even get a kick out of the ridiculousness of it all. It just felt like we’d walk into some creepy old man’s backyard and we could be murdered at any time. So we left, not yet realizing that the whole “creepy old man/potential murder” feeling was just a precursor to what we’d experience later in the day. Da Yoopers only gave off that impression, when in reality it was just a silly gift shop. There would come a time before the sun set when we would actually fear for our lives.

Giant Hiawatha Statue – Ironwood, Michigan is sort of the last stop in the upper peninsula before hitting Wisconsin, and to be honest we sort of couldn’t wait to escape that wretched stretch of state. But before we could leave, there was the issue of photographing ourselves with the gigantic statue of Hiawatha on the edge of town.

Nowhere could we determine why this statue was built, but nearby there was a little sign claiming it had something to do with the mining of iron ore. Again with the iron ore. Personally, I see no connection between Hiawatha and mining for minerals, but I also have zero knowledge of Michigan’s history, outside of Melonheads and the guy who bludgeoned his wife to death with his false leg.
It was, at least, the largest attraction of the trip—on par with the giant bull we visited with Kevin in Iowa back in ’06, but beyond it being huge there really wasn’t much to see. And, of course, it was still raining.

At the gas station in town we filled up at a pump that didn’t take a credit card outside. It was one of those oldschool pumps that looks strikingly similar to Johnny 5 from “Short Circuit.” Talk about backwoods. Inside we filled up on beef jerky and water, and Kyle accidentally stole a camouflage baseball cap. The woman at the counter forgot to ring it up apparently, and Kyle was off with six dollars worth of stolen merchandise. Sinner.

By the time we hit the “Now Entering Wisconsin” sign just a couple of miles away, our enthusiasm couldn’t be contained. We did that crescendo of yells that children do when heading into a new state. Peace out, U.P. I can safely say that I will never purposefully visit you again.

World’s Largest Ball of Twine – If we have learned anything from past experiences of “World’s Largest” items, the people that assemble these things have to be at least a little nuts. There’s a certain sort of obsession behind these concoctions that fully sane people can’t even begin to understand. Personally, I can’t imagine collecting loose twine for 30 years and forming into a ball that weighs almost 20,000 pounds, but the real JFK apparently can. And thank God for that.

The “real” JFK is not John Fitzgerald Kennedy, as many of us would assume, but instead is a kind, relatively toothless old gent from northern Wisconsin named James Frank Kotera that’s been assembling this monstrosity of twine since 1979.

Located miles away from any major road, amidst rows and rows of tall trees, Kotera’s home and twine ball sit literally in the middle of nowhere. When we pulled into his gravel driveway, the old, beaten up home looked unoccupied, so we emptied ourselves from the car, trekked through the backyard to the little pavilion housing the ball, and began snapping pictures. After a few minutes of this, reading the incomprehensible signs and wandering around the enormous structure, Kyle got a nervous look on his face and said, “Uhh, guys…” as JFK himself emerged from the house.

Forget that we were technically trespassing, and that Kotera looked like one of the bad guys from “Deliverance,” this took us all by surprise. But he just moseyed on out, seemingly as friendly as can be, and began telling us the life story of the world’s largest ball of twine.

It should be noted here that I was not afraid of the guy, even if Kyle, Cole, and Craig were nearly pissing themselves in anxiety. Sure, Kotera was either a little slow or a little nuts, proven when he brought out his 45-pound mini twine ball named “Junior” for picture opportunities, but he seemed to me perfectly harmless. However, after receiving one of his “business cards,” which as it turns out was an eight-page autobiography written in stylistic chicken scratched and plastered to a large piece of cardboard with black electrical tape, the fellas were more than convinced he was certifiably insane and most likely planning to kill each and every one of us. After shaking his hand and re-entering our car to leave, I sat there and began typing in the next destination in the GPS. After only a few seconds JFK reemerged with another “business card” (this one an entirely different story), and Kyle told me to screw the GPS and just get the hell away from there.

So I had drive two miles in what ended up being the wrong direction just so I could figure out how to get to our hotel for the night. The guys expected JFK to end up running 60mph alongside our car at any point, only to jump onto our hood and rip his hairy fist through the roof of the car. I knew he’s just an erratic old man finding an odd passion for his life and going with it. The guy was harmless.

The bear was not.

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