Thursday, June 25, 2009

Runnin' Wild, Day 4 (Part 2)

Birthplace of the Ice Cream Sundae – In researching places to go for this year’s trip, I had read that a museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin had the original storefront of Berner’s Ice Cream, the place where the sundae was invented. The story goes that one day a gentleman asked Mr. Berner if he would take some of the chocolate syrup used for sodas and just drizzle it over the ice cream instead of mixing it in. Of course this became very popular, but Berner would only sell the treats on Sundays.

What changed that routine was an adorable little girl asking for a sundae on a non-Sunday day, pleading for Mr. Berner to “pretend it was Sunday.” Apparently her cuteness won out, and the treats sold every day, obviously extending from just chocolate to strawberries and caramel and butterscotch and, for pregnant women, pickles.

A quaint little story indeed, but here’s the problem—the Washington House Museum in Two Rivers does NOT have the original Berner’s storefront. It’s just a creepy old house full of weird antiques (nee “junk”) and a special room set aside for making ice cream sundaes. The young ladies who served us had to have both been in their 70s, and though they were very nice only managed to assemble ice cream treats at the speed of soil creep. Honestly, it was a quaint little room, with old-fashioned signs and seating areas, white walls and a framed chunk of the Berner’s store façade. They even served our sundaes in legitimate glass sundae bowls.

So we sat together enjoying our sundaes in the town where they were invented, each of us spooning the ice cold goodness into our mouths as a tribute to the good Mr. Seymour, who indirectly employed me all through high school at the local Dairy Queen. Without him and his invention, I may never have had the money to purchase that teal 1997 four-door Chevy Cavalier back in college.

Cole, naturally, almost ruined the homage at the counter by declining a maraschino cherry. He was last to order, and even after having seen all of us answer “yes” to “whipped cream?” and “cherry?” he approached the second question with—I kid you not—“You can keep your cherry.”

Kyle, Craig, and I couldn’t believe his un-American audacity. What sort of domestic terrorist turns down a maraschino cherry to top off his sundae? He was, it should be noted, forced by us to take the damn cherry and enjoy every grenadiney moment of it. He’d later apologize, but let’s face it—the damage had already been done. Ol’ Mr. Berner must have been rolling around in his grave.

Crash Site of Sputnik Satellite – Other than that godforsaken hotel in Eau Claire, this was the most difficult attraction for us to locate, mostly because there was almost nothing to see in the first place.

Having driven back and forth over the spot where Russian satellite Sputnik IV—a relative of the first human-made object to orbit the earth—crashed in the early 1960s, we still couldn’t locate any giant crater in the road or any sort of historical landmark sign on the side of the road. So, we stopped by a gas station and asked the attendant if she knew anything about. Being approximately 17 years old, she hadn’t even heard of Sputnik (a real testament to the American system of education—don’t blame me, I’m an English teacher), so she asked the older bakery lady and she knew exactly what we were talking about.

“Just go back up this street and you’ll see it in the middle of the road. You can’t miss it.”

She pointed, naturally, to the area from which we had just come. So we parked along the road back in that area and walked back and forth for five or ten minutes before asking a passerby if they knew where it was.

“Yeah,” they said, pointing to a tiny metal ring in the middle of the road right next to us. “It’s right there.”

See here’s the thing—we had been confusing the renowned crash site of Sputnik with some sort of tiny manhole or water valve cover. No label, no sign, no nothing. Just a tiny ring in the middle of the road and that was it.

We left, assuming that was the end, but I’d later read that the art museum right across the road from the landing spot actually houses the little piece of space detritus in its galleries. There’s apparently a whole little story that goes along with it. But we didn’t get that story. We just got the stupid metal ring in the middle of a busy street.

The Truebloods & Great Dane Microbrewery – Our last full day ended in Madison, at the home of our good friends Kevin and Jess Trueblood. They at one time lived in the same town as my wife and I but headed for greener pastures when the money was right. Pretty much everybody considers them sellouts, including their dog. We call this “jumping the shark,” though I’m not sure why.

Despite it all, they’re still really good people and offered up their home for our last evening of slumber on the 2009 trip. We would eventually sleep there (and Cole and I—the infamous snorers of the group—were finally quarantined off so Craig and Kyle could get a decent night’s sleep), but not until we’d eaten something.

Going with the theme of the trip we wanted to make sure the evening’s cuisine didn’t come at the hands of a TGI Friday or Applebee’s. We wanted something local, yet delicious. The Great Dane Microbrewery was right up our alley.

And as Kevin pointed out it was, in fact, right up the alley. “It’s just a mile or so away,” he tells us. Liar. Fifteen minutes later and in an entirely different town, we dined on hearty foodstuffs and refreshing ales.

The place was pretty packed, but as one of those relatively unlit eateries with dark woods and brushed nickel accents all over the place, it would’ve felt needlessly hip without all the patrons. Some of us ordered macaroni & cheese, others fancy-pantsy burgers, but all of it was extremely good. Kevin chose well, so we pretended like he never jumped the shark for the evening. Just to make him feel better.

But between you and me and his dog—he totally sold out.

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