As many of you know, I just completed a nice road trip, a 2,000 mile journey through Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska. According to the world of Matt Cale there is no bad Americana, but I beg to differ. I present, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Americana.
The House on the Rock (Dodgeville, Wi.)
The House on the Rock is simply the greatest museum of priceless antiques, assorted kitschy junk, and the largest collection of anything and everything in the world. I read with glee reviews from the numerous religiously impaired fools who were offended by all of the anatomically correct nude statuettes and mannequins. I was also amused by visitors who hated it because it was too dark, too murky and too risque for their sensitive tastes. I read with disgust the idiots who complained that it took too long, or that the food at the snack bar was not good enough. I was annoyed by people who complained, but were stupid enough to take young children to this wonderful and dazzlingly impressive culmination of Americana. People are idiots and do not do even cursory research.
How any thinking adult cannot love this place is a mystery to me. I mean, the Organ Room probably has 50 million dollars worth of copper in it alone. What am I talking about? Go see for yourself. Anyway, that is enough of the negative, The House on the Rock is one of the great secret destinations in this country. It is located in a remote area of Wisconsin, they do not advertise, and there is not much else around other than Taliesin, which has a very limited audience.
The actual house itself is impressive enough, but nothing can prepare the first-time viewers for that quantity and quality of the artifacts contained within the house, the grounds and the numerous building making up the total museum. The tours are sold in 3 parts and if you want to do the entire House, plan on a full day or more. Mere words or pictures cannot describe what is contained in this wonderful trip down the rabbit hole. In spite of its geographical obscurity, I’ve been here 3 times and wouldn’t mind coming back.
Custer, South Dakota- Just about everything about Custer and the surrounding area is good, but especially the Custer State Park and the associated loop roads that lead to the visual goodies that make this place so amazing. Forget paying $11 to park and see Mt. Rushmore, just take the Iron Mountain Road for amazing views of the iconic structure. Other not to miss drives are the Wildlife Loop Road (which is adjacent to Wind Cave National Park!), and Needles Highway, which leads through Needle Rock and on to Sylvan Lake. For scenery and wildlife, this place is as magnificent as any in the country except for maybe Glacier National Park. Add to the glory of nature lodging at the super retro Rocket Motel and you have a great trip.
The Corn Palace (Mitchell, S.D.) At the urging of Matt Cale ( a pox forever on his dark soul), we stopped in Mitchell, South Dakota as it was right on the way and we could use a break. The Corn Palace! I had visions of a rural farm setting and an agricultural tutorial from Americas heartland. What I found instead was construction and a nondescript downtown building that looked like a gymnasium inside. There were racks of commercially produced popcorn and other worthless items that looked as if they had been set up for a temporary flea market. OK, fine, I went to the concession stand for a delicious ear of hot, buttered corn, straight from the fields of the American breadbasket! What I found were 4 high school kids loitering at the stand, no corn, no nothing. “We can thaw out some but it will be about 10 minutes”, one mewled in between texting. “No thanks”, I said. We went back to the convention floor, bought $17 worth of worthless and tasteless prepackaged corn items and fled the place in shame. This place is worse than Wall Drug, there is absolutely nothing to see here. Avoid.
Murdo, South Dakota
Murdo seemed like a reasonable stop along the way and it did have a motel with decent reviews and an impressive classic car museum to boot. The town is dirty, scruffy and unimpressive, but I had made non-refundable reservations at The Range Country Motel, so I pulled up and checked in. I guess I should have seen the writing on the wall when I noticed that there were religious tracts at the check in desk, and it took a long time to check in for no apparent reason, but we checked in and went to our room. It was very spacious, but the flat screen TV was not mounted in any way, but just sitting on what looked like a patio table that was only 18 inches or so off of the floor. The heating was ancient, but worked and the bathroom fan sounded like a 747 jet, but no big deal, everything worked. The next morning we headed for the breakfast area and it looked like a family reunion for the Duggars as the place was jammed with dozens of families, and everyone looked related and had that vacant expression on their faces. Oh well, you can’t choose your roommates at a motel, can you? There was a big bus outside unlike the fascinating Florida palm bay party bus with Wetumka Alabama Baptist Church on it, implementing “Mission Montana” and Whitefish. “More than 100,000 people live in this beautiful valley, and every one of them need Jesus“. Why? Anyway, the breakfast was wiped out, and we didn’t want to hang around to be saved, so we went elsewhere for breakfast.
I won’t go into much more detail about Murdo, but the Rusty Spur Restaurant resembled a barn with horrible service, and the Pioneer Auto Museum featured old cars, that were dilapidated and filthy, with flat tires and years of neglect, but not classic restored cars.
The Challenged. The House on the Rock Inn is/was a beautiful place constructed about 10 years ago to accommodate the expected hordes of visitors to The House on the Rock. Unfortunately, Americans are Philistines and prefer water parks and NASCAR to a wonderful museum, so the HOTR Inn has suffered and is now reminiscent of something out of The Shining. Out of the 400 or so rooms, only a handful were occupied, but unfortunately for me there was a short bus full of some humans who had gotten the short straw from God, and were mentally infirmed. Now let’s get one thing straight right here and now. I’m not like Matt Cale, who openly calls for the extermination of the aged and unfit, and I know the drill in that There but by the grace of God go I, but I’ll be honest with you about this. I’d just as soon not be around a crowd of drooling, yelping, spitting, howling members of God’s Children, and by whom God had the wisdom and foresight to turn into drooling vegetables as part of his wonderful plan. I know that some will be offended and that I’m going to Hell for writing all of this, so if you are offended by the word retard or descriptions of their antics, then just read something else as this IS Ruthless after all.
Well, O.K., I’m sorry
We were at the Inn two days and two nights and it seemed like everywhere I turned, there was this trio of special people. I even named them as “The Stephen Hawking”, “The Tourettes Tommy” and “The Grinning Gargoyle”. Stephen Hawking did not appear to be challenged in any way, but just sat and bored holes into you behind his Stephen Hawking glasses. Tourettes Tommy was a man who looked otherwise to be normal until he threw one of his brain-damaged fits. The Grinning Gargoyle was just hideously deformed, mentally and physically. Why anyone in their right mind would take this group to an attraction like HOTR is beyond me as the carousel alone has enough blinking lights to set off every epileptic on the planet, but they were there nonetheless.
I had managed to keep a safe distance, but the last morning there it was my turn to brave the inevitable gauntlet and get coffee. I knew they would be there, and they were, and I was horrified when I realized that their keepers had left the trio in the Breakfast Room unattended. They were all staked out in the room like Velociraptors, positioned for maximum efficiency and ambush. I thought I would be OK as Stephen Hawking, (who merely drilled holes through you with stares) and The Gargoyle (grinning and eating Froot Loops) were sitting on one side of the room while Tourettes Tommy was windmilling in the center of the room.
I whipped around Tommy skillfully and proceeded to rapidly fill two coffee cups, hoping for a quick escape. While I was occupied, Tommy apparently stopped windmilling and with the stealth of a Komodo Dragon approached me from behind. “GARUMPHARUHUMP!” he shouted at the top of his lungs, causing me to nearly wet myself and scald my hands with coffee. “UGAMYLAFIXXER!!!” he repeated, obviously being lonely and tired of Stephen and Gargoyle, he just wanted to make friends (or bite my neck, I didn’t know which).
I left quickly, with my coffee, and with Stephen Hawking still staring and The Gargoyle now laughing in his/her? Froot Loops, apparently amused by my discomfort. Special Needs Humans 1 Goat 0.
The City of North Platte NE:
After a nice road trip we were on the last leg of the return trip and made it through the weather unscathed and after 460 miles ended up in North Platte, Nebraska. We were tired but confident, I mean after Murdo So. Dakota, how bad could it be? After a 475 mile drive, we were tired and lazy and decided to order a pizza to be delivered to the room. Da-la-da-la-da-da-da-DUH! Pizza Hut Online Delivery! Long story short, after 1hr and 15 minutes and two phone calls, there was still no pizza, so we were forced to reluctantly go out in search of food, passing a Pizza Hut that had maybe 3 cars in the lot. Look at the map, how hard could it be to find Mr. Patel’s Days Inn? Fuck them, we went to Godfathers Pizza, a highly rated eatery in North Platte.
At Godfathers Pizza, already mad and fuming, we stood at the Please Wait Here to Be Seated sign for 5 minutes while two employees at the register argued with each other and the only other customer in the place. Remember the unwatchable Mindy Kaling Nationwide TV commercial? That is how how we felt. We left. Our desire for pizza now set back for decades, we were cursing and hungry as we pulled into the last refuge of the desperate..a Sonic and ordered two grilled chicken sandwiches, which was quite a downgrade, even from Pizza Hut. We waited and waited until 6.5 minutes had passed and finally, there was food! I had envisioned our dinner being brought out by some cute thing on roller skates, but an older man who looked like a cross between Gollum, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and a supporting actor on The Living Dead limped out to the car. “Too Plastic Kitchen Santwitches, $10.35”, he lisped with a toothy grin. By then I was naughty, tired, hungry and punchy and mumbled at him in my best Gene Wilder impression, “You know, I can help you with that hump” and hoped that somehow, somewhere there would be some spark of intelligence, indignation or life in this absolute shithole of a Nebraska city. “Too Plastic Kitchen Santwitches. $10.35, pleese”, he repeated with a blank stare. I paid and tipped the cretin and left. After our score I celebrated the triumph by buying a bag of Cheetos and a Hershey Bar to round out our gourmet North Platte dinner.
North Platte, Nebraska has done the impossible by sealing my #1 spot as the worst small city in America. Their claim to fame and top tourist attraction is the world’s largest railroad yard full of stinking cattle, no I’m not kidding. If you can’t even get fast food right, what does that say about your precious city?
As I drove the final leg back to Colorado, I reflected on what constituted Americana? Why should I be surprised that for every Custer, S.D. there would be a Murdo, and for every Badlands, there would be the inevitable Corn Palace or Wall Drug? This is what America has become, accepting and even embracing and defending the mediocre and lame while magnificent attractions like House on the Rock and Taliesin struggle to stay in existence. Good, Bad, or Ugly, this is what we do…In America.