If it seems as if I’ve been slacking on keeping up to date on the blog lately, I absolutely have. August has been a busy month so far and I imagine that it will continue right through the end of the month. My guess is that these updates will be spotty so I better make them worth while so that you can chew on them for a few days until the next installment. That said, let’s talk about the trip. It will not be an easy read. It will go off in all directions with rants, raves and awesome chocolate. Here we go…
10 years ago I married a very passionate woman. At that time she was very passionate about Tuberculosis and educating the Health Departments in the State on how to deal with it, record it, keep track of it and so on. Every spring they had their “Spring Seminars” which took people from DHFS and scattered them all over the state so that everyone could be just a little closer to being on the same page. Since then, her passion (other than her passion for yours truly) has moved from TB to a program that keeps track of all communicable diseases in the state. Once all done on paper, eventually this record keeping will become all electronic. In order for people to understand what they are doing and how to use the program, she still has to travel around the country to explain and demonstrate. As she puts it, she will “drag them kicking and screaming into the 21st century.”
Many of her trips across the state of Wisconsin demand that she travel one day, stay over night and begin a meeting very early the next morning. The usual horror stories are things like no internet access, leaky rooms, rooms with no heat, no air, crummy or no food served, missing cords for the computer, not having a backup to some power point presentation, not having her special pillow – the list goes on. Most of the time though, I think things are ok. I have tagged along to some very cool places with her over the years… D.C., Atlanta, San Diego, San Francisco to name a few. Usually when we do that, I line up someone to shoot or just do the huge walk about thing while she makes her presentation. This time, I went along to northern Wisconsin. My issues with this trip are two: this is one long damn state and it is Wisconsin.
If you are not from Wisconsin, which I originally am not, the farther north you go the less you see. You’d think that it would be just freaking beautiful up there. The trees, the lakes, the road kill…
Actually, all you see is trees and the road in front of you. There are indications every once in a while that there are other things going on up there, like a town or something. There are dinky little signs everywhere pointing off into the woods. Looking down those roads tells me that there are more woods. There is life there. Mostly, people from places other than Wisconsin. Yes, they’ve been fooled into coming up here.
Before I really get into the meat and potatoes of the trip north, I’ll start at the beginning which landed us in Madison, WI. We had to make a “quick” stop at the post office so that I could apply for a Passport. No, you don’t need one to go to northern Wisconsin. I had to get one because we are planning to hit Greece in Mid-September. As usual, I had put off producing my own image for a passport until just the other day. Funny how I can shoot all kinds of other things but when it comes to something this simple (so I thought) it goes on the back burner.
I had understood the passport photo instructions to read “plain background.” I spiffed up a bit and set things up for what would no doubt be a most awesome head shot. Soon, you will discover why I usually never get in front of the lens. I took several images and tried to imagine how one should look in a passport photo. I even looked online to see examples. Me smiling is not so good looking in my opinion and the years have in no way, shape or form been kind to me – leaving me with some pretty serious lines in my forehead. Maybe if I botoxed the crap out of my face I would not look like a pissed off gangster all of the time.
I had the image. I printed it to specification and took it with me to the post office. On the way in, my wife mentioned that sometimes these people in the post office were not very nice or not in a good mood. I immediately was also NOT in a good mood. At the post office, we stood in line and waited our turn. There were really only a couple of other people in front of us, so it went pretty fast. The other people were there for simple things like stamps and to send some small package somewhere. Now it was my turn to go to the next postal clerk. I could tell by the look on her face as she looked at the envelope of things I had in my hand that she was now going to have to do more work than she had planned.
“Passport?” she asked. Yes, I replied. The heavy sigh she heaved indicated that I was now not her best friend. She labored to rifle through the information. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, she could have really been having a bad day for some legitimate reason. Perhaps she had just learned of a death in the family or that her hours were going to be cut or that her husband was leaving her for some dude because the dude was sexier than she was… who knows? The fact of the matter was that she was without a doubt a bitch. The only thing missing was an AK-47.
She was pulling out all of the paperwork, which had ALL been filled out in advance to make this whole thing go much quicker when she came across my photos. You need two. “These are no good, no white background!” As she kind of tossed them towards me across the counter. In my mind I immediately was saying “ok, fuck it” and started to put everything back into the envelope. My wife, much calmer than I am but determined to have this thing go out the same day suggested we walk to a nearby Walgreen’s where they do passport photos. Ok, let’s go.
We made it to Walgreen’s and some woman behind the counter pulled out a pretend camera, pulled down a white backdrop and a folding chair and proceeded to take this critical image. She took a couple of pictures, loaded them into her fancy passport photo machine and then did not like the fact that there was a shadow in the background and that I looked “too dark.” Let’s try again. I sat closer to the backdrop and she took a couple more images. I was wearing a bright yellow polo shirt and had just walked from the post office in very humid 90 plus degree weather. This time she even enhanced the images so I would be brighter and whiter. What? Look, I know I’m a white guy but Christ, I’m not a fucking ghost. My roots are Czech and maybe a little darker than someone from say, Wisconsin. I was not happy that she decided I should be a few shades “whiter” than I really am but we had the god-damn pictures and we need to head north. Back to the post office we went. All the way I was plotting whatever smart ass attitude I was going to lay on this disgruntled postal employee. When we got there, she was no longer on duty. Perhaps she was on break or had been removed by animal control, who knows. We found the other employees to be quite pleasant, helpful and informative. All was done on the passport thing.
We were back on the road. We only live about 20 miles south of Madison and so far it had only taken us about 2.5 hours to get just north of there. Holy crap. On we went. After a couple more hours we decided that maybe we should stop somewhere to use a restroom or pick up something to snack on. The area here was much less populated than down south. I warned my wife not to show these people all of her teeth at the same time for fear that these people had never seen anything like that and would freak out. More road. We were headed to Minocqua, WI. She had to give a talk in Woodruff on Tuesday. The farther we went, the more I saw less of anything other than trees and road. Our plan was to go to Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish, WI for dinner. This is the place where John Dillinger had a shootout and escaped from the feds way back when. Being a huge fan of gangsters (just look at my own image above) I figured this place would have a lot of cool info on J.D. When we arrived I discovered that there was a little info on Dillinger and a shitload of info on the fact that Johnny Depp had filmed some of Public Enemies there. As you drive up there is a huge banner on the front of the building that advertises the movie. About the only thing “Dillinger” there was some info on the sign down the road and a small glass case inside the lodge displaying some of (supposedly) the items left behind from the incident. There was also a group of windows that appeared to have bullet holes in them. That was it. The meal was filling.
Next, we hit the AmericInn in Minocqua. There was a nice hot tub in the room. I’m sure having this on PLUS trying to hear the television amused the neighbors to no end. In the morning, I woke up to take a look at the big city in the daylight:
Time had stood still and there was not much going on at all. Actually, the town was pretty busy. It was their annual Tuesday “Crazy Day” which was a large sidewalk sale and crapload of imported vendors selling their wares. First, I had to drop my wife off at Woodruff
(I never located the penny, they must have it hidden somewhere)
which was a couple of miles up the road. That done, how would I kill off the next 6 or so hours? Well, why not check out the “crazy day?” I found a place to park and began my walk about. I had joked about coming all the way up here to find the same shit people sell at other places we’ve been where people sell shit… Galena, Illinois… Fort Atkinson, WI. I was absolutely right except that here you add moccasins and things that say “Up North” to prove to people down south that you have actually been “up north.” Before leaving Minocqua I thought I had better check to see just what might be beyond all of those trees I was seeing along the road. It was this: more trees.
I was going to go one better. I had heard this story about some elusive creature up here called a “Hodag.” I was determined to find one. I got out of the “crazy day” area not before breaking down and going into a book store to find a new issue of “Digital Photo Pro.” This would be in case my attempt to find the Hodag failed miserably… it would give me something else to do. Making it back to the truck just before some ticket issuing traffic person did just that, I headed back to Woodruff and then decided to follow the road to Rhinelander. Surely there would be a Hodag around there someplace. The road to Rhinelander was just like any other road in northern Wisconsin. I knew I was in northern Wisconsin because I saw one of the tell tale signs that I was in fact in the right place:
After about 30 miles I entered Rhinelander. There were signs of the Hodag all around. There was a park named after it. There was a farmer’s market named after it. There was an image of it on the water tower…
I had almost given up hope and decided to go find a gas station and maybe a burger somewhere. I doubled back in the direction from which I came. As I was heading almost out of town I suddenly came across the elusive beast.
Well, this was a close as I was going to get to it or as close to actually seeing one as possible. I now must get some gas, eat and head back to Woodruff. I made it on time and had a few minutes to kill in some antique store where the proprietor decided to tell me that the “Roy Rogers” museum had been closed. Bummer.
We packed up from the seminar and decided to head back to Minocqua for a little fudge. Like any Wisconsin town worth its salt, you have to have some damn place that makes and sells fudge. Back to “Crazy Day” we went. Things were still pretty busy.
Side note: We recently had a “sidewalk sale” thing here in town put together by the Chamber of Commerce. Perhaps they can use this idea as an example for next time. This place was ape shit with people all day long AND did not close the street AND placed vendors right in your face just as I had suggested. Seemed to work.
We found a place to park and headed back to Main Street. There, we found a fudge making store. Once inside, I watched the trained professional fudge makers work up a new batch of something… to me it seemed an awful lot like a combination of road kill goo and mysteriously resembled a squashed Hodag:
No, it could not be, could it? We purchased some non-fudge instead along with a couple of root beer floats for the road and off we went back towards civilization. All the way we discussed the trip, current affairs, politics and I wondered how I was going to write about the trip. The postal worker in Madison kept springing up in my mind. Damn it, I actually took that photo session and the rules kind of seriously and she just tossed those images back at me over her counter. Next time, she gets a set of these: