Monday, November 12, 2007

Partying, shopping, traveling

Partying
We survived my niece's birthday party over the weekend, but not before 18 little six-year-olds discovered that the goofy uncle and his equally goofy … um … friend could be used as emergency jungle gyms. We'd all been dancing around the living room like fools when my niece grabbed my hands and we started spazzing around like goofy uncles and six-year-old nieces are supposed to do when they dance together. But suddenly everyone wanted to spaz around with the goofy uncle. And spazzing somehow morphed into throwing children in the air. And before I knew it, the kids had formed a line in front me (and the fiancĂ©, who gamely threw himself into the ring as well), all not-so-patiently waiting for their turns to be thrown in the air. From the looks on their faces, some of these kids had never been thrown in the air by a goofy uncle and his … um … friend before. And the fiancĂ© and I needed the exercise anyway, so everyone came out of the party with giant smiles, new experiences and/or bigger deltoids.

Shopping
Since no trip to Cedar Rapids is complete without a shopping excursion where parking is plentiful and merchandise is actually displayed on the proper shelves, we also made a pilgrimage to our friendly neighborhood strip mall, where we eventually stumbled back to the car with new shoes, new jeans, new shirts, and even a stainless steel toaster and crock pot to replace the hideously-not-stainless-steel toaster and crock pot that have been ruining our otherwise-completely-stainless-steel kitchen experience since the day we bought our condo. And all of it was on sale.

Traveling
We also budgeted a little extra time on our trip home for me to stop and take pictures of some of the landmarks I pass every time I drive between Cedar Rapids and Chicago. Since all I had was my camera phone, I didn't entertain any fantasies that I'd be taking pictures that were by any stretch of the imagination "artistic," so I physically stopped the car only once on my junior photojournalist travelogue. But I did slow down on occasion. And all because I wanted to share my experience with you people. Please enjoy:

There is a stretch of Highway 30 just east of the Wapsipinicon River that cuts straight and true through a thicket of woods. Driving through it can be a magical experience in winter when the trees are covered in snow or frost. And even in the fall when the trees are just brown and boring, the visual effect can be stunning. Except when it's recorded on a camera phone through a windshield hurtling through space at 55 mph. I had always assumed this section was straight and brush-free to maintain compliance with that fabled law requiring that one of every five miles of interstate must be built straight and flat so it can be used to land airplanes in emergencies. But a quick google search for this law shows it's just an urban legend.

Travel about an hour farther east on Highway 30 (near the exit signs for DeWitt) and you'll find yourself in an entirely different kind of forest—one made of paperboard trees and pine-scented chemicals. Because DeWitt is not only the eponymous home of the wacky brunette from Three's Company (at least it should be), but it's also home to one of the manufacturing plants for the world-famous Little Trees® brand car fresheners. Which, of course, were invented in Watertown, NY, by the Car-Freshner Corporation way back in 1952.

There's this bluff along Highway 30 in Morrison, IL, that's home to some beautiful old mansions. I imagine that in their day they looked down over vast expanses of pristine land, but now the lots across the street from them are packed with 1950s-style bungalows, many in states of obvious neglect. This handsome quasi-Beaux-Arts manse has been a favorite of mine since I first started driving through Morrison 15 years ago, though I know nothing about it. I've done some creative googling and I still can't find anything to share with you. But I sure know it's pretty.

Update: A reader named Doug has this fabulously helpful background to share: Here's what I know about it...It was built by Leander Smith around 1976. Mr. Smith was born in 1819 and graduated from Dartmouth in 1842. He married Dolly Allen in 1855, and was elected to the state legislature in 1862-64. He was also a city councilman and established a banking company named, Smith, Root, and Company, later renamed the first National Bank

I'm assuming these little silos off I-88 were designed to hold corn or grain or something agricultural. But I think they look like breasts. There, I said it.

Nothing says "your long drive home is almost over" (also: "only about 30 more minutes until you can pee") quite like the Sears Tower waving up at you over the Eisenhower Expressway.

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