Sunday, January 22, 2006

Flagpoles and Booyah
I have begun again my twice-yearly traveling season, with a quick trip last Thursday and Friday. I tend to visit a lot of the same places year after year, which can make the trips rather tedious--but as I wrote last September, only a failure of curiosity or imagination requires a person to think of a trip as dull. So Thursday afternoon I headed northeast from Madison, up U.S. 151, to Wisconsin's eastern shore.

The first interesting place you hit on 151 is Beaver Dam. Beaver Dam used to be the home of the Monarch Range Company. A Monarch range was the centerpiece of a lot of Wisconsin kitchens--including my grandmother's--from the turn of the 20th century into the 1980s, until the company sold out and its successor went bankrupt.

The next stop along 151 is Waupun. In 1851, three years after Wisconsin became a state, Waupun (pronounced waw-PONN) was selected as the site of the state prison. Some of today's prisoners reside in the first building erected, in 1854. Newly constructed prisons--and Wisconsin has its share, because, like other states, prison construction was much of what passed for economic development here during the 1980s--look like industrial plants, apart from the razor wire. But old prisons, like Waupun, with those forbidding stone walls and towers, look like prisons. Waupun's prison is on the National Register of Historic Places, but it's safe to say you don't want to visit there.

Fond du Lac is where U.S. 151, Interstate 43, U.S. 45, U.S. 41, and Wisconsin 23 (the road to Sheboygan) intersect. Thus, you can't go anywhere in eastern Wisconsin, including to heaven or hell, without going through Fond du Lac first. It's a city of 42,000 that seems to sprawl on for miles. When I first started traveling that way regularly a couple of years ago, I suggested that what they really needed to do was unleash a fleet of bulldozers to straighten out the byzantine curves of 151 that wound you through the city's downtown. Fortunately, they've finally opened a bypass--although it still requires you to negotiate an urban streetscape for a while. Old habits die hard, apparently.

I made a quick convenience-store stop in Fond du Lac, and saw a store across the street called National Flagpole. It occurred to me that while I've seen dozens of places selling flags, this was the first one I'd ever seen selling the poles.

My destination Thursday night was Manitowoc, a lakeside industrial town that, like many industrial towns, ain't entirely what it used to be. The giant Mirro cookware plant closed a couple of years ago (you could use a Mirro pot to cook on your Monarch range for most of 100 years). Manitowoc remains a shipbuilding town, however, and has been for a long time. The sports teams at Lincoln High are nicknamed the Shipbuilders, or Ships for short.

Friday I had to head up to Mishicot, a town 15 miles north of Manitowoc notable primarily for a resort with a 45-hole golf course. On the way, I went past a grocery store with a sign out front advertising its hours as 6:06AM to 10:33PM. On my way home, I went through little Francis Creek, Wisconsin, where one of the local bars was advertising its upcoming booyah bash on an outdoor sign. Booyah is a chicken stew loaded with vegetables, created by the Belgians who settled that part of northeastern Wisconsin. The stuff is sometime called Belgian penicillin, and typical booyah recipe is meant to feed dozens or hundreds.

On the return trip, I hit Fond du Lac in a snowstorm, which dropped travel speeds to 30 or 40 the rest of the way home, and turned a three-hour trip into a four-hour trip. It meant I had to concentrate more on the road than the sights along it, but I'd seen enough on the way up. Because only a failure of curiosity or imagination requires you to think of a trip as dull.

About the Football:
I have no real idea who's going to win today. As the week has unfolded, I've convinced myself at one time or another that every possible combination of winners and losers was absolutely the right the way to pick. I can make a perfectly good case for any one of those combinations, which in the aggregate would add up to "jeez, I don't know." So here, without further comment, are my picks. Thank goodness there's no money riding on this.
Denver 27, Pittsburgh 21
Carolina 28, Seattle 27
But it just as easily could be one of the other possible combinations. Jeez, I don't know.

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