Remember that I mentioned that we were planning a weekend at the Wisconsin Dells as a treat for parking the cars?
As it turns out, Mitten and Sloppy didn't much help park cars during the run of the Wisconsin State Fair - and in a twist of fate that still has me frshnuggled - Grizzly was the only one who did regularly help. He wasn't interested in the previously discussed trip to the Dells, but suggested that a trip to visit his dad in central-Iowa would be up his alley. Well, The Iowa State Fair ran from August 12th thru August 22nd, so Grizzly, My-Sugar-Na and I left early last Saturday (August 21st) morning for the trip out west, leaving Mitten and Sloppy to mourn that cruel twist of fate and ponder a lonely weekend.
Other than the dense fog that sat upon us from Milwaukee to about Hudson, Iowa, the trip was happily uneventful. Grizzly was dropped off in Marshalltown, Iowa by about 11:30 AM, then we checked into the America's Best Value Inn in Marshalltown and then continued on our trip to Des Moines.
As many of you should have learned in about third grade (and for those in school now, I am sure you haven't learned it, so check here) Des Moines is the capital of Iowa, and the grounds around the capital building are surrounded by parking lots. Shuttle busses run from the capital building to the Iowa State Fairgrounds for $2 round trip per person. So far, so good, you may be thinking. Well, we were, too. (Side note; WITHOUT CHEATING, 12% of all US State capitals are west of Los Angeles. What are they?)
Leaving Milwaukee before 6:00 AM and riding for the better part of six hours in an air conditioned car can trick a person a little bit. It didn't seem so hot outside in Des Moines, until we stood in the line for the bus. It then occurred to us that it was kinda toasty outside. But the bus was air conditioned and the trip was only a couple of miles. Two $10 tickets later (where was everybody hanging outside of Walgreens? Didn't anyone know a scalper-friendly customer was inbound?) we were inside.
Initial impressions (and as you'll learn later, are about all I can offer) is that the Iowa State Fair is the same as Wisconsin's, but backwards. There are very few permanent restaurants (though there are a couple) but all of the barns and animal houses were brick and mortar and mostly enclosed. The grounds footprint is larger, but based on this, the attendance in Iowa isn't significantly higher than here. Almost all food options in the areas we roamed were from carts.
We walked in and all we could see were new tractors. John Deere, Case-International Harvester, Case-New Holland, etc. all lined up and shiny new. The next building we came across was the Exposition Center (not to be confused with Wisconsin's Expo Center). Iowa's Expo Center is, in effect, Wisconsin's coliseum, where the animal judging takes place. Except in Iowa, there are seats with backs an arms and, oh yeah, it is AIR CONDITIONED. Believe me, I would watch a whole lot more alpaca judging in Wisconsin if I am sitting in air conditioned comfort.
We then headed aimlessly towards the center of the grounds and ran into the cow milking barn, offering the opportunity to milk a cow for $2. My-Sugar-Na leapt at this opportunity, while I leapt at the opportunity to take a photo (Side note; And if I ever find the right cord, I'll download it from the digital camera for you). I know that My-Sugar-Na sometimes appreciates the little things in life more than I do, but she was really, really excited about her Lesbian Interspecies Booby Fondling (OK, my title for it, not hers). When she paid the money, instead of a stamp they wrote IMAC with a marker on her wrist... short for I Milked A Cow. She still had remnants of IMAC on her wrist a day - and a shower - later and proudly showed it off to her son when we picked him up Sunday afternoon.
Other than a gas station sweet roll during the drive, we hadn't eaten much and were starting to get hungry so we started to mull our options. Looking interesting (but not on my nickel... touching issues, you know) was the Hot Beef Sundae. I settled for a Beef Po' Boy, while My-Sugar-Na went to the stand to the right of that for a pork chop on a stick.
While stopping to enjoy our pre-lunch, we noticed something which I had mentioned (Side note; I like to call myself "Mr. Ahead-of-the-Curve") last year that Wisconsin needed... shaded seating. These particular food carts kinda made a U-shape around a large grassy area, and in the middle was a big tent with about 20 tables at least 200 chairs. Since it was a tent, there was plenty of shade, and having no walls allowed for whatever breeze there was to flow through the tent. I was so intrigued by this communal seating area that during other walks through the fairgrounds I noticed a number of not only tented areas, but large areas with big ol' shade trees with park benches around them. At the Wisconsin State Fair, there is really no place to relax, per se. Seating usually requires buying food from the restaurant, then seating in their area, enclosed on two or thee sides, listening to a (usually) lousy cover band. In Iowa, if you want to rest for a couple of minutes in the shade with just the ambient noise, there are lots and lots of opportunities. Nice.
Continuing on towards the Varied Industries Building (this is the same as Wisconsin's Expo Center). The Varied Industries Building tried to be air conditioned, but it was crammed so full of people and exhibits and more people that it was really not much more than a sauna. For giggles, My-Sugar-Na iPhoned the weather, and at this point it was 93 degrees with a 73 dew point in Des Moines, while in Milwaukee it was 75/63 (Side note; three 100 degree days in New York and 93 degrees in Des Moines made my yearn for that May snowstorm that I drove through in the mountains between Lake Tahoe and Reno).
I was very disappointed with the exhibits, as it seemed to be way to weighted towards home improvement stuff... hot tubs, siding, garages, windows, furnaces, etc. We have a lot of that in Wisconsin at our State Fair, but where were the chamois mops? The "I heart my Pomeranian" bumper stickers? The Ginsu knives? The salsa makers with free samples? The Egyptian 1200 thread count bed linen? There wasn't anything to get us anything other than overheated.
And 100 minutes into our Iowa State Fair adventure, overheated became the key word. My-Sugar-Na started feeling dizzy, so we unknowingly and luckily were headed back to the Exposition Center (the air conditioned one where they judge horses) so we loaded up with water and sat down for a little while.
As we were sitting down and cooling off, I looked at a map and saw that the circle that we had made constituted only 1/4 of the grounds. I saw a little museum complex on the map just north of the cow milking barn, and suggested we head that way, then after that we can take off back to the hotel. When My-Sugar-Na said she felt better, we headed out... and that first blast of hot air outside the Exposition Center did her in. I barely got her to the Red Cross building before she passed out, and we were there for almost two hours (the building was really, really cold... to the point that I almost got the chills because I cooled down too quickly).
When she was finally ready to go, I decided to get the car myself and the Red Cross nurses agreed to golf cart her to the main entrance. I walked out of the building and - and I am not exaggerating, it couldn't have been much more than 60 degrees in there - right into the furnace that was outside, and all I could think of was "How could we manage three 100 degree days in New York City, but can't do two hours in Iowa?"
I got to the bus stop (but not before walking through the Iowa Agriculture Building to photograph the cow carved from butter and the butter Olympian) (OK, I also stopped for in Italian Sausage sandwich, too) and while waiting, saw cars parked on lawns! I decided to skip the first bus to walk down the block a little. The yards weren't as large as they are along 84th St in West Allis, but residents were getting four or five cars on their lawns for $15 each. I love capitalism!
Our car was where we left it, and I took the bus route back to the Fairgrounds (the only sure route I knew of... I had wasted time in the Ag building and eating a sausage, I couldn't afford to be late, you know) and led My-Sugar-Na to safety.
The original plan after the State Fair was to have done something else in Des Moines, like attend the AAA baseball game with the Brewers minor-league team, the Nashville Sounds playing the Iowa Cubs, or going to a movie. But even when back in the air conditioned car, My-Sugar-Na was not quite all the way there, so I decided to make that drive back to Marshalltown.
Safe arrival at the hotel preceded about two hours of just relaxing (I may not have been overcome by heat, but I was whipped) then a trip to Zeno's Pizza (a great pie, but at $22 for a medium crust 14" three topping pizza?) before conking out early for the night.
Sunday treated us a little better, and after each of us got at least 10 hours sleep (well, I paid for the hotel, didn't I?) we headed towards the Meskwaki Casino in nearby Tama, IA for the day. We had planned on starting with brunch, but the buffet was closed from 10:30 until 11:00 for the changeover, and we got there around 10:35, natch. Than can only possibly mean one thing.
(No, we hadn't eaten the buffet yet, remember?) My-Sugar-Na and I plunked one C-note on the table and shared the cheques. Unfortunately, the boxman kept taking them back. About 10 minutes and $97 later, we were still 10 minutes or so from the buffet opening up so we sat down at a Pai Gow Poker table. If you've ever played Pai Gow Poker, it moves slowly and (on average) 50% of the hands push. So the fact that I had recovered about $50 in ten minutes had me feeling better.
The buffet brunch was disappointing. Considering we got there five minutes after opening, the food wasn't particularly warm, and some of it seemed overdone. When my second most enjoyable food that I had was chipped beef on a biscuit, that's saying something. On the other hand, I took a stroll down memory lane when I tried the broasted chicken. Considering I haven't had it in a quarter century, the taste of the chicken immediately brought the taste of Meurer's take-out chicken to mind. It was wonderful (and I don't usually like chicken).
By noon, we still had an hour to kill, so the Indians and I traded money for the better part of that hour. At 1:00 PM, there was a poker tournament that I had signed up for, and my lovely bride was going to become lovelier after her manicure at the same time. We said our good-byes, kissed, and headed towards our respective appointments.
Except for that Chainsaws and Toasters $1 slot.
I am not a slot player (too random) but there is something about Chainsaws and Toasters. I mean... chainsaws. And toasters. On the same game! C'mon, how could you NOT plunk a $20 in there? But My-Sugar-Na caught me and said "I thought you were going to play poker?" Correct she was, so I pulled out my $30 (victory!) and headed to play cards.
I don't know if I could have played any better cards than I did. I made it to the first break (an hour into the tournament) with fewer chips than my buy-in, but I certainly had enough chips to stay competitive. There were 48 entries, and I believe 35 or so made it to the break. I ran in to My-Sugar-Na and her lovely nails, and she said that she was ready to go. I said that as soon as I am done, we can leave. I then took my $30 cashout ticket back to Chainsaws and Toasters, and by the second spin I had hit a double-bar, double-bar and Chainsaw... that Chainsaw happened to be a 5X wild card. I pulled out my now-$226 out of the machine and went back to her and asked how her gaming went in the last 37 seconds! I love that look on her face.
Back inside, I started getting better cards, playing them well, and made the final table of ten. By this time, it was about 3:30, and wife was now REALLY bored.
The tournament paid eight places, and I had the second most chips at the table. Three or four players dropped out in quick succession, and while in the big blind I am dealt a KK. One of the players goes all-in (about 1/3 of my chips) and I call him. My kings outlast his A6 and I am now in the chip lead. Players are dropping like flies and we are soon down to the final three. Big Al has knocked a bunch of people out and now has a larger stack than I. The third guy has a puny stack, but asks to "chop" the game (call a draw and all players split the money). Big Al says "I don't chop", so puny stack goes all-in. I have AQ so I call, and I have his Q10 dominated. I win the hand, and I am now almost even with Big Al. While the third place guy is still in earshot, Big Al says "I've gotta meet my wife for dinner". I ask if he wants to chop, and he says "I thought you'd never ask".
So my $35 entry fee wins $357, and with my slot machine win, I am over $400 to the plus on the day. Despite being bored, My-Sugar-Na is ahead as well (quite the difference from our last trip to Meskwaki) and we head out to pick-up Grizzly and head for Milwaukee.
The only downfall of the poker tournament was that it dragged out until almost 4:15, and by the time we collected Grizzly it was almost 5:00. Driving straight through would get us home at 10:00, but I knew we had to eat.
Between Marshalltown and Waterloo, IA, there are only two small towns so I declare that we will be dining that evening in Traer, IA. Traer is a two-horse town, basically an intersection. And this intersection is deserted.
I drive the one block through town and turn left to head towards the cross street thinking that there must be SOMETHING open. I find exactly one place open, Joker's Iron Legend Saloon & Grille, so I do the recon run... if nothing else, it is an excuse to use the bathroom. I go in, ask the saloon keeper if the food is any good, and the guy tells me that the grill closed at 4:00. Sigh.
I get back to the car and declare that we will be dining in Waterloo. After a quick dinner at the Route 63 Diner (and a great steak sandwich), we were on our way, with a new ETA of 11:00 PM. Beat it by ten whole minutes!)
In theory, the story ends with an uneventful drive home.
When I started writing this blog on Tuesday (yes, it took that long to finish), I went to the Des Moines Register to find some info and pictures for your linking pleasure. So I was a little taken back when I saw this and read this and this about the riots on the last day of the Iowa State Fair last Sunday.
That's what I thought. Riots in Iowa?
Worse, from all accounts, they appear to be racially motivated, with one of the injured police officers reporting that he heard a black person say it was "Beat Whitey Night". As I read a little further, this was actually the third dust-up during the 11 day run of the Fair. In contrast to Wisconsin, Iowa's closing time is 1:00 AM each day, but these fights did not start at closing time, so that isn't to blame (as opposed to the now-infamous "Stubborn Old Man Riots" from the 2006 Wisconsin State Fair).