Road Trip Part 1

I will be documenting my whole road trip- so stay tuned. I am also trying to figure out this whole digital camera thing so bear with me.

Last Sunday night I was stuck in traffic along Interstate 95 on the way back home from Philadelphia, I was thinking about my planned road trip to Newfoundland, one of my last remaining unvisited destinations on the Continent. I was debating the whole idea of going to an island where the weather predictions for the next week were cold and rainy and there was not one frum family on the island to spend a shabbos with. I of course debated cost as well and the rather expensive ferry from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland. I sat in traffic listening to some punk rock when I had a revelation. I would go to Idaho instead, it would cost the same amount and I have not been there since 2002, so it would be like my first time and this time I could concentrate on not really having a destination and enjoy myself. I got all excited and immediately lost focus on the traffic and started to plan the trip in my head.

I sorted out what equipment I needed to bring, what kind of gear I would pull out from hibernation and which bikes to throw on my roof. I then thought about where I would spend the next shabbos en-route to the wild west, and so I found myself three days later with a car packed with 3 weeks of food, 2 bicycles and all my camping gear- screaming across the flat Canadian expanse that separates New York State from Michigan, eventually ending up at my old friend Moshe Waltzer’s house in Chicago.

I was tired and hungry and since he wasn’t home from work yet I went to the only kosher place open in Chicago on a Wednesday night at 8:30. I have found that outside of New York most restaurants close at 7pm. I sat waiting patiently for my deep dish Chicago style pizza and getting really annoyed by the hocker espousing all the people he knew at the table next to me. He was going on and on about doubling his principle in this investment and making a killing on real estate in that investment, all the while he poked unseen digits on his blackberry and his Bluetooth ear piece beeped. In fact upon a further look around the pizza shop revealed that almost everyone had flashing Bluetooth devices in their ears and were hardly concentrating on their eating buddies.

s6300001.JPG

My pizza came and it looked amazing and totally different from any pizza I have ever had the pleasure to know. It had cheese overflowing from all possible pores, and the sauce was on top of the pizza while the cheese was wedged between two small layers of bread. It was a double decked pizza. Totally insane actually, the bread was doughy on the second level and the bottom level and crust was crunchy- it created a very pleasurable eating experience and I ate the whole damned thing which was made for two people.

After hanging out with my buddy and talking about the old days for much of the night I awoke to a bright sunny Chicago day, no clouds could be seen and it was hot and windy out. I drove across his West Rogers Park neighborhood and found the lake. I then donned my spandex and hopped on my bike for a 25 mile ride down the lakeshore bike path and around downtown, marveling at the beautiful lake, old architecture and beautiful skyline that is Chicago.

s6300009.JPG

s6300005.JPG

s6300011.JPG

I wasn’t in such a rush, but the traffic in Chicago sucked ass, everywhere I went I got into this mess of stop and go. There was no reason for it and just drove me nuts, then once it started at a good clip it started raining like mad. It rained off on and on like mad while I drove toward Madison Wisconsin, which is supposed, be this beautiful party/college town that I have been hearing about for years. The clouds were thick with no breaks in them as I drove into Madison, which was indeed a surprisingly beautiful city. It is abounded on one side by this huge lake which empties into feeder channels which are perfect for paddling a kayak or canoe. The city was full of cyclists on their trendy old road bikes or single speeds. I asked someone where all the cool neighborhood was and I was pointed to State Street which runs out of the Capitol building. The capitol building is amazing, it is one of those buildings that is built in such a way that it looks the same no matter where you stand, very fooling for those of us who have no idea where we are.

I parked in front of a bunch of homeless folks watching the light rain from a church canopy and walked toward the trendy area. I browsed some used book stores, looked at the way the local neighborhoods looked and found the used record shop, which features cash and charge prices- I really liked that, though their used jazz section was horrible and the rock section was all they had. I was expecting a few sections especially a funk and jamband section, but none appeared.

I continued to drive west toward my eventual shabbos destination of Minneapolis. I drove west on highway 18 which eventually becomes a beautiful two lane back road that goes up and down and passes multiple flowing corn fields and grain silos. All the towns passed on the road are devoted to grain elevators and the train tracks that stretch out under them. I was not too happy about sleeping outside due to the crappy weather, it was on and off thunderstorms and very hot and humid. I then made a call to a friend of mine and asked him if he could find me a place for the night in Postville Iowa, which I had planned on touring around in the morning.

s6300014.JPG

I have never been to northern Iowa, in fact I have never actively wandered any part of the state since I am usually in some sort of race against time to the Rockies. Also due to the fact that the extreme geography of the west does not start to central Nebraska with the vast flat plains and small sandstone piles. I was getting ready to set up my tend in a park along the Mississippi River in Prairie Du Chein Wisconsin when I got a call from my friend, he had gotten me a place to stay in Postville and the guy would be calling me very soon to direct to his house.

I was very excited, I had always wanted to see a real rural Jewish community and after reading the terribly biased yet interesting book about Postville I had a itching to see it. Postville for those of you who don’t know, is home to Rubashkins s6300020.JPG(Notice the menorah on one of the roofs) meat and about 85 ultra orthodox families who live in a town of 2300 that lies about 80 miles away from the closest Interstate highway. The plant is the largest kosher meat plant and the community is interesting because as I later learned, it has its own yeshivas and fully stocked kosher grocery store in a place that until 18 years ago had never seen or known a Jew.

s6300019.JPG

I stayed at a very nice family and when I got to their house they had some fresh steaks cooking in the most amazing barbeque sauce I had ever had. I took down some salad and corn on the cob and the proceeded to play a very successful round of Jewish geography with my host who kept saying “lets see how we can make the world smaller”, he told me that Postville has 85 families half of whome are Lubavitch and half of whom are not, news to me. Apparently a lot of folks wont eat Lubavitch shechitah so they hire a wide variety of other chassidish shochtim mostly from Israel to do the deed. They get paid around $250 per day and considering the home price is about 140k that aint too shabby.

I went to shull for the 9:00am minyan and immediately people started barraging me with shalom alechems and “vill you come to my house for shabbos lunch” requests. I was taken aback at the warmth of the community and although everyone was speaking yiddush or Hebrew I still felt welcome. I also felt great because from out the window of the shull all I could see were fields of green and corn. Miles of fields stretched forth in all directions and it made me real happy that Jews could live in a place such as this. Of course standing in the shull with Chassidism talking politics in Yiddish with bluetooths in their ears while slumping over the bima felt like New York and seeing the cars parked in all different haphazard ways along the sidewalks and street in front of the shull did make it seem as if it was still New York.

Someone motioned for me to stay for the bris which was supposed to take place right after shull, it took place in Jewish time which was over an hour after shull. I would not have stayed save for someone mentioning that they were having fleishigs. Every bris I had been to had “bris food” otherwise known as a wide selection of sabra salads and bagels.

So there I sat with a crew of Chassidim speaking Yiddish on a creaky bench in Iowa, eating chicken wings, spaghetti and meatballs and schnitzel without the proper use of napkins or utensils, at 11:00am on a Friday morning in northeastern Iowa. The entire experience was out of this world. I then drove north on highway 52 over the state line into Minnesota, another state in which I had mostly passed through except for my stops in Duluth which I consider to be a fascinating city due to its history as a port and mining capitol.

The thick blanket of clouds started to clear as I drove north and all the sudden the sun burst forth in a lively symphony of color and brightness that lits up the golden corn fields and lush greenery everywhere. I marveled in the continuous changing patterns of fields and took several pictures. I got into Minneapolis with a few hours to spare and decided to take my only friends advice and ride some of the incredibly smooth bike paths into downtown Minneapolis.

s6300027.JPG

Immediately upon entering the city through the interstate 394 I could tell that this city was beautiful. Even the highways were adorned with complimenting edifices and beautiful lush lawns. I drove the neighborhood where I would be spending shabbos and parked at one of the hundreds of lakes found within the city, each of these lakes has a path around them and sometimes multiple trails and parks are also around them. I rode my bike along side some working railroad tracks that were surrounded by trees.

Two bikes paths, one for each direction and a walking path lead into downtown. I could see the bright modern skyline glinting in the sun as I rode at a steady pace, relishing in the dry and mild air, I looked around and felt as though I were enclosed in a rural setting save for the city fast approaching. It occurred to me that what the city had done, was tear out all the old tracks and make multiple rail trails where the old yards used to be. It was brilliant and I had never seen such a smooth complete bike trail system anywhere, save for Portland Oregon. I rode around downtown which was this close knit clump of modern skyscrapers that looked very futuristic. I was disappointed that no older art deco type towers graced the skyline. In fact all the large buildings appeared to have been build post 1960’s. I rode around the trendy areas and marveled at the newly built condos. I went to some of the surrounding neighborhoods and wandered around some of the local parks.

Then after long periods of trying to get back to my car, I changed into my street clothes and began to look for a liquor or flower store to get my hosts something for shabbos. I found one in an upscale plaza and bought some teal lake Cabernet/Merlot. I pulled up to their house in neighborhood called St Louis Park, which contained some of the most original houses I have ever seen as well as the greenest lawns of all time. I was staying at my buddies parents, he had said that this was the ultimate hookup with regards to chilling and food abilities and I looked forward to what lay ahead. I had never been to this city before and had no idea what to expect.

I will be documenting my entire road trip in many parts. Please stay tuned for the post about my shabbos in Minneapolis, as well as my upcoming adventures in the Dakotas, Montana and Idaho.