Friday, July 13, 2012

And So It Begins....

"There's a breathless hush on the freeway tonight
Beyond the ledges of concrete..."
-- Lawrence Ferlinghetti, "Wilds Dreams of a New Beginning"

The Dover Evolution SuperShootout was pretty much a disaster for me. Yeah, I finished third in STU in the first four runs, and improved my times with the two last chance qualifier runs, but overall, I finished the event fatigued beyond belief, suffering borderline heat exhaustion, and just overall frustrated with my driving. I didn't even stay for the challenge competition, despite Pat making it in on the first day's times and my codriver Josh Luster making it in on the LCQ runs. I just wanted to sleep, and when I got home, sleep I did. Five beautiful hours of a "nap", and when I woke up that evening, I realized something.

The Packwood ProSolo. It was here. And I hadn't even started packing. Hell, I hadn't even done laundry.

I knew I wouldn't be able to leave right away, since there was supposed to be a contractor coming to install a new storm door on the back porch, so I figured if I had to be up and awake at 8AM on Monday, I'd be able to do the packing and loading of the car then. It's not like I have to overthink what I'm bringing. There are the obvious things -- tires, jack, tools, underwear, helmet -- and the hardest part is just making sure I pack enough stuff. I mentally go through my routines to try to make sure I don't leave out anything that is crucial (and I still did forget one thing, but it wasn't a critical thing), and when I was all done with packing my bags, and loading the car..... the storm door install still wasn't done. 

And I was supposed to meet up with a bunch of friends in Cleveland for dinner. I start posting on Facebook to give the guys an idea of when I'd be leaving.

And finally, I was able to get on the road just after 2PM, putting me in Independence, OH just after 8PM. Most of the gang was already there, with Blair and Sean coming a little after I did. 

Sean wisely adheres to the 50 ft restraining order even with a cardboard cutout.

After watching some parking lot shenanigans that were not involving any of our group (shocking, I know!), and actually seeing Paul's BRZ in person (but funny, I don't have any pictures of it!), Paul gave me a box of beer, and I headed off to spend the night at Megan Biddle's place on the other side of town. 

this was just one of the beers Paul gave to me; the others included black IPA and chocolate stout

Tuesday came up too quickly, but I got on the road before any traffic issues arose (or, if they did, I didn't notice, considering my daily experiences in the Baltimore/DC area). By 9, I was in Indiana, and as I entered Illinois, I didn't have to deal with any of the problems of Chicago morning rush hour. While there was a little bit of a backup downtown, it wasn't anything serious (I think I slowed to 30mph), and before long, I was in Wisconsin.

I was zipping along, wondering what I should do with my time. Last year's trip to Mt. St. Helens was probably out, since Andy had to work on Friday, the Windy Ridge observatory was still closed due to snow, and I already had tentative plans for Thursday in Montana. Then I saw a road sign for The House on the Rock, which jiggled my memory. Wasn't that one of the places in American Gods? I wondered to myself. The more I thought about it, the more certain I was that it was one of the scenes in Neil Gaiman's novel, and if you've ever read anything by Neil Gaiman, you know how outright odd his landscapes can be. I decided to make the detour and took the exit for US 14 to Spring Green.

"Take Highway Fourteen west to Spring Green. We'll be meeting everyone at a place called the House on the Rock. You been there?"
-- Wednesday to Shadow, American Gods

Like Shadow, I wondered what was so interesting about the House on the Rock and what it looked like. And as prepared as I was for strangeness, Gaiman's words still don't convey what this place is. It's just... weird. Creepy weird in some areas, fantastical in others. Beauty is juxtaposed with the macabre at every turn. It's like a museum gone insane through curation by carnies. 
The back of the entrance, leading to the Alex Jordan Center and the Main House
 Japanese style garden between the Gate House and the Main House
 "This is a roadside attraction," said Wednesday. "One of the finest. Which means it is a place of power."
 Hand carved Shesham wood from India in the Alex Jordan center and the Main House
One of the upper sanctuary-like rooms in the Original House.
 A beautiful stained glass lamp on a table that resembled a church window
 The Infinity Room. Built in 1985, it's the "newest" piece of the House.

It was windy when I made my way to the Infinity Room, which was dizzying in its design. The room also swayed ever-so-slightly in the gusts, adding to the surreal feeling of being there. The Infinity Room was the last piece of the first tour, so then I made my way back down to enter the Mill House and the increasingly bizarre world of Alex Jordan.

While in the Infinity Room, I received the news that Greg McCance would not be making the event. Between fixing his own ESP WRX troubles (he was getting a motor built after his died at an event after the El Toro ProSolo) and getting ready for Nationals, he just didn't think it was a good idea to spend the money to go to the event. I was disappointed, as I really would like to see what he could get out of the car, but I understood. 

That would be pretty much my only contact with the outside world that afternoon, as my cell service was essentially nil throughout most of the House. Considering the ethereal (or infernal?) nature of the place, I wasn't exactly surprised.

 The Streets of Yesteryear recreates a 19th century street

The Streets of Yesteryear are eerie in their silence and dimness. It's like a borderline nightmare where there is activity all around, but you're not part of it, in that all of the buildings appear to be functional businesses, but when you go to enter them, they are closed and empty. And pervading the air around is carnival like music, produced by an enormous machine at the end of the street. 

The street leads to another anomaly called the Heritage of the Sea, which is dominated by a massive scene of a whale fighting an octopus with a tiny (but life sized!) ship caught in their wake. All along the walls are gorgeous models of various ships, ranging from the doomed Lusitania and Titantic, to the Civil War ships Monitor and Merrimack and more recent aircraft carriers and British ships. 

A Mercedes gullwing, a tiled Lincoln Continental, hot air balloons and a monstrous Rube Goldberg machine were found in the Tribute to Nostalgia that followed. 

"Every ending is a new beginning. Your lucky number is none. Your lucky color is dead. Motto: Like father, like son." -- Shadow's fortune from Esmeralda.

Like Shadow and Wednesday, I continued from the Atrium Restaurant "down a red corridor, past rooms filled with empty chairs upon which rested violins and violas and cellos that played themselves, or seemed to, when fed a coin." You get four tokens with your entry (if you do the "Ultimate Experience"), and you can buy more along the way (25c each), and most of the big displays like the Mikado and the Blue Room require at least two tokens. Throughout, there are also clockwork "stories," including the one described by Gaiman when Wednesday and Shadow meet up with Czernobog, "The Drunkard's Dream."
The Mikado

Heading out of the jangling music, there is a single room of the Spirit of Aviation with hundreds of model planes and a helicopter, then you head down to the Carousel.

The Carousel figures prominently in Gaiman's novel, and it does not disappoint in how over the top it is. It is billed as the world's largest carousel, and it sits there spinning, spinning with carousel music wafting throughout the area. No plain horses on this ride; each is handcrafted and range from cats and manticores to lizards and gryphons and anything in between. 

This taste of the Carousel is just that; from the initial glimpse, you head to the Organ Room.

"They wandered through a blood-colored room filled with old theatrical organs, huge organ pipes, and what appeared to be enormous copper brewing vats, liberated from a brewery."
-- Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Giant stein

There was a reprieve from the bizarre with Inspiration Point, then it was into the Dollhouse Room and the Circus Room before finishing up at the Carousel one last time.
Inspiration Point


Before the extremely freaky Doll Carousel, there are several galleries of replica crown jewels, and exotic (and likely dangerous to the user) weapons.

I didn't really get any good pictures of the Doll Carousel, but that's okay, because it was just creepy, like clowns. So, after the last glimpse of the Carousel, I walked out into the brutally hot day for a few final looks at another garden, and it was back to the road.

Always weird to see something you own on display somewhere else. Yes, Pat has a Lego phone.

All in all, I was probably there for a good three hours, and I know I didn't see -- or hear -- everything. 

Back on the road, I made a quick stop in a little town on US14 for some Wisconsin microbrew, opting for the Central Waters Ouisconsing Red Ale and the Rush River IPA.

Despite the protests of Mike Brausen that I should stop in Bloomington, MN, that was a bit out of the way for me, especially considering how I wanted to go to the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore. So, I stuck with I-90, and got as far as Austin, Minnesota -- the home of Spam -- before stopping. A quick jaunt over to Watts Cookin' for some walleye and Alaskan Amber, and I was done for the night.

Next up : the Badlands!

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