Rick's homecoming trip ended with a visit to a part of Cedar Rapids he had never seen before, or at least didn't remember seeing, which brings up the question: is it nostalgia if it's new to you? Said area is known as Czech Village, a couple of blocks of buildings with vaguely Czech-Slovak architectural details settled by immigrants from the region.
There is a nice museum with an average permanent exhibit that attempts to cover a complicated millennium of the history of the Slavs both at home and here in the US post-immigration. When the Velvet Revolution is reduced to an office sized cubicle of space, you know the information is considerably truncated. Still, it's a decent overview, even if Mary kept wondering if the Hungarian POV (see if you can guess her heritage) was getting some kind of nationalism-based short shrift.
Better still was the exhibit on puppetry-marionettes are a big cultural factor in that region and the artistry and skill involved in creating this miniature, yet perfectly proportioned, worlds was well displayed. The exhibition runs until the end of September 2007 and we highly recommend it. We only wish one of the weird and wonderful puppet shows (like Faust or even a Slavic folk tale) was a part of it.
A little browsing in a stuffed (if overpriced) antique store, heavy on Czech imports, a drive by an old watering hole of Rick's (now a Halloween Haunted House), and then we said goodbye to Cedar Rapids and hello to Cow.
Today's match demonstrates the heartbreak and steely nerve required for the game. Mary scored a number of cows in the first five minutes, only to lose them all a minute later to a score of graves stuck in a soybean field. Its picturesque setting was not enough to console her. Moments later, Rick lost all his cows, only to ratchet up a double digit total before Mary got to shout-say it with us-"You better flag down that cop because I've just stolen all your cows!" Oooo…burn. Of course, upsets happen, and the score varied wildly before ending with at a miserable 8-0, Rick. If Mary has one more zero score, she's changing the game to Silo, because in Iowa and Illinois, thus far, those storage structures are outnumbering the bovines by quite a lot.
But back to the trip. Our next stop was Wilton, Iowa, home to the Wilton Candy Kitchen, the oldest continuously operating candy store (1850) and soda fountain (somewhat later) in the country. We arrived promptly as scheduled at 11:30-only to find it closed. Despite also being a lunch counter, it opens at 12:30pm. This being a small town, there was nothing to do to kill an hour, as was evidenced by various kids we saw around pretty much just sitting there, and perhaps texting messages to their friends. This being a really small town, a guy across the street got the owners-George and Thelma's-home phone number, but they didn't answer. This being a really, really small town, another guy reported seeing them drive off with their son.
Now, this led us to a scheduling dilemma. Our next stop was HOG FEST, about a 90 minute drive. If we gave up and went straight there, we wouldn't eat until 1pm, and both of us were feeling the kind of peckish that comes with needing something on our stomachs for our meds. But if we had something to eat in town, then we would fill up before HOG FEST. Which wouldn't do. And if we had a shake, as was our intention, since George makes the ice cream himself, we might be even more full.
But we had come all this way, and George is in his late 80's, and we couldn't take a chance. So we found a small town café and had what proved to be a Platonic BLT and a really good gyros (the owner is Greek, so he knew his sliced meat business), and what with driving around and checking out a (non-Cow scoring) little old cemetery whose occupants were probably the original customers of the candy score, we got to 12:30pm. Unfortunately, the owners didn't join us at their store. Dang it!
So it was off to HOG FEST. Now, here's the thing. Back when the plan was for PSSA 2 to be the Plucky Nor'easter, but it was proving financially troubling, Rick called Mary and uttered one of her favorite pairs of words: HOG FEST. (Other contenders: world peace. True love. Chocolate dipped.)
Having spent one of the finest weekends of her life at the Basile Swine Fest in Southwest Louisiana, that's all it took for us to switch the Plucky Nor'easter to the Midwest Express. You can see why we only use caps for HOG FEST. It's the only way to come close to our level of anticipation and enthusiasm.
And oh, how it lived up to the hype. A 50 years and counting local tradition in the form of a street festival, the first thing we see is a very long grill covered with boneless pork chops and pork patties. We opted for the former, and in Mary's case, her chop was a little small, so there were two, each about an inch thick, grilled to just the right moist doneness, with a touch of regional BBQ sauce, all on a soft bun. It was perfection in sandwich form.
As we photographed it for your envy, the couple next to us guessed we were out of town, because we were taking pictures of our food. Little did they know we take pictures of our food at home. Pleased we were visiting, they directed us to the local landmark bar, a beautiful piece of 1930's preservation, a gorgeously carved wood bar, tile floor and more. We decided to skip their other recommendation, the block of furniture stores, because Plucky Mobile just doesn't have room for a sofa. Not after all the HOG FEST t shirts Mary bought.
We took in most of the parade, a series of various pageant queens in their tiaras and fluffy chiffon gowns posed on convertibles, homemade pig themed floats and marching bands. From signs on the floats, we learned that with HOG FEST, the Fun starts, variously, with the Son, church, us and, mostly, U. This was educational.
So was the carny banter at the game booths. Rick took up a dart challenge and won Mary a small stuffed pig, causing all the barkers to misinterpret our relationship and suggest he could impress Mary more by winning a really good sized pig (it is true; hers was smaller than her sandwich). She decided not to tell them that her husband was home overseeing the installation of the new bathroom, which is the real way to win her heart. We took a ride through the Castle of the Dead, which would have been perfect if it had been twice as long. All in all, a completely satisfying experience.
And by the way, thank you to the Kewanee Star-Courier for the Plucky Survivors shout out! We would say more about that but us writing about you writing about us writing about your town is the very definition of the Internet eating itself. It's how people get famous on YouTube. But still, thank you.
We finished up by trying to discover if Plucky plays in Peoria. No word on that yet (the Peoria paper didn't write about us), but we are impressed with the gentrification and renovation of the railway area down by the river. It's a pedestrian walkway that reminds us of similar restoration project in Little Rock, which Rick didn't get to enjoy thanks to his ill timed flu last year.
Tonight, we strolled through luscious air and took in some music at the annual blues festival. (Mary's timing is off; last night, New Orleans favorites the Radiators played this festival, while tonight, at the St. Louis blues festival is another NOLA fave, Big Sam and His Funky Nation. We won't be at that festival until tomorrow, of course. Drat, again.)
Tonight, we are enjoying the amenities at the Mark Twain hotel. A former generic chain style establishment, it's a model for how to transform a dull space into a boutique hotel. Basic rooms have been embellished with dark wood Arts and Crafts influenced shelves, with cubby holes for all kinds of nifty touches, including a microwave that would have been perfect for reheating those extra pork chop sandwiches that we didn't bring over from HOG FEST precisely because we thought we wouldn't have the facilities to serve them properly. Drat, AGAIN. We shall cry sobs of separation and longing into our king sized beds, which are well equipped with the kinds of sleek white linens that make it really hard for us to get on the road in the morning.
But we will! Tomorrow is a busy day!