Wisconsin has no time for you

It was a few years back. Halloween weekend. I was living in huge, metropolitan Indiana, and suffering acutely from a terminal case of boredom. I didn’t have a girlfriend, I didn’t have a job, but I did have one thing: my dad’s Honda Accord. A true road trip machine, the Accord coupled Japanese reliability with the painstaking automotive maintenance only a father can provide. The thing had 100,000 miles on it and still drove like a new car. I was moving some junk from my parents house, so I got to borrow the car for a weekend, which turned into a week, which turned into another week, and I just couldn’t seem to find the time to get it back to my parents. One month later, facing an angry father taking a Greyhound Bus to come kick my ass, I knew it was the last time I’d get to drive this thing; I’d better make it count. So I rounded up the only other person I knew who liked to do as much stupid shit as I do, ian c. rogers, and we made a pact: We would leave Friday after he got off work, and drive until Monday morning, (when he had to be back to work and teach a computer class no less) and hit as many states as we could in-between. Our only music was 2 tapes chosen randomly from a pile of discarded cassettes in the back of my closet: Rocket From the Crypt/The Shit on one tape, and Steel Pole Bath Tub’s Tulip/Miracle of Sound in Motion on the other. Our straws drawn, we hit the road.

We spent most of Friday driving to Ann Arbor to visit “Ulterior Motive” Ian’s girlfriend. Shit, no wonder he was so ready to hop in the car. I spent most of the night drinking and trying to hit on his girlfriend’s heroin addicted roommate, who was still pissed at me from the last time we visited for some reason I forgot. Not much fun. I slept in a pile of dirty clothes on a dorm room floor while weird noises were made in the background. Saturday morning couldn’t have come soon enough for me.

But it did come, and after peeling the loving couple apart, we hit the road, making our way through northern Indiana around Lake Michigan. We stopped at this huge rock jetty that stretched far out into the Lake. Ian grew up around here and he knew the area well. It was about 30 degrees outside, but Ian insisted we walk out on the rocks. We crawled about 20 feet along the jetty, waves crashing up between the rocks. The wind was so strong, it felt like the ocean. I mentioned to Ian that we were probably out far enough to really appreciate this truly exiting spectacle of nature. Nonsense, he countered, and continued on his path. Too bad he didn’t see that wave coming. 30 degrees, a howling wind, and Ian is completely drenched, from head to toe. It got me too. Good thing we didn’t pack any extra clothes. We were freezing to death, and something had to be done.

Actually, if I told the whole story, it would stretch on for pages, so I’ll just mention some highlights that happened on our way to the Wisconsin incident. Shoplifting heavy wool socks from Wal-Mart, bowling in our boxer shorts at an alley that had dryers, eating 10 pieces each of fried chicken in Gary, Indiana, stopping in Chicago to see the Dead Milkmen at the Metro early show (hey it was warm inside and only 5 bucks) and GVSB at the late show. The time in-between was spent drinking Mad Dog, throwing snowballs at city buses, and trying unsuccessfully to find cute girls to crash with. We eventually settled for staying with a hairy Hindu friend in Chicago’s north suburbs, got a good night sleep, and woke up, unprepared for what lie ahead.

I had taken a few road trips to Minnesota before, and the main highway that cuts from Chicago through Wisconsin is a green and forestry jaunt broken only by Madison, and the Largest Chili Can in the World at the Hormel plant in Beliot, Wisconsin. This was our mission: Tour the Hormel Plant and get some cool Corned Beef Hash T-Shirts. Nothing illegal, just some homestyled, white trash fun.

Here’s what happened: When we got to the plant it was closed. The front gate was shut, topped with razor wire, and we were pissed. We could see the huge can of chili through the fence. It was practically taunting us. We had to get a closer look, fence or no fence. I parked the car at the Frito Lay factory across the street. We saw people inside Frito Lay, apparently on break from making corn chips, and banged on the door, asking for a tour. No one would even open the door to talk to us, instead shouting through 2 feet of safety glass that we were trespassing. We gave up, left the car in the lot, and walked to the Hormel Plant. By following railroad tracks, crawling through weeds, and hopping a little power converter, we found ourselves in the middle of the Hormel World Headquarters. There was no one around. We ran to the can of chili which dwarfed us in its sheer magnitude. A little metal ladder welded to the side of the enormous can let us climb to the top. We were very depressed to find out that there was a lid on the top, and the whole thing was actually a storage tank of some sort just painted to look like a can of chili. It probably wasn’t even a chili storage tank. What a rip off. We cursed the can of chili, and made our way back to the fence, climbing on top of a semi-truck to help us over the razor wire. We started walking back to the Honda in the Frito Lay lot, and then we saw the cops.

First one car, then another, then another, then another. They came to a screeching halt around us and pulled guns, over the car roof, just like they probably saw on TV. We assumed the “on the ground, hands behind your back” position, got cuffed and put in the back of separate cars. They kept asking me about the Honda. Whose it was, where we got it, why we left it in the lot. They didn’t even mention the chili can. Finally they checked the registration, got a hold of my dad, and asked him if he knew where his car was. “With my son driving it, it could be just about anywhere east of the Mississippi.” They asked him for a description of me. “6 foot 2, brown eyes, and stupid hair.” Satisfied, they let us out of the cars. I rubbed the feeling back into my hands while the cops explained that people steal cars from Chicago, and drop them off in Beloit for their confederates to take to Milwaukee and sell. I assured the cop that if I sold this car my dad would kick my ass. He said that probably sounded like a good idea.

The funny thing is, they never said anything about the trespassing, the climbing of the chili can, or the hopping of the razor wire. They didn’t even know. One cop asked us why we were in Wisconsin. We told him we had come to see the chili can. He asked us where we had come from. Indiana. He asked us where we were going, to which I answered “maybe Madison, or maybe Missouri”. The officer strongly suggested that we go to Missouri if we didn’t have any business in Wisconsin. The nice man even offered to give us an escort to the border, which we declined, but he provided anyways with the following admonishment “Next time you come to Wisconsin, make sure you have a reason to be here.” We followed him to the Illinois border and we got to drive pretty fast. I was wondering if he would turn around and give us ticket, but once again fate smiled on us, and we made it to Illinois without incident. So remember kids, if you have time to burn, do it somewhere like Missouri or Iowa; Wisconsin has no time for you, unless you have a purpose.