Even by Plucky standards this was a ridiculously busy day, crammed with incident, even after Rick - who we will remind you, just turned 41 - got carded not once, but twice trying to go into the casino with comments like "I would've placed you in your late twenties" more than making up for his gambling losses.
Mary didn't get carded. She's no longer speaking to Rick.
We began in the LeMars, the Ice Cream Capital of the World, so-called because it is the home of the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Factory. This is not just boasting, they actually do produce more ice cream than any other company.
It's a long story but sufficed to say Blue Bunny looms large in Mary's personal mythology. The short version is that despite their prodigious output, the ice cream is rare in Los Angeles. One day after thoroughly enjoying one of their Neapolitan ice cream sandwiches, suddenly everywhere she looked there was Blue Bunny. A stuffed Blue Bunny sent by a friend has been our mascot on the trip and so today we brought Plucky Bunny home.
You don't tour the factory but instead a series of exhibits illustrating the company's history since shortly after the turn of the last century including a knowingly cheesy video that explains ice cream production in a miniature version of a production facility.
We enjoyed it thoroughly even before we had ice cream for breakfast. It's a cute stop - good value for the money ($3 per person) and did we mention, there's ice cream at the end.
From there we engaged in a race against time for the serendipitous part of Plucky Survivors. See, we're in Iowa and it turns out this state figures heavily in the Presidential Primaries - you may have heard about this. Before the trip we decided that if a presidential candidate or spouse, particularly a Clinton, an Edwards, or an Obama were within striking distance of our route we would reschedule accordingly.
Turns out that Obama was going to be in Storm Lake 45 minutes after us so it only took a little jiggering to land us beside the very pretty and somewhat choppy lake to hear the candidate's stump speech.
Said speech had a lot to do with health care, which was appropriate from the Plucky Survivors standpoint and when he took questions from the audience he graciously took one from Mary about his intentions for rebuilding and reviving New Orleans.
He had compassionate but practical things to say about immigration issues including the important role they currently play in the workforce. The only reason we're really bringing this up is because this subject recurred later in our day.
We tried to pose for a picture - you'll see to the left how successful it was - but we did get to shake his hand and thank his for his time.
Living in Los Angeles, we don't get this kind of interaction with candidates. Usually when they get to us, things have been pretty much already decided, Primarily speaking, and so really all they want is our money. Further, although Rick grew up in Iowa, this kind of thing either didn't happen as much or as often or he was too busy eating Maid-Rites to notice.
The point of that is, that a small gathering of several hundred (maybe a thousand) people in a small park next to a like in a tiny town in Iowa where you get to actually talk to the candidate who makes eye contact with you as if you're carrying on a conversation is a thrill, regardless of your political leanings.
But time and tide waits for no one and we had a big giant ball of popcorn to see. You may draw whatever parallels to that and modern politics that you'd like. There's a picture of the ton and a half of popcorn over to the left for you to gaze at in awe while you ponder that.
By this time it was the middle of the afternoon and while ice cream made a fine breakfast its restorative powers wear off after awhile so we were keeping a sharp eye out for interesting looking late lunch spots. To our delighted eyes appeared, the Udder Cow, whose theme you can guess right down to the black and white splotched station wagons out front and the similarly spotted hand crocheted doilies adorning every table.
The house specialty was pork tenderloin so naturally we each had one. Mary was surprised to learn that this regional specialty came encrusted in something Rick, a native, identified as a coating of bread crumbs and crackers. Mary continues to think well of Iowans and their food choices.
Continuing to race against the clock, we were going to bypass the Grotto of Redemption when it basically threw itself in our path. A massive folk art structure similar to last year's Ave Maria Grotto, this one appears to be a big old pile of rocks arranged in a vague cathedral shape. Closer inspection revealed the rocks were everything from, well, rocks to crystals, polished geodes, shells of all sizes, broken marble, and even petrified wood, with mosaics depicting religious scenes and similarly themed statuary.
It's almost hypnotic and remarkably tactile so signs warning you against touching it were disappointing. Having said that, its location on a relatively busy thoroughfare, cheesy piped in music, and looming gift shop conspired to make the place a far less moving and spiritual experience than the peaceful and meditative Ave Maria in Alabama.
You'd think we'd have enough highlights for one day, but you'd be wrong!
Next was a trip to Britt, Iowa and the Hobo Museum, which proved to be 42 different kinds of awesome. This time of year one has to call to arrange a tour so the very helpful Linda and Betty agreed to meet us, patiently explaining to us the difference between a "hobo" (one who travels for work), a tramp (one who travels and won't work), and a bum (one who does neither). Britt has been holding an annual hobo convention since 1900 and the hobo tradition is a rich and incredibly interesting one filled with surprises.
One such surprise was Betty herself, an older woman who revealed she was none other than Connecticut Shorty, a Hobo Queen who started riding the rails at a fairly advanced age "just for the fun and adventure of it." Her own father was legendary hobo named Connecticut Slim who largely abandoned his family for his travels. Betty doesn't hold it against him.
The women discussed the diminishing of the time-honored hobo population, one that has included over time a number of unexpected figures including some fairly wealthy men and more than a few women, but observed that the migrant workers are hobos even though they aren't called that as they hop trains to where the jobs are. And so it came full circle to Obama's speech because hobos from the civil war through the depression helped the nation's economy and workforce even as the immigrant migrants are doing now.
The museum itself is filled with photos, heirlooms, and relics of the hobos from shoes to hand-carved walking sticks. The plan is to move everything into a spanking new facility with modern interactive exhibits and proper displays but for now it is housed in a early 20th century movie theater, with an original tin ceiling and murals on the walls. When it's no longer needed as a museum it'll be for sale. Anyone out there want to revive an old beauty and show classic movies there on the weekend? It deserves it and so does the town.
As if we weren't smitten enough, we looked at hobo folk-art - hand stitching of the various hobo symbols and their meanings including one symbol consisting of two inter-locking circles, which means "don't give up," a motto for Plucky Survivors if ever there was one.
We finished our time in Britt by paying our respects at the Hobo Graveyard, admiring the colorful nicknames, the tomb of the Unknown Hobo, and the final stop for Connecticut Slim himself before he "caught the Westbound."
Both Mary and Rick were taken by the romance of the whole thing and wanted to go catch a freight right then, but at least according to the Harrah's people, Mary is too old and feeble. Did we mention she's still kind of bitter about this.
Our day finished - we know, we're as tired as you are - in Mason City, hometown to Meredith Wilson author of "The Music Man." That's right, we got trouble, right here in Mason City, that starts with T and rhymes with P and that stands for Plucky.
Our accommodations are in a stunningly restored house that belonged to the owner of the local meat packing business, so very in keeping with our eating patterns on this trip. We loved it from the columns on the front porch to the original inlaid wood and brick features to our period appropriate bedrooms. And as if all that weren't enough for us to be smitten, the Decker House provided us with symmetry, which we love, because who stayed in Rick's room just a month ago? Why, Bill and Hillary Clinton. So not only did we meet a presidential candidate today, but we're sleeping where a presidential candidate (and a president) just slept. Mary's room is the biggest and nicest in the house and is particularly romantic and lovely (though all the rooms are as nice as any B&B we've stayed in) but it was vetoed by Bill because it is accessible only by a torturous staircase with a ceiling so low, even Mary has bumped her head on it twice. Tall former presidents have to protect their noggins.
So, just another day for Plucky Survivors including that stupid 0-0 Cow score. This was not for lack of Cow, but for excess of Cemetery.
Can we top our day tomorrow? It starts with Spam, so anything is possible. See you then.