Friday, July 23, 2010

Wisconsin Death Trip, epilogue




This past May I went up to Wisconsin with Esther and Jonny to speak at an Ice Age Trail event near New Auburn. The two nights we were up there we camped at a campground near Black River Falls in the Pigeon Creek State Forest. The evening after the event, we drove into Black River Falls hoping to find a place to eat downtown.
Before coming here, I had read Wisconsin Death Trip, which gave me a strange sense of foreboding about this town. Getting off the exit of I-94, I saw a chain restaurant and a huge hotel and campground complex. There were the obligatory fiberglass wildlife replicas, including a huge fluorescent orange moose. Just down the road is a casino. If a gambling joint didn't suck the lifeblood out of the community, maybe it was the decision by some town leaders to make their city identifiable by such an eyesore of a monument. "Yeah, just get off the highway when you see the big orange moose. You'll know you're almost there." Classy.

Two things happened in our short stint in downtown Black River Falls that reinforce the creepy image I've gotten from books and videos. We parked and looked for a place to eat. Down one side street is what looks like an Italian restaurant and bar. We walked through the front door and about 10 old men, all sitting at the bar, stopped their conversation and in unison turned to look at us. Not knowing who we were, they turned back around, again, in unison, without so much as a hello. Feeling very self-conscious, and not seeing any other diners, we backed out the door.
Up the street there is a mural telling the story about a local taxi service and auto garage that used to do business here. As I was reading this, Esther and Jonny stood nearby at the corner, looking at something else. I turned around in time to see a man who looked like a religious fanatic. He had a short-sleeved button down shirt and short hair, with a couple cowlicks sticking up off the back of his head. He also had a look of religious fervor on his face. He walked up to Esther, who had her back turned to him, lifted a hand to tap her on the shoulder, but when he saw me his eyes widened in fright, he pulled back his hand, turned around and went walking back the way he came without saying a word.
And to top it all off, except for a ratty-looking pizza place, there was no place else to eat downtown.

The final bit of weirdness was a religious center that a strange, rambling message of salvation, damnation, and redemption written in soap on the storefront window. There was also a strange, very secret society looking design on the facade on that side of the street.

We ended up eating at the Perkins out by the interstate, right across the parking lot from the orange moose.

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