Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Have a Swig!

I’m just going to have to start a photoblog, because I don’t want to clutter up this one with all the pictures of classic old motel signs from Wisconsin Dells I took this weekend. Yes, we went to the wallet-suck world of Wisconsin Dells this weekend with the kids, and I have to admit, the whole family had a great time.

The whole aura of the place is such a nice respite from Six Flags. Six Flags is so uptight about so many things. They have a waterpark, but you can’t wear your swimsuits in the regular part of Six Flags, so when I took Stella and her friend Kayla there last month, we got sent back to the car for Stella to put a T-shirt on over her 2 piece swimsuit top. I did not have to put a shirt over my swimsuit top, because it covered my belly button, even though, as a halter top, my national endowments for the humanities were ready to spill out. But at least you couldn’t see mine or Stella’s belly buttons! WhatEVER. This whole business therefore guarantees we’ll pay $8 for an all day locker in the waterpark portion, in addition to the $8 I paid for the driest grilled chicken sandwich I ever had (and the $15 for parking, like what, we were going to walk there?)

Wisconsin Dells is totally different. Check in time at the Four Seasons Motel (which featured not only indoor and outdoors pools, but as you can see, the availability of Shauna’s services!) wasn’t until 3, so we killed some time and $$$ with the pope of Wisconsin Dells, Tommy Bartlett. First, we did the “Exploratorium” which started out lame with stupid robots which were just different enough from C3PO and R2D2 to avoid having to pay royalties. Fortunately as one goes down each level the “hands on fun for the whole family” (with a little science educational value snuck in there) improves with all the great science museum stuff: van der graff generators, optical illusions (and the reasons they work), a step inside the MIR space station, a Tesla coil, a jacob’s ladder, virtual sports games, la de da. Then a ride on the Original Wisconsin Ducks, with a tour guide who was appropriately enthusiastic about the local trivia, and perfectly deadpan delivering the requisite bad puns and jokes. He turned out to be a college student (aren’t the all in the Dells?) majoring in secondary education, and I could just picture him being the great, cool history teacher who knows when to joke around and when to get serious with the kids.


But we had kids with us, so off to the theme parks. Mt Olympus does it right. Instead of trying to have a dozen little themes from section to section, EVERYTHING at Mt Olympus is Greek gods themed, right down to the Trojan Horse go cart ride that brought to mind Monty Python’s Trojan Rabbit, in both construction and sheer enormity. Hades is a rollercoaster that takes major dive from the highest point in the park to underneath the parking lot – if underneath a parking lot in the Dells isn’t Hades, I don’t know what is. Zeus is as fast as lightning bolts. Of course I had a gyro (for something like $4.50, very reasonable for a theme park) and the kids ate chicken tenders that were actually juicy and tender. Stella worked her way up the various rollercoasters, and Sammy just enjoyed the kiddie rollercoaster which (I can tell you since I rode with him) actually pulls its share of Gs. Only downer was we gave up doing the Pegasus Go Cart track, since some idiot who didn’t know that the brake is on the left didn’t brake at the end, slammed into somebody, and some kid got hurt as a result. Getting that awfulness wrapped up guaranteed we’d be standing in line forever, and we’d been spoiled by the relatively short waits for rides, so we just decided to do the Cyclops a few more times.

Noah’s Ark was more of the same, except it’s exclusively water rides. And more of that same, we’re-all-on-vacation here feel, no weird dress codes, reasonable food and drink prices (well, reasonable for a tourist attraction), reasonably tasty food, friendly laid back employees, many of whom, like the Mt Olympus crew, were foreign college students working the Dells for the summer. Stella had this pornographically huge hot dog which we all helped her eat, after we all stopped laughing about the size. (Honestly, I don’t think she picked up on the Freudian aspect of it, just its size prompted her to say “I’m so not going to be able to eat this whole thing.” )Sammy had a blast, and even enjoyed the water slides, though the ones that started out like a black hole were a bit too scary for him. Grudingly, I had to respect that, even though it meant going down several flights of stairs we waited 45 minutes to go up. So we just did some regular fun water slides and that made up for it.

Las night we did dinner at a place called Marley’s, where the kids did standard chicken tenders and hamburgers. Brian got a Jamaican jerk BBQ pork sandwich, which I tried and loved. They have a nice jerk seasoning there, and it actually worked in a BBQ sauce. I did the jerk mahi-mahi, which was more classic jerk flavor, accompanied by some terrific Caribbean greens and garlic mashed potatoes that had exactly the right amount of garlic in them. It had the ambience of a chain place, but I’d never heard of it before. Too bad we missed the previous evening’s karaoke, I can only imagine what Karaoke in the Dells is like.

Today we went for a walk up and down the old strip, accompanied by mixed feelings. I’ve never been to the Dells before, but you can see by the for sale signs on some of the classic old motels, and the condition of many of the locally, independently owned shops on the strip, that the big, all-in-one guns are moving in and taking over. I’m certain there will always be a market for the small, cheap motels that have a pool and Shauna, for families like us that want to take it all in and don’t mind leaving our flop, especially since the only reason we needed a motel was a place to sleep. A co-worker commented that there’s a lot of people who come to one of these giant hotel complexes, and yet have never seen the actual Dells! I believe it; and sadly so. There’s a piece of cheesehead nostaligia that will be lost if we let this fade. Part of the attraction to the Dells, like I said earlier, is this laid back feel, this, “here it is, just be cool and have a good time” vibe that you just don’t get at Six Flags or even Disney World. This isn’t Orlando, and it shouldn’t try to be. Orlando is manufactured; Wisconsin Dells just sort of grew into this vacation destination and thus is organic. The giant, everything-on-site complexes do indeed have a place here – they’re necessary to compete with similar destinations, but I hope they and their manufactured fun don’t take over. While we were stopping to take a picture of the Sandman Motel sign, a manager type who happened to be in the parking lot asked us if we wanted to buy it. “What, the motel or just the sign?” Brian asked, as the guy just shrugged. If we had that kind of money, we’d consider it, if only to preserve it. C'mon, can anything ever really give you the same I-Don’t-Think-We’re-In-Milwaukee-Anymore fuzzy as the feeling you get when you Have a Swig With Nig?

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