Whenever my wife and I go somewhere we try to take the road less traveled. This is our version of gonzo tourism.
For instance, when we recently crossed the state of Wisconsin we zigged and zagged this way and that, blazing a trail that would give a snake a backache. Our aim was to see more of the "real" Wisconsin and avoid large cities with their correspondingly large volumes of traffic.
Wisconsin touts itself as America's Dairyland, and for good reason. As one might expect from such a place, numerous tidy and picturesque dairies dot the Wisconsinian countryside.
One curious feature we noticed was the number of pubs that are situated pretty much out in the middle of nowhere. We're from a low population state, so such a thing seems a tad bit odd to us.
Being America's Dairyland, you'd think the state would try to establish more milk vending venues than beer businesses. But perhaps many Wisconsinites are lactose intolerant and thus have little choice other than to wet their whistles with barley pop.
Some of these pubs had entertaining names such as The Stumble Inn and My Second Home. I wouldn't be surprised if there was one named Tell Her I Ain't Here.
At one point our out-of-the-way wanderings wended us to Cherry Lane Orchards, where they raise and sell - surprise! -cherries.
We chatted with Tom and Holly Sayer, owners of the orchard. Like many farmers, Tom and Holly have to constantly worry about the weather, fuel costs, and fungal attacks. And no, I don't mean the type of fungus that grows between one's toes.
"If I hired a shaker to come into our orchard and sold our cherries to a factory, we'll get about a dime a pound," said Tom. "If we run this place as a pick-your-own orchard, we can get up to a dollar per pound."
That's quite a difference, especially given that the buyers also do the all the harvesting. I asked Tom how farming cherries differs from raising corn or soybeans.
"It's five years from the day I plant a tree until we harvest cherries from it," he replied. "The weather can wipe out a crop farmer and he can recover the following year. For us, recovery can take half a decade."
I guess life can be the pits for cherry farmers. But I bet it's pretty sweet most of the time.
Eschewing the freeway for the secondary roads is also how we stumbled across the Giant Alien Eyeball From Outer Space. At least that's what I thought it was.
"Look at that giant eyeball!" I said to my wife as we neared the town of Sparta, Wis.
"You're really full of it today," she replied. "Very fun Whoa! Look at the giant eyeball!"
There at the roadside sat a 30-foot eyeball, complete with a blue iris and a river system of angry red blood vessels! We couldn't imagine who would plop such a thing down at the side of the road. My theory was that it was left by space aliens.
This warranted further investigation, so we stopped at a nearby building that belonged to F.A.S.T. Corporation. I was soon chatting with Mike, the production manager at F.A.S.T. Mike informed me that the giant eyeball wasn't from outer space and was actually manufactured by F.A.S.T. and was composed of fiberglass.
"We made it for a temporary art installation in The Loop area of Chicago," said Mike. "I've heard rumors that someone in Dubai wants to do a 100-foot version. Now that would be a big eyeball!"
I see that your yard also contains a humungous bull and huge fish and many other such things.
"We'll fabricate anything our customers want, unless it's trademark protected. The bull is the same model used since the late '40s. Back in the day, they would make a fiberglass bull, put it on a trailer and send a salesman out to peddle it to steakhouses. The Internet put an end to that. If you see a fiberglass horse or cow nowadays, it probably came from China."
As we talked, a large military-looking plane flew over.
"Fort McCoy is just a short ways away," said Mike. "Military personnel from all over the world go there to train. We can always tell when the English special forces - we call them the double-Os - arrive. A big cargo plane will swoop overhead, but never lands. The English guys always insist on parachuting in."
So there I was at the side of the road, looking at a giant eyeball and talking to a guy about selling some bull and the presence of gonzo British SAS agents. And I marveled over what a difference it can make to take the road less traveled.