Archive for August, 2006

A Taste of Mexico in the North Country

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

Weather: Sunny and Mild

It was Monday night in Fergus Falls, and I was hungry. I had asked Connie, our receptionist at the plant, for dining recommendations. Connie had discussed the virtues of the infamous habanero pepper with me, earlier in the day. So when it came time to make dinner plans, I knew she was the one to ask.

I must apologize here, because when I left my hotel to go and eat, I forgot that my camera was still in my flight bag, which was sitting on the luggage caddy in my room. This was unfortunate for a number of reasons:

1) The old Fergus Falls Theater is a stunning example of Art Deco Design circa 1930-something.

2) The rest of downtown is comprised of well-kept red brick buildings dating back to the turn of the century. Main street is simply fascinating.

3) The Ultimate Fajita Burrito at Don Pablo’s was a thing of beauty.

This is not one of the Don Pablo’s chain of restaurants. It is family-owned, and staffed by recent immigrants who have a limited command of the English language.

This failure to communicate resulted in a chicken fajita burrito being delivered to my table after I had ordered steak. But the thing looked so appetizing that I didn’t even complain. I just dug-in and enjoyed my “chef’s surprise”.

Let’s talk about salsa for a moment. I think a Mexican restaurant lives and dies by it’s salsa. However, the house salsa at Don Pablo’s is geared towards the predominantly Scandi-wegian palate, here in Fergus Falls.

It is made with fresh ingredients, and has a nice flavor, but is way too mild for my jaded tastebuds. When I asked my waiter for a hotter salsa, he played the “no habla” card. So, drawing from my old Tijuanese vocabulary, I asked him for “mas picante”. This, he apparently comprende’d.

He came back in five minutes with a bowl of crushed red chili peppers, fresh, not dried. He must have run them through the food processor. Then he gestured between that bowl and the salsa, as if to say, “Mix your own, fussy gringo.” But of course, he was smiling the whole time.

The burrito really was wonderful, with grilled chicken, peppers and onions, and lots of melted cheese. After some experimentation, the salsa was just right as well. I recommend the Don Pablo’s in Fergus Falls to anyone who enjoys good Mexican food. It was a real surprise to find this place so far north.

On Tuesday, after my business was done, Frogwing and I set off across the high plains of North Dakota, on our way to Aberdeen. But that’s a story for next time. Adios!

Fergus Falls

Monday, August 28th, 2006

Weather: Read on…

Zero dark thirty. I stepped out of my front door into silence, engulfed by a light mist. It was the kind of mist that puts halos around streetlamps, and muffles every sound.

My girls were still asleep as I made my way to the garage. I had stopped for one last look at their peaceful, slumbering faces before I put my riding gear on. That mental snapshot would stay with me until I returned to them in one week’s time. If everything went according to plan, that is.

When I was gone, they would awaken to drizzle falling from a gunmetal gray sky. The Windsock and Crystal Ball boys had let us down again. They had predicted sunny skies and beautiful weather for the whole week. But when I tuned in to the Weather Channel this morning, I saw the big, green ghost of a rainstorm on the radar. It was reaching it’s ethereal tentacles up towards I-94, trying to get a grip on that road before Frogwing and I could outrun it. There was no time to lose, we had to hit the road fast!

Frogwing was waiting impatiently for me as the garage door rose in it’s tracks. I had saddled him up the night before with bags packed for a week on the road. He couldn’t wait to start pumping that fresh oil through his system, spinning gears and chains and pounding that single huge piston up and down at five thousand rpms as we ate up the miles towards Fergus Falls.

Yeah, Fergus Falls. A little outpost on our northwest border with North Dakota. The Company has a plant there, and I had a job to do. They wouldn’t exactly be happy to see me, they never are. But they would be expecting me. So, I pulled the choke and pushed the button, and Frogwing started with a muted roar. Yeah, that confounded mist again.

It was dark until we cleared the city limits. Frogwing’s single headlight beam stabbed through the darkness, illuminating road signs and the backs of tractor-trailor rigs as we plunged on through the gloom. The first pale light of dawn tinged the eastern horizon as we rolled past Saint Cloud.

What names we have, here in Minnesota. Maybe you remember a certain silly movie, where Charlie Sheen’s Indian character spoke in words taken right off a Minnesota Map: Minnehaha, Owatonna, Minnetonka, Wannamingo…. What a strange land I come from.

We rode non-stop, and as the sky turned from black to gray, I could see rainstorms in my mirrors, reaching out for us from the southern horizon. We beat them this time, but we still have four days to go. Tomorrow: On to Aberdeen.

An Exercise in Travel Noir

Saturday, August 26th, 2006

Weather: Slightly unsettled, spotty rain.

Those of you who were with me for “The Baron in Winter” might remember the time I ventured into the old crime pulp fiction mode of writing for a piece called “Commuter Noir”.

Well, I’ve been reading more Raymond Chandler, “Philip Marlowe” stuff lately, and with another quality audit road-trip coming up on Monday, maybe it’s time to venture into the darkness again.

Granted, the noir style of writing and the giddy exhilaration of a road trip don’t seem very compatible. Last time I wrote that way, there was dark and fog and danger in the air. This time? Nothing but open roads and clear blue sky, if the Windsock and Crystal Ball Guild are to be believed.

The thing is, the work load on this trip is so much heavier than on the last one that it will take all next week to complete. This left little time for me to plan extracurricular activities, so this time, for the most part, I’m just going to wing it.

I definitely plan to stop at Ted’s Country Corner, where I met those three distinguished gentlemen in a previous entry. But that won’t happen until Thursday afternoon.

Thursday evening I plan to spend at the South Dakota State Fair, watching my friend Steve’s bluegrass band perform and sampling some of the local delicacies. Don’t worry, I’m bringing the camera.

Friday night I plan to spend in Watertown, SD, and have dinner at an old favorite of mine.

Dempsey’s has some of the best food and drink I’ve tasted anywhere, and the motel I’ve booked is just across the parking lot. How conveeeeenient, no?

Saturday will be a long ramble across Southern Minnesota, I know not where yet. This is getting dangerously close to wandering, I think, but I should have a solid Ramble Plan by the time I get there. New Ulm certainly deserves another visit. And if I have to wander a bit, well, interesting things tend to happen when I do that.

So I guess I’m signing off now, for the weekend. I have to plan and pack, and take care of some last-minute maintenance on Frogwing. It’s going to be so nice to be back on the open roads again. I don’t know if I will be able to download photos from the road, I couldn’t last time. But I will update here from Fergus Falls and Aberdeen, maybe from Huron as well. Watch for the photos after I return.