Wednesday, March 4

the kings of corn

Before the invention of handheld video games and car DVD players, kids had to find other ways to pass time during long family road trips. Some of us had a pack of cards, others had car (miniature) versions of games like Connect Four. You could try to make a dent in your school's summer reading list, but motion sickness would inevitably end that endeavor. Many of us would simply stare mindlessly out the window with no regard to the passing sights; the only thing that kept our brains from just giving up and dying were the passionate wishes that the trip end soon.

And when, no matter how fast your dad drove, you finally resigned to the fact that you would be surrounded by cornfields forever, a billboard in the distance caught your eye: MYSTERY SPOT NEXT EXIT! WORLD'S LARGEST HORSE TURD EXIT NOW!! LAND OF GIANT LIZARDS TAKE EXIT 146 FOR A THOUSAND MILES THEN TURN LEFT!!!

For a kid bored senseless, nothing is more alluring than a billboard advertising Auntie Em's Farm of Lawn Gnomes. Consequently, lost in the excitement of possibly leaving the car for a few minutes, we would beg and plead for dad to take the next exit. While we already know what our father's response will be, we continue to pray for intercession by God and all the patron saints of useless crap until the exit has passed and we quickly return to a vegetable state. Every few hundred miles the process repeats until we either reach our destination or, miraculously, the cornfields give way to a more exciting landscape, e.g. anything.

On my way to Chicago, I passed a billboard near Mitchell, South Dakota that instructed me to exit and see one of the great wonders of the world: The Corn Palace. In an instant I was intrigued and dismissive. I knew the Corn Palace would be among the most utterly lame experiences of my life. On the other hand, the childish need to finally obey a roadside billboard led me to exit the interstate.

The Corn Palace is astonishingly amazing and equally ridiculous. The building serves primarily as an arena and facility for community events. However, the main attraction is the outside facade which is made of corn and other grains. Each year the extensive corn murals are removed and replaced by a local artist. This year, a mural of the Lincoln Memorial overlooking the National Mall, among others, greeted my arrival.

I chose not to go inside, primarily because there was an admission fee, but also because I began to feel foolish just standing outside THE CORN PALACE, so I got in my car and left. A childhood fantasy shattered in mere minutes.

Nowadays any inquisitive mind can see the Corn Palace on its live webcam.

Updated pictures here.

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