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Blaine - Boscobel

Day two of crazy, unrelenting wind in Wisconsin.   Up to state road 60 and west about 30 miles, I came to Columbus, home of Louis Sullivan's Farmers and Merchants Bank, the last of his eight, country "jewel box" banks he designed toward the end of  his career.  The Farmer's and Merchants was recently used in Michael Mann's  Public Enemies. as a bank robbed by Dillinger.

I wasn't quite as thrilled as I usually am to set my eyes upon a Louis  Sullivan building.   Perhaps because I recently saw the bigger, almost palatial National Farmer's Bank in Owatonna (see post entitled "The Bay, The Riverview and Louis Sullivan Too" to see pictures of the National Farmers), Minnesota.  Perhaps because it was difficult to stand still and take photos in the high wind.   Perhaps because I was practically assaulted by an American flag, while standing across the street  to take the  photo above.   I'm trying not to look at that too symbolically.....But I realized later that I didn't even touch the  building, run my hand across any of the richly patterned terra cotta.    I can't walk by Sullivan's former Krause Music Store facade in Lincoln Square (Chicago) without getting all handsy.   

Beyond the excitement of seeing the Sullivan building, as I continued to drive around to little effect, it was feeling rather like a nothing day.    And nary a soul around to suddenly make it all seem worthwhile.  Wrong state, I realize.   The unremitting overcast skies were not helping.  

I was going to make a foray into the Devil's Lake State Park outside of Baraboo.   Then I had decided not to do so since the weather was so forbidding.   But I felt like something life-affirming had to be done with the day, so into the park I went.   I nearly had the place to myself.  
I was scarcely out of my car before I realized I had made the right choice.   As was the case in the very different setting of Cedarburg the day before, I felt giddy just to be somewhere new, particularly in the forest, as the nearly constant wind heaving through the trees sounded like the breaking of waves of some  great body of water.

As I walked along the massive scree of quartzite boulders that had apparently tumbled down from the long bluff above me, I saw numerous trees that had been felled or damaged in the winds of the past couple of days.   Strong as it was today, I didn't think I had anything to worry about in that regard.   The thought had barely formed in my mind before I heard a great crack, almost like an explosion, ahead of me.   I looked ahead quickly enough to see part of tree crashing to the ground.   As I came level with it along the path, I could see the top of a fairly stout tree had been snapped off.  

I walked along the bluff and next to the scree - the pile of massive boulders at the base of the slope - for a half mile or so, then took a path up through the rock.   My heart and lungs were made to work like they hadn't in ages.   I had to stop several times to rest.   It may have been a result of my finishing the climb in a third of the estimated 45 minutes, but I think it was more a matter of being out of shape, at least aerobically.    While I was making my way up the side of the bluff and trying to negotiate a fallen tree in path, I saw a woman clambering down from above me.   As she got nearer, I could see that she looked to be in her 60's, most of her white hair swept under a blue head scarf.   As we passed, she said something like, "tough climbing."   It was hard to tell in the wind.   I laughed and said, "yeah, it is."  She didn't seem to be laboring as much as me.   I wished I had said something more, made more of an attempt to speak.  But perhaps she was happy enough to leave it at that.    We continued in our opposite directions.

My reward for the hard work of ascending the bluff was a great view out over the forest and to the hills beyond.

The walk down, like running downhill, was in it's way harder than the the climb to the top of the bluff, a frequently knee-grinding and precarious experience, particularly in the wind.   There were moments when I could sense the wind building and I would grab a tree for support, or simply kneel in a low or protected spot in the rocks.   It was a bit frightening, being there alone, up so high with the wind blasting against me.   But obviously, such things make you feel more alive, which was the whole point.   It was great to be out there, subject to the power of the elements.   

A couple of more hours driving, south and west from the state park, brought me to Bascobel, Wisconsin.   I chose the Sands Hotel, just a bit north of downtown.   As ever, I'm a sucker for a good sign, even if the motel itself didn't jive with the outdated charm it exuded.   The sign was a little redolent of old school Vegas, the motel was more suggestive of cold late-twentieth practicality; my room not so much "ultra modern" as ultra sterile.   But it was ultra spacious and had wifi.  I was surprised to see a back door whose deadbolt was not in place.  I opened the door onto a long, empty corridor and another row of rooms, seemingly a parallel Sands.   Had the corridor been more richly decorated - which is to say decorated at all - I might have been reminded of those ominous shots of empty hallways in The Shining.   None-the-less, I found the somewhat ghostly back half of the Sands a little disturbing.  I closed my back door, snapped the deadbolt, fastened the chair from door to frame and propped one of the sturdy chairs under the door knob, lest someone sneak in and perpetrate some redrum on me.... 

The Blaine Theater is a fairly subtle box of 1930's moderne, standing out only with its red doors and marquee.  The red letters of the theater sign were submerged beneath the green neon spelling out BLAINE as I approached the building.   There were a couple of high school kids running the place, presiding behind a compact snack bar, which non-the-less offered quite the panoply of candy, priced from twenty five cents to a couple of bucks.   Having gotten in town late, as usual, I was forced to dine at the Blaine, chasing my entree of buttered popcorn with a tub of diet soda, followed by the ever-reliable dessert of Junior Mints.   As opposed to the big crowd in Cedarburg the night before, there were only nine of us in the auditorium before some predictably squirrely teenagers showed up just before the film started. 

The occasional outbursts of the kids, sitting in a couple of packs, seemed in keeping with the film du jour, Easy A, a pretty irreverent affair.    Much as the homage to John Hughes can't really be missed, the film seems yet another example of some guy writing a high school girl to correspond to the dream girl he always wanted to meet, but didn't.   Why?  Because she didn't really exist.   Here, young Olive (Emma Stone), wears a big A on her clothing just like Hester Prynne, her pretended trampdom having taken on a life of its own.   Olive has a verbal and cultural sophistication that one would be hard-pressed to find in a woman two or three times her age.  This, perhaps, what happens when supposed teenage girls are written by men in their 30's, already starting to look back to the past with nostalgia.   Fortunately, Ms. Stone more than pulls it off.  She's excellent, as are Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci, clearing having the time of their lives, playing the cooliest parents ever.   What exactly Malcolm McDowell is doing here as the high school principal, I'm not sure.      

Having hung out with at least a portion of the teenage set in Bascobel for 90 minutes, I decided to see what the older folks were up to.  Drinking, of course.  But then, I only went looking in bars. 

Just around the corner from the Blaine, across the main drag of Wisconsin Avenue, I first tried the Pour House.  I was met in the vestibule by a sixty-something couple who said to me with a laugh as we passed, "there's a tough crowd in there."   I appreciated the friendly irony; one never knows what one will find walking into a bar in a strange town.  The tough crowd consisisted mainly of a group of women of the same age as the couple I had met entering the bar.   They were having a good time being inappropriate old broads, all the more so when when they had an audience of about a half dozen guys who all seemed to be in their 20's.    The Pour House had an odd constituency.   My bartender occasionally broke from the action at the other end of the long, oval of a bar and served me a couple of very cheap, frosted mugs of Leinenkugels.   I checked out the panoply of bar mirrors on the walls around me, particularly those from the nature lovers at Old Milwaukee portraying some rather vivid scenes of flora and fauna.   And I watched game one of the World Series.   Sports can be such a nice prop at times.     

And then I rocked down to...the other end of Wisconsin Avenue.   Once again, hard to tell what might be going on inside the Fin-N-Feather.   There were no vehicles on the street in front of the bar, nor around the corner.   But how could I resist a tavern with such charming, alliterative name?

In my particularly, boozy version of Goldilocks and Three Bears, it was my second stop that proved to be just right.  I entered and therby doubled the crowd, if you include the bartender, whom I roused from his spot at the far end of the bar - another long ovular affair which necessitated it's tender to work in the round, as it were - from where he was intently watching the baseball game.   We exchanged a few words about the ballgame, how surprisingly it was that Giants had touched up Cliff Lee, that sort of thing.   He seemed happy enough to return to his station next to the cooler and watch the game in peace.   My charge for yet another frosted mug of Leinenkugels?  A dollar?  Clearly I had been the victim of highway robbery down at the Pour House.   Oh, Wisconsin, let me sing thy praise....

Beyond the ridiculously cheep beer, I liked the feel of the Fin-N-Feather.   If I were ever to set up shop in Bascobel, this would be my watering hole.     

Ultra modern Sands Motel to your right, Correctional Institution to your left - Bascobel, Wisconsin


  1. Haaa...I was born and raised in that little town and left Dodge as soon as the time was ripe. I like the way you visited it with an open mind and empty stomach.

  2. Yeah, the difference between visiting a place and living there. I'm sure I would have been catching the first bus out of town myself, despite the tempting prospect of cozy taverns and cheap beer. I only hope the Fin-N-Feather (not to mention the theater) is there when I make it back to Bascobel.

    Thanks for reading


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