The only thing I knew about Wisconsin I learned on our previous trip to the States. I saw a man sitting in a bar watching football with a hat on his head shaped like a badger and a ‘cover’ on his butt shaped like cheese. He was essentially a badger-headed cheese butt. Being late October at the time, I asked Hoff what Halloween costume he thought old mate was going for and Hoff simply says, “oh nah, he’s just from Wisconsin.”
Apparently, Green Bay Packers fans are sometimes called ‘cheeseheads’ and one of the college teams up there are the Badgers, so there you go. Looking at this odd dude with his badger hat and cheese butt, I knew Wisconsin was a place I’d need to visit one day.
That day came on Sunday when we picked up a car and headed north, to Green Bay.
Whenever I plan a trip, I do the adult thing and select dates that work for everyone: children, employers, child-lookerafterers, it’s a rich tapestry. Whenever Hoff plans a trip, he looks at said dates and sniffs out any professional sport that may be being played in the vicinity. On this occasion, there just so happened to be a Green Bay Packers home game a mere 3.5 hours away. Apparently, this is a big deal. For Hoff, it was big enough to re-route our entire trip and devote two days (and a fair chunk of the trip budget) to the getting there.
So we hit the road for another stint in the car with my trusty itinerary for stop offs along the way.
Pleasant Prairie saw us tour the Jelly Belly Factory and get free jelly beans for our trouble – score. I also now know more about the manufacture of jelly beans than perhaps anyone outside the confectionery industry ever should. We got free hats too.
Our next stop was the Mars Cheese Castle, so-called I guess because of the state’s infatuation with cheese and anything of the dairy-related nature. It was a cool place with heaps of great local groceries, beer and deli items. Plus now I know where old mate probably got his cheese butt. Blessed are the cheese-makers indeed.
Back in the car for a vastly more sensible stop – the Wind Point Lighthouse in Racine, which looks over Lake Michigan. Up until this point Hoff and I had been sniggering whenever locals referred to Lake Michigan’s shore as a ‘coast’. It’s a shore, not a coast. Chicago even has a neighbourhood called the Gold Coast, so named for its proximity to the shore of Lake Michigan and because of some convoluted story about how some rich dudes built their houses there. Unlike our Gold Coast which is presumably so named because it’s actually a coast and it’s kind of gold-looking. Anyway, the sniggering stopped when we saw how big Lake Michigan truly is. It might as well be the ocean, so ‘coast’ might be an apt descriptor after all.
Our final stop of the day took some sleuthing. I’d read that in 1962 a bit of space junk crashed landed to earth outside an art gallery in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. It later turned out to be a bit of the Russian’s Sputnik IV and the actual site is marked by a very nondescript brass ring embedded into the road, and a modest plaque on the nature strip. It took us four laps of the block before we spotted it.
Apart from being a quirky stop on my ‘itinerary of kitsch’, as Hoff has taken to calling it, the space junk site also proved to be a good excuse to visit the county that is infamous for being the setting of ‘Making a Murderer’. I have some moral reservations about sticky-beaking around sites that are related true crime because I know there are very real victims, but man is it hard to switch off your inner rubber-neck. So we may or may not have toured the justice-related sites of Manitowoc County, but we assuaged our guilt by winding down the windows and loudly debating the location of the space junk to anyone who may have been within earshot. That way they’d think we were space nerds and not true crime ghouls (which is only marginally preferable, probably).
My last job of the day was to steel myself for what was to be an onslaught of sport for the duration of our next stop – Green Bay. Hoff is a veritable encyclopaedia of international sports knowledge and American football is no exception. In fact it’s a specialty. We’ve been together for 15-odd years now and I’ve always prided myself on my authentic-seeming engagement with Hoff’s running commentary and rattling off of facts, which he does with increased speed and frequency, the more excited he gets. So excuse me while I nibble on some cheese and Google fan chants in our hotel room. Go, Pack, go.