Column: Something About Nothing, by Julie Seedorf published in the Albert Lea Tribune January 6, 2014
When I was a little kid, a long, long time ago, my parents would put me in the car, or should I say force me to go on road trips? When I was in my elementary years, I didn’t mind it as much, but as I got to be a teenager I found those road trips boring. My friends were more fun or at least I thought so then.
We visit the Twin Cities quite a bit to see our kids and grandkids. My granddaughter Maggie always has some place exciting that she thinks we need to visit. Most of the places we visit are very citified. We find some unique shops that fit within the culture of a large city.
During Christmas break my granddaughter Maggie and grandson Jake stayed with us for a few days. While my grandson spent quality time with Grandpa, I decided that Maggie and I would take an old-fashioned road trip. She is 10 and still likes road trips. I decided to take her to visit some charming places that definitely have a more rural feel or are special in the midst of us country folk.
Since my granddaughter loves pancakes and hot chocolate we first headed to Bud’s Café in Bricelyn for their famous pancakes. Bud’s is part restaurant and part grocery. WCCO viewers voted Bud’s as having the best pancakes in Minnesota. The restaurant part is distinctive because it has the old — and I would imagine, although I didn’t ask — original booths and bar. The bar is beautiful and so are the booths. We felt like we stepped back in time to a more peaceful age.
I watched as Maggie’s eyes got large when she saw the large pancake that covered the entire plate. She scarfed it down along with hot chocolate. We enjoyed the atmosphere and the friendliness of the waitress and the owner. With our tummies full it was time to head east to Kiester.
We stopped at Tanks N Tummies. It is a former gas station turned into a coffee and sandwich shop. Just a note, they make their own bread.
Maggie was charmed with the interior, which had Beatles posters, the old Coca-Cola machine and a wall where the owner, Tom, let her sign her name on the wall. Not only that but she experienced some great hot chocolate and I, of course, had some wonderful coffee. When we first stopped outside and I told her we were going in, my granddaughter was skeptical. It didn’t look like any place she ever stopped at in the Cities.
She was enchanted by this out-of-the-way, unique store. She was even treated to a viewing of the Beatles concert at Shea Stadium when this grandmother had to explain to her who the Beatles were and that I actually saw them live at Met Stadium back in the 1960s. Tom immediately found some footage on YouTube so she would know who Grandma was talking about and mooning over. Maggie was able to put music to the faces on the posters on the wall.
Since our journey was plotted out to take us to Albert Lea I decided to show her one more quaint place that I like to stop once in a while. We stopped at Goeman’s Store to visit with the owner and take my granddaughter to a place that has been around for many, many years. It is a tiny spot of welcome and conversation in the country. Most of the time, you can’t find that in the city. Old buildings and businesses make way for new and more modern. In the country we embrace the old because it is so much a part of our history.
Albert Lea is a little bigger city or a lot bigger than Bricelyn and Kiester. What were we looking for? Of course, I was looking for coffee and she was looking for more hot chocolate. Although there are many coffeehouses in the big city, many of them belong to the big-name chains and I wanted Maggie to get the feel of a real coffeehouse.
Our vehicle stopped at Prairie Wind in downtown Albert Lea. I enjoyed my pour over coffee and my granddaughter remarked that her cocoa was almost too pretty to drink. Somehow that thought left her mind when she took the first drink. It didn’t take her long to finish it. We sat for quite a while enjoying the atmosphere. For a memory we took Maggie’s picture by the brick walls and the screen with inspirational sayings on it. On our way out she remarked that we had to do this road trip again.
Of course, our journey was not over. We picked up Maggie’s brother Jake when we got back to our Wells community and headed downtown to the Clothes Closet Thrift Shop. We had to end our road trip with some shopping and one of the things all my grandchildren know about me is that I like thrift shops. This particular shop is a nonprofit and gives all the profit to local charities.
We shopped until we almost dropped. It had been a long, but fun day. We came out of the shop with three bags plum full of some great finds and all we spent was $23. My grandson, the Viking and Gopher fan even at 6, scored the best clothes with a Gophers sweatshirt that looked like it hadn’t been worn and a Vikings long-sleeve T-shirt again, almost like new. We had knickknacks, gifts, games and, of course, I had a few new sweaters.
If you find yourself looking for something to do this year, take a road trip. Look for those unknown places that are secret gems in the rural area. You might make memories, you might make some new friends and you might learn something new about the area where you live. It’s that something about the road less traveled that might bring you to a little slice of heaven you never knew existed.