Chili Dog Road Trip Part 1: Go West, Young Women!

by Becky Burns / Jul 31, 2012 /
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The day after my birthday, in early July, Lily and I set out on our Chili Dog Road Trip. This had been building, as a plan, for many many years. Just when Chicago was ready to hit extreme heat records of all time, we headed west. The trip was dubbed the “chili dog road trip” because we decided that we would test out some dogs along the way. One of the things that Lil misses most about America, living in the hills of Tuscany for 30 years, is the fine cuisine of the hot dog stands. Chili dogs. Corn dogs. Dogs in general. So, we thought – well, we’ll sample some along the way. And dub the trip accordingly.

 

The day before we left I dug up several plants in my garden to take to my friend Amy, who is trying to establish her own garden in Denver. We loaded up the car with a cooler, supplies for picnics, wine and cheese parties, coffee breaks, and an assortment of clothes to accommodate the wide variety of temperatures we knew we’d encounter out west. Oh, and the garden plants, soaked in water, lining the trunk.  When we left Chicago at 6:00 a.m., it was already 92 degrees.

 

Not kidding.

 

Car's packed - garden included

Car's packed - garden included

 

 

Our first stop was Iowa City, where my heart has a special place since it was where my sister went to college and where I tried my lot at writing workshops. We went to breakfast at the Bluebird Diner, went into John’s grocery store to buy water and wine, and then stopped into Prairie Lights bookstore. It was hot. Back on the road again, we hit lots of construction on Interstate 80 into the flatlands of Nebraska. We drove and drove, and our best intention of getting all the way to Denver in one day sort of petered out somewhere west of Omaha. “Let’s try to make it to North Platte,” I said. “What’s in North Platte?” Lil asked. “Umm…pretty much nothing.” Not true. There is a Buffalo Bill Cody museum and a real covered wagon right there in front of it. And there’s a Super 8 hotel that is less than $80 if you have a AAA card or an AARP card, of which I had both.  We decided to spend the night, fill our cooler with ice, and eat a fresh garden salad for dinner which came from our cooler by way of my garden. Damn, we were being good. No chili dogs yet. Just fresh red Swiss chard, green leaf lettuce, sweet onion, broccoli and cherry tomatoes. Served with Tuscan olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and fresh basil.

 

North Platte, NE

North Platte, NE

 

 

The next day we drove through the Great Plains, veering onto Interstate 76 toward Denver. Mindful to keep the gas tank full and gallons of water in the car, I had a pep talk with my Honda, which had 176,000 miles on it at the time, and had always been a trooper. But it was real hot. So I figure a pep talk was in order. It must have helped, because she motored into Denver early that afternoon with a trunk full of garden plants that were still alive. Amy was thrilled, and we planted them in the hard clay of Colorado the next day. Most of them survived, even though Denver was also having its share of blistering heat. It’s a big, hard sun these days.

 

Denver bound!

Denver bound!

 

Amy and Becky transplant Illinois garden to Denver

Amy and Becky transplant Illinois garden to Denver

 

 

The evening of our arrival in Denver, Lily and I went to a potluck dinner at my friend Marilyn’s house. Marilyn has often hosted dinners when I return for a visit, and tonight was special because Lily was with me, my best friend whom everyone has heard many stories about. The night was quite magical, as 12 women gathered from my Denver Head Start days, as well as from Reverie, a lovely women’s group that existed from 2000-2005 to share food and stories among cultures, the most authentic mission of peace I’ve ever experienced. Reverie’s co-founder, Sarah, was there. And, as always, she led an absolutely perfect offering to share around the circle. Each woman there was encouraged to share three parts of their present life, representing a rose, a bud, and a thorn. Around the circle stories were shared of wonderful full blooms of dreams come true, of things just getting started but that showed promise, and of disappointments or frustrations that seem to be trying so hard to be teaching us something. A full moon rose somewhere in the sky that night, and although we couldn’t see it due to thick cloud cover, we could feel it strongly, pulling us together as sisters. After our dinner, we enjoyed hearing Marilyn’s 87-year-young mother play jazz piano for us, a woman who shared her own stories of opening her Denver home to traveling black musicians back in the 40’s – Duke Ellington she thought might have been the best musician, but she couldn’t be sure. There were other good ones as well.  She smiled a wry smile, and kept on playing. What a night!

 

Marilyn's mom charms us with jazz piano

Marilyn's mom charms us with jazz piano

 

 

Chili Dog Road Trip Part 2: Off to the Mountains! 

Chili Dog Road Trip Part 3: Taos, New Mexico

Chili Dog Road Trip Part 4: Santa Fe 

Chili Dog Road Trip Part 5: Cheyenne, Nebraska, Iowa 

 

 

Becky Burns, our Soulful Traveler editor, is an educator living in the Chicago area. Her column will give you insight and inspiration, taking you to the core or essence of the travel experience, something we all feel as a result of exploration and discovery. Look for her monthly postings describing local exploits in and around Chicago, regional road trips in the Midwest, national adventures from coast to coast, and overseas excursions. You are bound to be inspired and enriched, nodding your head in agreement as a familiar reminiscence comes to light again.  You can find her work at beckyburns.com or soothethespirit.com 

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Becky Burns