Blog and Photos by Gail Gates

“Thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything”.  -Charles Kuralt

Desktop Typewriter by Gail GatesI don’t know about you, but when I visit a new area or an area that I’ve returned to after a lapse of time, I love to seek out gift shops.  I don’t care if the gift shop is in a gas station, an art center, a historical society, or a state park.  It’s fun to snoop and see what someone deemed worthy of capturing a visitor/tourist’s eye.

Call me an elitist, but I don’t want stuff imported from other parts of the world.  I want something that screams “local,” and is perhaps quirky.  Potholders made by the Lutheran Ladies Aid group at a nearby church? Yes!  A carved spoon depicting a baby loon riding its mother’s back? Yep. Or how about a photograph of a nearby dam before it burst ten years ago (and hasn’t been rebuilt due to a lack of funding).  Done!

More often than not I have to be sneaky in my shopping.  My husband is wise to my gift shop cravings and keeps a close eye on my wallet and me.

The scenario usually goes something like this…

Me: Hey, Lovebug, before we leave the history center I’m going to look for a restroom.

Lovebug: Didn’t you just go at the gas station, like, five minutes ago?

Me: Yeeeees, I did. But you know I’ve been drinking the 200 oz. Bladder buster fountain drink that, for a limited time only, is only 59 cents with any purchase.

Lovebug: Is that why you bought 12 bookmarks depicting the great Hinckley fire of 1894, a commemorative beer stein, and corn nuts?

Me: Oh, you saw those? Um, yes. Well, 59 cents is a great deal on a fountain drink, and I was quite moved by the history of that fire.  Anyway, I’ll be right back.  Meet you outside? (I do a little foot shuffle in an effort to depict the urgency of my bathroom needs.)

Lovebug: Dam!

Me: Really, dear, I’ll just be a moment…

Lovebug: No, I just noticed the reconstructed beaver dam display over there.

Sunset Tree Silhouette by Gail GatesHe wanders off.

Okay, I figure I’ve got 10 minutes, max if I tell him there was a line.  There’s always a line for the ladies restroom, right?

I take the long way around to the gift shop, dodging and ducking as needed.  I just spy a shelf of blown glass Christmas ornaments made by a local artist when my husband backs into me.

Me: Hey! I, um, thought I’d just take a quick peek in the gift shop, you know, on my way to the restroom.

Lovebug: What a surprise! Since I knew this was where you were headed, I decided I’d look at books written about local history.

Okay, so he’s a bit of a history junkie, and way more virtuous than me. Wherever we travel his souvenir of choice is a book of local lore.  And maybe those books are a little cooler than my “pet rock” that has Rutledge painted on it.  Maybe.

Artistic Styled Man by Gail Gates

And, I have to confess, I usually end up reading the books he buys too. How fun is it to learn about past doings, scandals, and trivia? Lots, that how.

Here are a few resources to get you started as you head up Old Highway 61:

  • ‘Seasons in Pine City’ collected works by local authors (found at the Pine Center for the Arts)
  • https://www.americanheritage.com/content/hinckley-fire
  • http://www.carltoncountyhistory.org/publications

Enjoy the books, the gift shops, and the joy of traveling Old Highway 61.

Now if you would excuse me, I need to visit the restroom…