Sunday, September 26, 2004

"Cheese -- we'll go somewhere where there's cheese!"

The Movie: Wallace and Gromit: A Grand Day Out, 1991 (Nick Park and Steve Rushton, screenwriters; Nick Park, dir.)
Who says it: Peter Sallis as the voice of Wallace, cheese aficionado and owner of the dog Gromit.
The context: Wallace and Gromit run out of cheese as they’re planning a vacation, so they decide to go to the moon.
How to use it: When you can’t decide on plans for the evening, or for your own vacation.

I'm staying with my cousins Sheila and Greg this weekend. Last night, we knew we wanted to do something, but couldn't decide what. This would have been a good line to use, if it had occurred to me -- because, as it happened, we did go somewhere there was cheese, which happened to be Sheila and Greg's own dining room. And it was excellent.

When my brother Ed and I drove from Washington, DC to Los Angeles in 1999, we agreed that we'd stop for cheese once every day -- metaphorical cheese, that is, some tacky roadside attraction along the way. The Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home was a little sad and not even authentic, since he'd only lived there about six months. The big plastic dinosaur park in Utah was downright surreal.

But the coolest stop on our cheese tour wasn't cheesy at all, despite our expectations. The Sod House in Gothenburg, Nebraska is a reconstruction of an early settlers' home. Trees are rare on the Great Plains, so the settlers used bricks made of sod to build small, one-room houses. This house was relatively big, maybe 700 square feet, and it was furnished the way it might have been in the 1850s, right down to the bird cage. It was a desperately hard, lonely life, and the guide told us that the average settler lived in one of these sod houses for about 18 months. "And then they moved?" I asked. "No," she said, looking at me strangely. "Then they died."

It's humbling to think of how easy it is for me, or anyone, to bounce across the country now. Even with an unreliable car.

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