1. When you check into the Country Inn in Northfield, Minnesota, the clerk will neglect to inform you that the train tracks run directly behind your suite and that you will be awakened at least four times in the night by the piercing shriek of a locomotive whistle.
2. Despite the presence of bumper cars and an indoor log flume ride, the Mall of America isn’t all that much fun; rather, it is exhausting, depressing and more than a little scary. I’m only glad that the connection between “Peanuts” and the amusement park has been severed. I could not have handled being accosted by someone in a seven-foot-tall Woodstock costume. (And why have they chosen to depict Paul Bunyan as the Brawny Paper Towel Dude?)
3. Minneapolis has a really cool museum devoted to the history of milling, usually not a topic that inspires great enthusiasm in jaded urban sophisticates such as myself. We learned about the Great Flour Dust Explosion of 1878, another of those undeniably-tragic-yet-somehow-laughably-ludicrous disasters like Boston’s Great Molasses Flood.
4. It is apparently impossible to get a decent breakfast in Springfield, Illinois. We looked high and low and honestly couldn’t find anything better than the Best Western’s continental breakfast (individual boxes of Froot Loops, high trans-fat pastries), served in the lobby in front of a TV tuned to Fox News.
5. The city’s Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum is awesome, though.
6. Richard Stark’s Parker novels are the Platonic Ideal of vacation reads. This time I carried “The Seventh,” a.k.a. “The Split,” with me. I also read Matt Ruff’s “Bad Monkeys” on the plane out. (Still making up my mind about that one.)
7. If you’re browsing in Subterranean Books in St. Louis and spot someone who looks exactly like editor and short-story writer Kelly Link, you should say hello, because it’s probably her.