My Favorite Hour of the Trip Out West

We’ve been on the road for several days now. This has amounted to hours and hours of together time. Which was kind of the goal, of course. Still, it’s a lot of hours. About 40 hours of dedicated drive time, when it’s all said and done — not to mention all the other destinations and diversions. It’s a lot of hours and a lot of experiences. Almost too much to remember and definitely too much to share. So I ask myself: “What’s been my favorite hour of the road trip, up to this point?” Somehow, a smaller sample epitomizes all the other experiences in an accessible and memorable way.

So: it started at 10:18 AM on Thursday morning. We were just about to give up the search for my grandparents’ gravesite in Long Prairie, Minnesota — and then Cor came running from the opposite end of the cemetery saying he’d found them. We had a sweet time of reminiscing and paying our respects. And afterwards, we drove to a shop called Hats Off in downtown Long Prairie.

I’ve never seen another place quite like Hats Off. They sell hats, roast their own coffee, and run an espresso bar right there, at the east end of the Main Street drag in Long Prairie. The two workers were both modeling some of the merchandise. The younger woman wore a broad-brimmed felt hat, the older man a hat that I associate with the Australian Outback and the Crocodile Dundee film franchise. They were quirky. Real touchy about our kids touching their hats. They gasped when we didn’t understand the young woman’s reference to an upcoming games convention. Plus much of the typical snobbery of coffee roasters… But they were also friendly and Minnesota nice.

We talked about the weather (unusually hot and dry) and Tilley Hats (which they do not stock). And they were also very helpful in giving directions to the Baptist church in town that my Grandpa Asp used to pastor. After we finished unloading our bladders and loading up our coffee cups, we got back into the car and drove past First Baptist Church of Long Prairie on our way out of town.

Then we pulled back onto the highway and cranked our summer playlist to sing along with our favorite songs. We picked up speed as we drove across the widening prairies to the west. And right around the time that this “Best Hour” started coming to a close, Elliot started researching roadside diners on his smartphone.

We’d eventually settle on a place called Kroll’s Diner, just across the border into North Dakota (I can’t resist sharing the picture because it so beautifully epitomizes the experience of the American Road Trip). But that happened later.

Outside of that one hour and that one stretch of Minnesota Route 27.

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