Under normal circumstances, Illinois native Bill Black probably wouldn't brag about the fact that Cook County, where he lives, "has the highest sales tax in the country." It's 10.25 percent.

But it's a big reason why Black, 66, a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, enthusiastically hopped a luxury bus with about 30 other Illinois delegates and families Wednesday and headed to the Mall of America. There, he could buy clothes and shoes tax-free.

Taxes aside, Black was downright curious. "We hear our mall could fit into one corner of the Mall of America," said Black, of Danville, attending with his wife, Sharon, 67. "Our grandkids say it has roller coasters, a fish tank. How could that all be under one roof?"

A few rows up, Roy and Nancy Hertel, both retired teachers, were looking forward to a breathtaking 520 stores in one place. They live in Hillsboro, 50 miles south of Springfield, population 4,200. ("Another Wasilla," Nancy says.) Their usual shopping destination is the local Alco. "It's a mini-Wal-mart," Roy said.

"Mini-mini-mini," Nancy added.

The four-hour shopping excursion, organized by the Illinois delegation (although other states' groups also were spotted) included a cheery welcome by MOA Director of Tourism Doug Killian, lunch at tropical eatery Kokomo's, and freedom to roam. And roam they did.

Within seconds of entering the country's biggest mall, the group scattered to pursue divergent goals. Sharon Black was after gifts for the grandkids. Deb Detmers, 49, wanted "stuff" for her daughter.

Gloria Campos, 50, wanted batteries.

Batteries at the Mall of America? Yes, batteries. Hers were dead after just two nights of frenzied RNC picture-taking.

"I want to go to Coach!" announced 13-year-old Monica Charletta, whose mother, Lori Yokoyama, is a delegate and Chicago lawyer.

"Go to Coach," said dad, Dale Charletta, a radiologist.

Monica looked sheepish. "Give me money?"

Monica and her brother, Anthony, 11, don't start school until Sept. 8, so they'll likely have some pretty cool stories to report back about what they did on their summer vacation.

Or, maybe not. They live about a block away from two sisters whose dad also is into politics. His name is Barack Obama.

"I feel like a stranger in a strange land," joked Dale, about being a Republican living in one of the most reliably Democratic districts in the country. "It's a kick being part of the Republican delegation."

Monica and her mom, along with Campos (who did get those batteries), found their way to Nordstrom Rack. And Monica quickly found her way to a pair of pointy-toed royal blue boots that mom found, well, "interesting."

Campos pulled a T-shirt off a rack with "Vote" written across it. That got her going. "In some countries," said Campos, who grew up in Nicaragua, "you have to pay a fee if you don't vote. When I came here, and people said, 'Oh, no. I don't vote,' it kind of stunned me."

She bypassed the T-shirt, but made her way to a rack of coats that her 15-year-old daughter, Isabella, might like. Using her cell phone, she took a few photos and sent them to Isabella for a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Um, Mom, are you texting her during school?

"Yes," Campos confessed. "But they're always texting. It is a no-no, but it doesn't really matter."

Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350