This is the latest post in a series about a road trip to New Orleans that starts here.
There was no time to visit any of the Mark Twain historic sites, so Lynn and I rolled out of Hannibal and headed north. Even though Minnesota borders Iowa to the north, and Vince lived in southern Minnesota for years, I had never crossed the state line into Iowa. All I had ever heard about it was that it was flat and full of corn fields and pigs. That you could actually smell pigs on a breezy day. That did not appeal to my sense of adventure.
But there was no other way to get from Missouri to Minnesota, so I lost my Iowa virginity. How bad could it be? I prefer landscapes of woods and water, but fields must have their own beauty.
Here is what we saw for five hours:
It was early spring and everything was still brown. And flat, flat, flat.
Desra had given me some very good advice. “Iowa has half the population of Missouri, so there aren’t as many towns. If you think you’re going to need gas, don’t wait until your tank is almost empty.” She was right. In the hundred miles between Cedar Rapids and Waterloo, the two largest cities we passed, there was only one exit of note, to a place aptly called Center Point Travel Plaza. The other exits led off into corn fields.
I’m sure Iowa is beautiful in the spring, when the bright green corn shoots up from the black earth. I’m sure there are many fine people in Iowa, and it’s a great place to raise kids. That’s what people say when a place is boring, “It’s a great place to raise kids.”
It’s not like I live in some mega city like New York or Shanghai or London. Most people outside of the U.S. have never heard of Minnesota. Most people on the coasts sneer at the Midwest, which includes Minnesota and Iowa. We are derisively referred to as “fly over country.” But I’m never bored in Minnesota. I think I would kill myself if I had to live in Center Point, Iowa.
Why do people think places like Iowa are good places to raise children? Because they’re safe, probably. But children are also able to create their own adventures wherever they are. In fact, the less there is to do, the more inventive they become. Winters are long on the prairie. They force people to create entertainments and art out whatever is at hand, like fabric scraps and seeds:
I’m afraid kids raised with screens won’t have the patience to create great works of art like these.
And so we crossed Iowa, and I began to feel like I was in a trance because there was nothing to look at and no variation of the landscape. There weren’t even any billboards, probably because there wasn’t enough traffic to entice advertisers. I could see how people dozed off and ended up in a corn field.
We stopped to get gas and bought snacks to tide us over instead of having a meal. I got my standard road trip meal—teriyaki beef jerky and a Diet Pepsi. I whined about how boring Iowa was the whole way, to help me stay awake. Lynn must have found that pretty boring.
We killed an hour talking about some sort of test she uses to assess what roles people play in work meetings. Obviously no one fits neatly into one role every time. There are the obvious ones like the Leader, the Compromiser, the Ideas Person; and the unhelpful roles like the Avoider and the Clown. I consider myself a leader with ideas, and I think others are stupid if they don’t immediately see the brilliance of my ideas. Hmmm…that may actually make me a Show Off or an Autocrat.
Finally we crossed the border into Minnesota. I had imagined it would be dramatically different—Minnesota would be gently rolling wooded hills dotted with sky blue lakes.
But no, for at least an hour it was the same as Iowa, with the addition of anti-abortion billboards.