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Rambling Thoughts: The Heartland
updated: Mar 20, 2010, 9:45 AM
By John McCafferty (aka McSeas)
Farm fields near Winterset, IA.
Sitting around idle between journeys, I remarked to Spouseperson Sharon, "Ya know, I've never really taken a good look at the great American Prairie. I wanna do that. You know, the nation's breadbasket. The heartland."
"Great," she said, "but I've seen it, so just send me a postcard."
So I did. But not the postcard. I have a little tape recorder and "talked" to her that way when the road was straight and a little boring, which was fairly often.
Story begins in Omaha, where I got a high-class room for a low-class price, thanks to old friend Ron Rose, nephew of Santa Barbara's Lou Rose and a baseball fanatic. He finds good deals in Omaha for the College World Series in June. After getting up too early for the flight that morning, and then sitting through the heat and boredom of a game upon my arrival (interrupted annoyingly by the CLANG of the metal bats now in use) I was ready to hit the road. But it was only evening, and completely worn out, I was probably pretty much asleep on my feet when the hostess in the lovely hotel restaurant approached and asked a question I've heard a little too often: "Sir? Are you OK?"
I assured her that I was even better than that, but needed food. She brightened and said, "You came to the right place!" and seated me at a table next to another table occupied by a solo traveler, an attractive middle-aged woman probably in Omaha for a beefsteak sales convention. The woman smiled charmingly. I guess I looked "OK." I gave her my usual warm, kind Hello smile in return, but that was all. I was there to eat, not to talk.
Sometimes it's fun to gab with strangers, sometimes not. At this point I was in a delirium and not fit company.
The New York cut I wolfed down, my first authentic Nebraska steak, was a cut above so-so, but not much. I hoped to do better. Investigating steak was one of the main purposes of the trip.
Rested and rarin' to go the next a.m., I rented a little white Dodge Neon (since replaced by the Caliber) from yet another brightly smiling woman (maybe it was my cheery enthusiasm; I was really happy to be making this trip), and by 9 a.m., I was driving across the Missouri River and through Council Bluffs (wonderful name!) and on into Iowa, headed for the "Field of Dreams" movie location, near the town of Dyersville. I would hang a left there and angle across I-oh-way, which I'd never seen, to Minnesota, which I had.
(Incidentally, Iowa completed a long project: It was the last of the 50 states I'd seen in person. I've never driven in Alaska, but got very acquainted with its mountainous beauty via a seaplane ride.)
Western Iowa surprised me that morning with its serenity and even beauty -- rolling hills, patches of woodland, white farmhouses tastefully placed . . . rural rapture! And the temperature was perfect. I guess I had confused it in my mind with mid-American flatlands.
The ground leveled out after some miles, and I was left with mostly fields of green, varying crops. Towns were scarce and small. One of them, between Nowheres and Noplace, had only one restaurant, and whoever was in the kitchen didn't know how to make a hamburger, in my Western opinion. It was just cooked meat with some bread and stuff. The restaurant was huge but nearly empty. I figured it was built large enough to accommodate the entire town if everyone chose to go out for dinner at the same time.
But the young country maid who served it was pleasant and smiling, so I left a generous tip and looked forward to dinner. Surely someone in Dyersville could cook a good pot roast or a chicken-fried steak.
A guy from Carpinteria had played college football in Iowa, and told me that the college town had goal posts over the road at each end of town. I could see why, as I drove along, passed by occasional cars and splattering occasional bugs on the windshield. Friday night football was the main attraction in my little California farm town as well - nothing else going on.
(I must add that it was a much prettier farm area than my birthplace, however, in southwestern Oklahoma.)
I hummed along ("Amarillo by mornin'," actually), the car also hummed along … the road was smooth, the air was cool and clean, except for insects, and I felt good being right here in the middle of Iowa. I wondered if I would have time to detour off the interstate (I -80) to John Wayne's birthplace in Winterset.
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