It was not without reservation that we left our squishy and cocoon-like high thread count linen-bedecked beds but we had a busy day and much to cram in. Before leaving the building we gave it a solid once more over and couldn't have been more pleased with what they had to offer - very comfortable, even stylish rooms; incredibly friendly and personable service (Mary bonded with one employee over toe issues); a well-equipped fitness center; several restaurants including a buffet and a steakhouse; and a Las Vegas style casino with all of the latest slot machines, gaming tables, and a poker room. Rick didn't even hold it against the casino when he lost-after all, his Aunt Carol won $160 jackpot on a penny slot machine. We told her she had to buy the drinks at the Garman/Boswell mini-family reunion.
By the way, another quick shout out to Plucky Family: Bob, Sandy, Carol, Jack, Gary, Star, Greg, Becky, Heather, and Howard - we can't tell you how much it meant that you all came out to wish us happy driving and Mary is deeply disappointed that the aforementioned foot issues kept her from joining in.
Speaking of family... Happy Birthday, Pauline (Rick's Mom).
Our first official stop on Day 2 was the atmospheric cemetery in Davenport where coronet player Bix Biederbecke is buried. Mary's particularly special dog was named after Bix; given that they both died young, that namesake may have not be the most auspicious of choices. It's just as well that we had a map to his location which included his real name (Leon), because the cemetery was unexpectedly large and so was his family (in fact, Mary's very much alive friend Gretchen is a Bix cousin) because we would never have found him otherwise. We played his music in homage and Rick stopped Mary from stealing the homemade wooden "Bix" sign some previous visitor left in tribute
We doubled our Bix pleasure with a stop at a bronze statue made in his likeness (with thanks to Aunt Sandy for providing perfect directions). Near the Bix memorial there was a collection of tolerance-encouraging art sponsored by the Coexist campaign - imagine that word with the Islamic crescent replacing the C, the X out of a star of David and the T replaced by a cross, and you get the point.
It was all part of a nicely developed waterfront with parks, walks and the like along the Mississippi river that began the day's theme; picture postcard thriving small towns, a sharp contrast to PSSA 1's small town blight and despair. Just about every town we passed through today had cloth banners with a local specific graphic giving the place pride and identity along its neatly preserved Main Street. Sure, the standard chains and Walmarts remain ubiquitous, but their presence, today at least, hasn't obliterated the area's individual character. Iowa has a lot to be proud of.
Then we really hit the road, specifically ones through the gently undulating hills of the state. Corn was the main visual, but within the sea of starch we saw many beautifully maintained fancy old farmhouses, usually accompanied by iconic red barns and giant gleaming silos. One tiny (about a dozen occupants) old graveyard was contained deep within the fields, and was one of the sights Mary wished she had been quick enough on the photography button to capture. Another was a gorgeously bedecked elaborate brick mansion, and still another would have been any classic farm house looming in beautiful isolation against the creamy blue Iowa sky.
We had a quick, unscheduled trot across a swinging bridge, dating back to the 1800's and carrying a legend of a love struck suicidal Indian maiden who may or may not have thrown herself into the creek gorge below. And by we, we mean Mary primarily because Rick remains a big wuss when it comes to stuff like that, leading us to constantly ponder how we're going to handle the bungee jumping challenges when they finally wise up and put us on "The Amazing Race."
Speaking of houses, one that we would have sworn was out in a cornfield is the one in Grant Wood's "American Gothic," that most iconic--and most reproduced and parodied--of American paintings, the background of which is a house in Eldon, Iowa. Turns out the house, preserved by the state and currently occupied by a schoolteacher, is very much not isolated from other buildings, to our surprise. It's in a somewhat rural neighborhood but it's not really a farmhouse. (Mary thinks she had it conflated with the house in "Christina's World" which isn't by Wood at all.)
A fantastic, spanking new visitor's center opened in June 2007 has small but splendid exhibits covering the art and pop culture history of the painting, and best of all, lends reproduction outfits so that one might dress up and pose in front of the house-and you know you want to-with a docent trained in framing the shot correctly to take your photo. We learned so much in a short period of time from the enthusiastic staff who was justly thrilled over their new center, and we strongly encourage a stop here.
We drove through the strikingly pretty Ottumwa, famed as fictional home to one Corporal Radar O'Reilly ("M*A*S*H" for all you under 30, go rent the DVDS). Stopping to take a photo, we were rewarded with a mini concert on a genuine calliope organ perched on an old fire truck parked next to the town square. Naturally, the little old lady on the keys was playing "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "You're a Grand Old Flag." The icons-so much nicer than "cliché"-were flying thick and fast today.
Next up was Pella, home to the largest-or was it oldest? Something-est-windmill in the Midwest, another adorable town. On advice from the tourism board, we stopped at a lunch place that had the word "Meat" in the name, and Mary decided to find out what the heavily promoted local bologna was all about. About three inches in diameter, along with locally made gouda, all heated and melted together on a soft bun, that's what it was. Also a bit of melted heaven.
Rick had a "Dagwood" sandwich, not nearly piled as high as its namesake would have liked, but the chopped ham, two kinds of cheese, bologna and more on a hearthstone bread hit the spot.
Then we were on our way to do some serious pillaging at a Dutch bakery we had read about (Jaarsma, in business since 1899), and we saw two bakeries doors away from each other. The choice was simple… both bakeries. What? Oh, just look at the photo and see if you measure the amount of buttercream. Seriously, when one cake has four inches of inching alone and causes icing proponents such as ourselves to scrunch our foreheads and squeak "sweeeeeeeeeet" and put our forks down after two mouthfuls, you know it is pure sugar intensity. We regret nothing. And then went to the other bakery immediately.
So we were damn perky on our way to the next stop, which was about 20 miles of us going "ARE WE THERE YET? ARE WE THERE YET?? HOW MUCH SUGAR WAS IN THA… then Mary fell asleep… wow, sugar high leads to sugar crash.
It's too bad it passed out of our systems so fast because that could've helped us be more entertained by the disappointingly sterile Maytag Blue Cheese factory, where they answer all questions like "where are the cows?" with "gone" and "Can we see the cheese being made?" with "no." But the samples were nice.
Then we entered the Rick Nostalgia portion of the trip. A cruise up Highway 151 led us to the Amana Colonies, founded in the 19th century as Mennonite communal living villages, still functioning with their hand-made artisan ethos producing furniture, crafts, woolen products, and chocolate. Yes, we stopped at the chocolate store shortly after the bakery and the cheese. Have you met us? Hi, this is what we do on Plucky Survivors, in case you are just joining us.
They have a thing where they put fudge on a stick and then dip it in chocolate so it's chocolate dipped in chocolate. COME ON!
Then on up into Rick's hometown of Cedar Rapids, which really hasn't changed all that much since he spent his formative years here, only there's more of it. Since it is a small but proper city it has a lot more of the urban sprawl and less of the charm of the little villages we drove through today, but there are still areas of the town with glorious old brick and Victorian style mansions, beautifully maintained stone buildings, and lots of trees and greenery. The bulk of the drive in consisted of Rick saying things like "that used to be a (fill in the blank)" or "I remember when I (fill in the blank)" and Mary nodding politely. (Actually, she's heard some of the stories and was most pleased to put a visual to, say, the Bob's Big Boy Incident.)
The final official stop, long overdue in Rick's firm opinion, was for his beloved Maid-Rite. Midwesterners know of which he speaks but for those outside the region it's sort of like a sloppy joe but without the sloppy; loose meat, with a special seasonings, on another soft bun, plus mustard, pickle and onions. Ketchup optional. Thin sliced, well deep fried onion rings on the side. Aficionados can attest to its humble but delicious power and Rick accordingly horked down two of them, disproportionately happy about the whole thing. Mary had one and may not have been in the same gleeful state as Rick-it's one of those childhood comfort foods that will always mean more to one who grew up on them--but proclaimed it delicious nevertheless and it was more than made up for with the hand-dipped chocolate malt that disappeared quickly.
And then back to the hotel room where we are battling Internet problems again - it is entirely possible that we have broken the entire Internet again and for that we apologize. But if our updates suddenly stop it's because we're having some computer and or connectively issues and we will get back to it as soon as humanly possible. (At the latest, all updates will appear by the 9th of Sept when we get back home.)
OH! How could we forget. Cow!!!
The final score may seem low but it was a day of considerable ups and downs by which we mean a lot of unexpected graveyards. We didn't get a chance to use our new for 2007 rule, inspired by Plucky Readers Beth and Dennis, whereby if you spot a police car on your opponent's side of the car (but not on the street upon which you are driving, for instance on the shoulder or on a side street), you say "You should flag down that cop because I've just stolen your cows!" All your opponent's bovines will be added to your score.
Normally, we're happy not to see friendly law enforcement individuals, especially with the way Rick drives, but we have to admit we're looking forward to testing out this new twist in the game.
So a standard game of Cow, the first official of the trip, ended with a score of Rick 60, Mary 26. Mary wonders what it is about cemeteries on the passenger side of the car in Iowa. Tradition? And who puts a cemetery in the middle of a corn field. Oh wait, it's Iowa - everything is in the middle of a cornfield. But still, great state.