Day 10: Davenport

Ben Karr, Hockey Star

O hodgpodge roadtrip! O randomstance happenphoto!

Today we were back out on the road. We bid farewell to the in-laws and dropped our youngest nephew off at hockey practice (in summer? Isn’t that … well, weird?). Poor Ben, he got so sadfaced and teary when Angie left him there! She promised wed visit again soon. So we’ve passed the mid-way point, left the solace of kinfolk, and struck out for the next stop on our big adventure: Davenport, Iowa.

Why Davenport, you ask? Why not Davenport! I retort. Though in truth, ’tis home to our lovely friends, Sara and Clark. Sara was Angie’s roommate in college and the officiant at our wedding. And now she and Clark have a little pooper all their own, by the name of Susannah.

O long and lethargic day in the saddle, with so many sights seen! Where to begin?

Minnesota, gracious host

Heading south along Interstate 35 from Stillwater to Albert Lea (what a proper name for a town!) we passed the sign indicating that we are leaving Minnesota and that we were indeed appreciated. Just before we crossed the state line there was also this roadside wonder:

Fighter Jets on a Stick

It was an appropriate last image of Minnesota, where everything comes available on a stick, including fighter jets.

We promptly came upon this next sign, welcoming us to the great state of Iowa. Did you know that if you say “Iowa” about thirty times to yourself, it will lose all meaning and you will look silly? Maybe if we all did that, presidential politics as we know them would finally cease…

Iowa, welcoming friend

Apparently gambling is permitted in Iowa, but only if it blends into the surroundings:

HINT: you're a casino. You don't have to look like a barn.

The road got boring pretty quickly after that. Rolling hills of corn and some kind of squat leafy green crop (we looked it up: soybeans) gave way to flat megafarms of corn and soy. Here, the Field of Dreams has given way to a different kind of venture: billboards in the middle of cornfields. Somebody needs to call Christo and tell him he’s been usurped.

If you build it, they will come?

We stopped in Mason City for a proper lunch…

Fried pickles. Oh Yes.

…and to take a photo of the random Frank Lloyd Wright building next door.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Tasty Lunch Left

Right about now —at this very moment, as I write this — I’m thinking, Good God: have I really become that banal? Just another blogger blarfing up photos from the day, captioning them with pithy comments and mild ironic detachment? Why, the only thing separating this from any other crappy blog or Facebook page is that I haven’t recounted my daily bowel movements.

Until now.

What Vonnegut Said

We stopped off in Iowa City for a brief pilgrimage. It was a wee bit out of our way, but I have wanted to gaze upon the fabled Dey House, home to the Iowa Writers Workshop, and to visit Prairie Lights Bookshop, where I’ve made many a call from my marketing posts at Heyday Books and Ten Speed Press. The town itself stands out in that the University of Iowa — and not corn — dominates the landscape, both physically and culturally. It is indeed a very literary city, with a downtown street embedded with plaques much like those in Berkeley’s Addison Street, each depicting some lines of text, music, or poems by famous writers that have passed through. Some are are deep and weighty, others light as air.

What Vonnegut Meant

By the time we parked and walked around the block to Prairie Lights, it was already four o’clock. We had to be in Davenport, about forty minutes away, by five. “Twenty minutes,” Angie told me. “Set your iPhone timer.” I did so, and opened the doors to my own Santiago de Compostela.

Prairie Lights Bookshop

But after only a few minutes browsing the New Releases and scanning the back wall of History, I began to feel a rumble. And a squeal. And maybe a little shaking.

My friends, let me ask you something. What is it about bookstores and having to take a dump?Every bookstore I have ever entered, worked in, or otherwise graced with my presence has always loosened me up, as it were, and relaxed my plumbing to the point of urgency.

No sooner had I stepped foot in the store, I had to tiptoe knock-kneed upstairs to the Men’s Room — where a six year old held court with the door locked (was that a refrain from “Old King Cole” I heard coming from in there? Dear God, please don’t go on to other nursery rhymes!) — with hardly a glance at any other books.

I finally made it in, just in time. It was a great and magnificent episode, complete with exposition, rising action, climax, and denouement. I nearly sang out some nursery rhymes myself. Then my alarm goes off: it’s been twenty minutes. And as I hurry to finish up, I get a text message: Are u ready?

A philosophical question, no doubt, and one that made me pause to consider the ramifications. I dutifully texted back: Almost.

I washed hands (and for good measure, phone) and jogged lightly, buoyantly downstairs. But my heart sank as I exited that lovely and well-stocked bookstore, for I had spent my precious few minutes not browsing, not purchasing, but making a deposit, and not one that as a writer I would have expected to make at such an illustrious place.

So I’m doing my part to make amends, and turn the banal musings of a tired and sweaty traveler into something ever so slightly more literary in nature. Not sure if I succeeded, but at least I can now truthfully say I, like so many others, blog about going to the toilet.

High literature indeed.

Dey House, Iowa Writers Workshop

By the time we left Iowa City we were in a hurry, though I did manage to snap a shot as we passed Dey House. It seems an appropriate enough metaphor: a fleeting glimpse of an alternate universe. One in which I was accepted to the Iowa Writers Workshop. In that reality, I was here, this same day in July, moving to Iowa City to take up residence and start my program. Hard to get too worked up over it though. In that alternate universe, the Other Me is constipated.

Oh ya, we also saw this on our way into Davenport:

Head in the clouds

And thusly we finally arrived, hot and sticky and tired in ninety-something degree Midwest weather, to greet our friend Sara and meet her lovely little eleven-week-old Susannah. A friend of Sara’s brought over some hot chicken enchiladas and watermelon, and so we ate a quick meal and caught up with each other a bit. Then Sara ran off to a meeting at the church where she is pastor, leaving a sunned and happy Angie and Zak to babysit.

O, Susannah

Oh! And lest I forget, there was also Sara’s brother’s delightful dog, Abby…

Abby dog

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  1. Did you ever get the air conditioning fixed? By the way, any time I go into a store with the impulse to spend money, I have to use the bathroom too suddenly.

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