Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Road Trip

I was driving back from Iowa to Wisconsin this past sunday and it made me think about how I've developed a bit of an enjoyment for driving on the open road. This hasn't been a joy of mine for my entire life. I imagine that it took a relocation to the midwest to begin fostering an appreciation for these drives. Growing up in NY, its really pretty hard to enjoy long drives because of all of the traffic. For example, it's pretty easy to be in the car for a couple of hours and yet still be within NYC limits. And its not because NYC is all that large.

While driving along the highway in Iowa (or pretty much any midwestern state), it's pretty easy to let the mind wander. It's not too hard to figure out why. Long stretches of straight, open road, flat land filled with corn and soy beans for as far as the eye can see. I often think that one could just set the cruise control and not even think about driving, assuming your alignment is okay. Random things along the side of the road, or simply the view on the horizon make me think. It got me to start taking pictures along the way with my camera phone while cruising at 70 mph (hence the poor quality of the pictures). I don't recommend this for those driving through the city but when you're on highway 20 in northern Iowa, well its just a bit safer.

The first thing I think about is how different these areas are than any place I've ever lived. Certainly rural Iowa is in stark contrast to my childhood on Long Island. But beyond that, its also a lot different than living in either Columbia or Madison. Things like the old windmills along the side of the road make me wonder if they are still in use, and then I wonder what its like to be living in such an area. I'm in no way judging those that live in these areas and if I was, I think I'd be in trouble with the in-laws. Its just a different lifestyle than I'm accustomed to.

I also pay attention to the towns that I pass by. Sure, most of them have rather forgettable names. But plenty stand out in my memory. There are always a bunch of towns that seem to embody the American spirit. Towns with names like "Independence". I wonder if the residents of Independence are truly more independent than those in neighboring towns. Do children move out at an earlier age? Perhaps there is a lower percentage of people getting married? Of course, for every town with a memorable name like Independence, there are also plenty of towns with downright weird names. What do you suppose the women would be like in the town of "Dike"?

With any length trip, there are always sites to be seen. Some slightly famous like the Frank Lloyd Wright house. And then there's the more impressive national landmarks like the Mississippi River. Growing up in NY, the Mississippi wasn't much more to me than a geography fact and perhaps a spelling bee word. Living in the midwest, it comes to signify the westward expansion of the US and the pioneer spirit of the early settlers. There are so many sights to see, and each area of the country is so different. Even in the drive from Iowa to Wisconsin, the land changes quite a bit from the flat farmland of Iowa to the hilly and often rugged terrain of southern Wisconsin. Sight such as these make me think that it would be fun to just get in the car and drive. Go out and explore America. If only I had the time.


ToM said...

I love hearing about Iowa and I've taken that same drive along Hwy. 20 many times. Once the fall has fully set in and the harvest is over, or ongoing, the smell of the cool air will make that drive even better.
It's funny that I knew a girl from Dike, who was, I've been in Independence and Dubuque which I think is quite a nice little town.

I am, however, surprised you didn't mention Dyersville and the Field of Dreams.

Everyone needs to visit Iowa.

Chris in Oxford said...

An ode to Iowa. Funny, I've never been charmed by the place myself. Iowa City is OK, but the rest of it is farms and smells vaguely like pigs. No offense, Jennelle ;)

That being said, well written Jason! I love how one's mind drifts while doing those long road trips. Mine were mostly down south - Georgia and the Carolinas to Florida. But I miss them living over here where you can't drive more than a couple of miles without having to negotiate an f-ing roundabout!

Jamie(I wanna be Paula Deen) Miller said...

I loved reading this! I just wanted to say to "chris in oxford's " comment about the vague smell of pig...
In Iowa we call that "The smell of money!" We can't forget about the smell of cattle or horses,they smell like money too.
As and Iowan, we are brought up from small children to know that if you raise good healthy livestock, it means a good healthy paycheck.Things like 4-H and FFA even pay you as a child to show off your animals,not only the large animals,but clear down to a cat. They all smell like money to us hicks in Iowa.
I can just about guarentee that when Jenelle sees a pasture full of cattle,or a lot full of hogs she's thinking..."Look at all that money walking around!"
Before I forget, Jenelle, do you remember the windmill my dad made for me out of walnut just before he died? Aww, good memories! I keep it in a case in my bedroom.
Thank you Jason for posting this!

Jenelle said...

Amen Jamie
You should take a picture of the windmill for your blog!