The Great American Road Trip: Part Six — Escape from Iowa

To view Part Five, click here.

When we left off, we were in Sioux City, Iowa:

The name Comfort Inn did not suit our hotel.  It was just the opposite.

There was an extremely tangy smell in the air.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.

Then, as I laid my head down on the pillow, I figured it out…

Fumigation is a method of pest control that completely fills an area with gaseous pesticides—or fumigants—to suffocate or poison the pests within.


I have no proof, only my suspicions.  But, there appears to a good reason why the suite at this hotel was so reasonably priced.  And it wasn’t the epic flooding on the waterfront.

Bless her heart, Running Girl scrupulously checked each of our sleeping accommodations for bed bugs — first, on line (who knew there was a site for that?) and then by actually performing the old mattress toss.  I am happy to report that we have been back almost a week now and we did not bring home any unintended guests.

Day Seven:  Sioux City, IA to Springfield, IL

The Major did not sleep at all that night.  At five, he went down to the lobby.  While nursing a cup of indifferent Comfort Inn coffee, he plotted the day’s journey.  For, this was the unscripted part of our trip.

The AAA website directed us to continue to travel south on I-29 along the river into Missouri.  From there, we would turn left and scream across the Show-Me State toward the Mississippi River.

Good old, reliable AAA.  You wouldn’t let us down, would you?

I guess every long trip has a low point.  A nadir.  Sideshow Bob-like stroll through a field of rakes.

For some strange reason, Island Boy refused to leave.  He threw the biggest fit of this 3,500 mile trip in the dirty, smelly, thread-worn, chemically toxic Comfort Inn of Sioux City.  Go figure.

We left late.  The Major had a goal in mind for the day.  He wanted to see the Mark Twain sites in Hannibal, Missouri before they closed at five.  Maybe we can still make it, he thought.

Upon leaving the parking lot, we were immediately diverted across the river into Nebraska.  This was a sign of bad things to come.

When we crossed back over into Iowa, we began making good time southward.  During this stretch a small plane kept swooping down in front of us like a blue jay making a diving run.  On one pass, we became particularly alarmed — it seemed as though it was going to land on top of our truck.   Right after it passed us, it dropped its load onto the corn field next to the road.  For the second time during this trip, we had a North By Northwest moment.  If you recall, Cary Grant is chased by a murderous crop duster in that film.

When we hit Council Bluffs, they diverted us eastbound 20 or 30 miles due to flooding.  Oh well, we said.  This will give us a chance to see more of the state.

When we got back to the interstate — more detours due to flooding.

Ya think that AAA could have let us know about this?  RG’s iPhone research revealed that these conditions had been present in the state since June.

As Kevin Kline shouted in A Fish Called Wanda: “DISAPPOINTED!”

Had we known about this nonsense, we could have changed our route to go inland through Des Moines.  Who knows, it might have been a great experience.

Instead, we left the Eisenhower Interstate System and took to the rural roads of the Hawkeye State.  A chance to better see real America, right?

TM’s Facebook status from August 18, 2011, 2:03 p.m.:

My new movie: “Escape From Iowa.” It features bad hotels, rude drivers, Biblical flooding, poor roads and the tyranny of corn.

I know.  I know.  I was way harsh.

Iowans are great people.  My cycling buddy, Don, is from Pella.  He is always extolling the virtues of his homeland.  And I believe him.  Iowa is a land of goodness.

Freaking rip-off!

Read it!

The Major was in a really, really bad mood.  He began viewing things very negatively.  He began spouting Michael Pollan-like diatribes against “Iowa, Inc.” and the agribusiness’ corporate takeover of the state.  He railed against corny ethanol and its shitty gas mileage results.

We won’t get into the results of the Iowa Straw Poll a few days earlier.  I recognize that this reflected the opinion of only a few Iowans with an extremely narrow agenda.

Running Girl is a truly nice person, and a positive thinker.  She tried to bring her Major back from the dark side.  We began to look for things we liked about Iowa.  Here’s what we came up with:

  • We like the fact that Iowa has its license plates on both the front and back of vehicles
  • The state flag is very nice
  • Iowan cemeteries are very neat.  The deceased are buried in nice, straight rows

Really lame, huh?  I know.  The thing is, you just can’t see around the corn.

One last dig — the rumble strips.  You know, those grooved abrasions they put in the road surface to alert drivers.  In Iowa, they put them right in the center of the lane to advise you that there is an intersection ahead.  Really?

In South Dakota (we are biased), the rumble strips were on the shoulder of the road, gently spaced apart.  They sang a song through your tires:

I wouldn’t do that.

Wake up, good buddy.

Come on, now.  Get back on the beaten path, little doggy.

That’s a good driver!

The Iowa rumble strips sent one, clear message:


Okay, I get it.  Are we up to the Missouri state line yet?  Good.

We stopped for late lunch in St. Joseph, MO at Chick-Fil-A, perhaps the nation’s only Christian fast food chain.  We knew their food from our Texas days.  Their chicken sandwiches are delicious.

As we watched Island Boy climbing around in Chick-Fil-A’s indoor play land, it dawned on us that we had stopped for lunch in another St. Joseph on this trip — St. Joseph, Minnesota.  Not exactly the most exciting coincidence.  But, at least I’ve stopped ranting about Iowa.

We had an uneventful trip across Missouri.  We arrived in Hannibal well after 5:00 p.m.  All of the Mark Twain sites were closed for the day.

“Okay, make the best of it,” The Major said to himself.  At least we can see the sites from the outside.

EXCEPT that almost immediately Island Boy had to pee “real bad.”  Running Girl had a moment of temporary insanity and suggested that we let him relieve himself on the front lawn of the boyhood home of one of America’s greatest writers.  Note: Running Girl categorically, 100 percent DENIES that this event ever took place.

EXCEPT that Subway Dude and The Fashionista were hot and bored.  They had zero interest and sat sullenly on a park bench.

This looks like a totally benign Mother-Son moment. But...

EXCEPT that Running Girl had to deal with a crisis situation (they almost made it to the public restroom) and then had to deal with the subsequent nuclear meltdown brought about by too many miles and by being too far away from home.

The Major set off by himself to see the sights of this delightful, riverfront Mississippi town that was the inspiration for Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and many other Twain novels.

Enough words, here are the pictures:

Sam Clemens grew up here. Note the somewhat creepy statue in the upstairs' window.

Not quite. Tom Sawyer was a fictional character. But, it's still fun to think of it this way.

Sam Clemens' father's law office across the street.

Next to the law office. Once again, Becky Thatcher was a fictional character. But she was based upon Laura Hawkins who actually lived across the street from Clemens.

The Mississippi riverfront at Hannibal. The Mark Twain Bridge is visible in the background.

Hannibal from a bluff above the town. In the distance is the area containing the caves which Twain used as the basis for portions of Tom Sawyer.

The Major addressed the members of his family as they crossed the Mississippi into Illinois.  “Okay,” he said quivering tone.  “I have two American heroes from the 19th Century.  Today, I patiently put up with all of your shenanigans,  and still tried to enjoy myself at the Mark Twain sites.”

He cleared his throat.  “Tomorrow we will visit the Lincoln sites in Springfield.  I will not put up with any lollygagging, temper tantrums or complaints of boredom at important historical sites.”

He could almost hear the eye-rolling going on in the car.  Who was the guy who complained from one end of Iowa to the other?

The prairies of Illinois opened up before us.

— The Major & Running Girl


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