Derek Johnson Muses

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Road notes: Iowa and Illinois Soybeans and the Last Production Trip

Earlier this month, my father tasked me with visiting our tasked with visiting our soybean plots in southeast Iowa and western Illinois. Due to my own over-scheduling, I was forced to leave after working at the gallery last Wednesday at five and drive to Ames, the only break being a quick stop at the Corn Crib for dinner. It was a short night, and I barely took time to review my itinerary before crashing into bed. This would be my last work trip of the season, and when it was over, I was relieved.

I rolled out of bed at 4:20 and did the route work on my computer, and once it was done, I went back to bed. Another hour of sleep, I got back up, breakfasted, and conferred with my dad before hitting the road with some rush hour stragglers headed to Des Moines. I followed I-235 downtown, then took Iowa Highway 163 through the mess of burbs into the empty fields of a misty morning.

Soybeans Intertwined with Rogue Grass

Said mist burned off by the time I reached my first set of fields northeast of Pella. They had some weeds, but nothing major. The second plot was only fifteen miles away, and it had a longer way to go until it would be ready to harvest. I made my observations and took the country roads to US Highway 63 to go down to Oskaloosa.

After some circles, I located the Subway on the east end of town and ordered the a chicken teriyaki without onions and was rung up by a jolly cashier who seemed to be very happy in his menial job. I took two attitudes toward this: one, I was really encouraged by his enthusiasm, and two, isn’t kind of scary to be this enthusiastic about cashiering at Subway? Not saying he doesn’t have higher aspirations, he has a every right too. I just wonder.

Failing to find a park, I ate behind the wheel on my way out of town. Having to navigate around a traffic pitfall between Oskaloosa and Sigourney, I took occasion for some extra photographs. I stopped in Sirgourney at the library to text my dad back. I felt like stopping to take a nap, but I waited until I got to Washington to do so, as they had a city park that was right off the highway.

Our soybean fields in Washington were plagued with weeds, as they were when I visted them three years prior, but at least we’d get something out of them. Our grower conveniently lives next to Wal-Mart, so I buy batteries for my camera that has been showing me a diminishing battery sign for a few days now. I end up in another loop around town and have to disobey my GPS to get on US Highway 218 south to Mount Pleasant, then on to US 34 east to Burlington. In a double dose of irony, US Highway 34 goes through my hometown of Seward and goes directly along the Amtrak rail from Chicago that I rode a few weeks earlier.

I gassed up at Burlington (gas is always cheaper in Iowa), stopped by Shopko to buy a razor and Axe Shower Gel (a must to clean up from the fields), and checked the map. My GPS recommended following 34 to Galesburg to get to Peoria, but I checked the map and found Illinois 116, which looked be less miles. I wanted to hit the country roads for my photographs anyway. I cross the spectacularly-suspended white bridge (it looks dingy from the railroad bridge promptly made a wrong turn into Gulf Port, Illinois, where Burlington undoubtedly stashes their organized crime.

The drive to Peoria, once I made my way though Mississippi-mud drenched fields and my own over-correction in the railroad town of Stronghurst, was a brisk half-an-hour. I glided passed harvesting farmers and finally into an industrial park by the on ramp in western Peoria. I drove out to Morton, as it was only ten miles from my first stop tomorrow. I stayed in a new Travelodge, a bargain room with a soft bed with multiple pillows. I ate at Ruby Tuesdays: good food and a good spot to watch an NFL Network game, but the service wasn’t as good. There were a bunch of staff wandering around, and one person actually waiting. I tipped 10% and rushed out afterward.

Close to Harvest

I got up late on Friday, but all my fields were within a twenty miles of Morton. They had the same moderate weed problems as the other fields. I passed through the town of Eureka and briefly contemplated seeing the Reagan Museum, as I’d often passed his growing-up home in Dixon up by I-88. But I just contemplated it. The highlight of my day was meeting one of our growers who had to drive me down to his fields which were at the bottom of a steep hill. He happened to come to western Nebraska to hunt coyotes, a subject that fascinates me even though I have little desire to hunt myself.

Fields once inspected, I left to go back to Goodfield, where I’d gotten on the interstate and use their library’s WiFi to upload a blog post. Unfortunately, the library, which was the size of a garden shed, was only open from nine to noon, and over the course of a week, was only open for a few four hour increments. Sigh. I got in I-74 and made a blitz for Galesburg, dodging Peoria’s speed traps the whole way.

Heading toward Galesburg, I saw signs for a Perkins, which didn’t mention that I would incur a two mile detour, first on US 34, then on an another street. Illinois seems made for home-town cafes. I went with chicken soup and a half-sandwich, post roast on Parmesan bread, an inventive combination but poorly executed. There were two overweight managers on-duty; not to be insensitive, but I couldn’t picture how they managed when it was busy. Post-lunch, I grabbed a coffee and donuts at a shop next door, and used their shoddy WiFi to get my blog post up. Unfortunately, I could only get one other podcast I wanted up and had to make a second stop two hours later in Iowa City at the mall.

Traffic between the Iowa City and Des Moines (post 4 P.M. on a Friday) was chaotic, as I passed a number of Huskers and Hawkeyes heading to their respective Saturday games. At least Californians have a certain etiquette to the way they drive. Here in the Midwest, everyone camps out in the left lane like it’s their God-given rite, and if a truck wants to pass, then it’s ten minutes of ten other cars going 60. I delighted in getting to my parents and watching football.

Saturday, I got up early and hit Starbucks for a pumpkin spice latte, an event that required me to purchase a Casey’s turnover in Stuart, Iowa. I glided through the brown fields, wistful that my travel season was done. For the first time this season, I was able to stop at farmer’s market in Omaha and get some fresh produce, a happy coincidence to the end of a good trip.

Bound Railyards

Return to the Road

I first tasted daylight yesterday around 5:10. I had to run out to Hastings and pick up some seed, and then take it to Ames in the afternoon. I debated about getting up and trying to leave by 6, getting to Starr’s at first light. Instead, I rolled over, slept some more, and got up at 6:15. Still left a bit at 7:10.

This is the time of year were I start wearing thin of driving. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing fields, and I love hitting up certain restaurants. But after this much time in the road, I need to spend a month at home to recoop mentally and put the ideas I’ve come up with to the page. I love the photograph, but I need time away  from it Labor Day weekend at the lake can’t get here soon enough.

I make the jaunt to Hastings at least four times a year, the last time being when the ears have filled out and I take measurements and pictures for our buyers. I can usually make it in an hour and twenty minutes, but Saturday I took my time. I stopped for a flash rain and got Starbucks in York. The barista was way to friendly for 8AM Saturday morning, but I got a receipt for a $2 drink after 2 PM.

I get to Hastings at 9, right when our grower was supposed to have a meeting. We load seed and talk about the drought. They had to shut off one of their pivots for a week during detasseling, but their starting to come back around. There’s a reason my dad tries not to call the growers between August 1 and August 18. It is the fear range when they’re worried about the size of the ear, and understandably so.

The Platte is dead dry, and I don’t just mean shallow as usual. I mean there’s no water in it and farmers have been disking it. I have to drive 65 back because of my load, making the road more tedious than ever. Funny thing is, driving five miles below the speed limit on the interstate is so relaxing. You rarely have to pass anyone and can just relax in one lane. I get home and take another nap before eating a carefully planned last meal, packing, and leaving.

The packing for this trip was easier: since I will just be going to fields, I only need grubby shirts and shorts. I take fewer books than on previous trips. I do the dishes, hang up the last load of laundry, and bolt.

On the way to redeeming my receipt for a $2 drink, I find out it was easier to get to a Starbucks in Omaha off the interstate than I’d originally conceived: just take the I-680 and get off at Pacific, there’s one right by Westside High at 87th. It’s one of the best Starbucks I’ve ever been to, sitting at the corner of a strip mall so half of the walls have huge windows on them. I get my drink, write a little, and head out.

I listen to Issues, Etc. as I drive, programs on the Old Testament prophets mostly. This the time of year where I have seemingly unlimited time to catch up on all the stuff I like to listen to, especially Issues. That’s a lot of what makes this worthwhile.

Issues are black and white

Roads Notes from my First Production Trip: Wisconsin

Tuesday-Left home ten until nine. Dropped off recyclables in north Lincoln. Get off at 84th street to go to Crane Coffee, but stop at Husker Hounds first; score a mesh shirt on sale. Then get a green tea smoothie and write on my IPod at Crane.

Lunch at the Corn Crib. Usually, I order off the menu, but to save time, I get a pre-made pork tenderloin out of the warmer. The flavor is authentic as it always is. Watch the weather channel and read Body Surfing by Anita Shreve. (Why am I even starting that book? I’m reading another five already.)

The Corn Crib in the Shelby, Iowa (I-80 exit 34)

Took a detour from I-80 MM 60 through 67 to shot some barns. Found several, and only had one mile of road to drive on. Took 1/2 an hour somehow, & when I got back on the road, found a text that said my meeting was at 3 instead of 3:30 Arrived 15 minutes late.

Wednesday-Got up at 5:38 and left at 6:55. It’s partly cloudy with scattered rains off and on, threatening to blind me with the rising if a sudden hard rain comes. But after I-35 MM 165, the clouds burn off.

At 8:39, stop & use restroom at MN welcome center. Grab hotel coupons. While most of the work is done, Owatonna is still working on their construction project from last summer.

As I dart through the MSP suburbs, stop in Woodbury for gas and a Quizno’s breakfast sub in a strip mall built for wealthy wives with stated parking time limits on parking individual spaces. There’s a non-chain coffee shop I’m intrigued by but don’t stop in. Cross into Wisconsin to be greeted by rain showers and sunshine. Not blinded, but a few never-racking miles.

Get off where I’m supposed to, but take a wrong turn and end up in the middle of Hoffman Hills State Park. Arrived at our growers, field tour lasts an hour. Plants hand high. Forget my camera and have to take photos on my way out.

Hopefully, this will be a field of gold in September.

Take a wrong turn and end up taking WI-HWY 29 into Eau Claire instead of I-94. Minus a Wisconsin map, I have to rely on my GPS, and find my way down to the interstate. Detour leads past Starbucks and I grab an iced caramel macchiato and a blueberry muffin while I check e-mail and social media Eat ravenously as my lunch was inadequate.

Around I-94 MM 111, there’s grafatti on a rock quarry. See a lot of roadside signs supporting Governor Walker, only two calling for him to be recalled.

Stop at rest stop about MM 137 to see if they have a Wisconsin road map. They don’t, but after observing the framed map in the lobby, I decide to get off at Warrens and see if there’s a cool cranberry-themed shop. There is, but it’s closed when I get there. I take backroads to Tomah, where I stop by a Humrid Cheese, a store I’ve observed several times. But fudge and summer sausage and cheese pack.

Photograph both the Wisconsin River and Ship Rocks on my way to the field. I really like the Ship Rocks photos and might frame one for myself. The field takes me too long to find, due to it being 5 o’clock and curved Wisconsin roads. Afterward, I get on I-39 and head down to Portage. I check the Super 8 first, but it’s full. The woman behind the counter tells me to check the Best Western behind Wall-Mart. It looks like a midlevel conference center, and I worry it’ll be over $100, but the corporate rate is $80 with tax.

Ship Rocks

I check the steak and seafood house across the street, but it’s got nothing I want. I go to Culver’s and order cheese curds, fries, and chili: three sides that cost as much as a value meal. I go back to my room and eat in front of baseball and the Western Conference Finals, but I got to sleep at 9:30.

Thursday-Zip Down to Madison on I-39. Some construction, but the sun is shining. Get off on US 151 to head downtown, find that it offers a few of the Camp Randall press box in the distance, like the one you get of Memorial Stadium’s when you’re driving west on Vine Street. Madison has college town feel akin to Eat Lansing and Berkeley: dingy houses with obvious snow wear, lots of trees, people wear odd clothing combinations. Before I get to downtown, I get stuck waiting for a train, so I check my GPS and write this.

Walk around the Lake Mendota and the river flowing into it. Pass a group of kids who must be in some summer day camp, three older African American guys fishing, and two girls who look be going kayaking. Admire the Lilly pads, then get in the truck and continue heading downtown. Like Milwaukee, the houses in Madison suddenly get nicer the closer you get to the lake.

Summer Lake

When I approach the Capitol, I realize what I thought must be the Camp Randall press box is really a building with a lot of glass windows. I circle the Capitol, and park on street, only to find my thirty-five cents net me 14 minutes of parking time. I make a quick run inside the Capitol, observe a protest against governor Walker, see where I want to eat on State Street, and move my truck into a parking facility I passed up on my way to park on the street.

Madtown

I have lunch at Michalengo’s Coffee on State Street: turkey and asparagus on focaccia, with baklava for dessert. Unfortunately, they don’t take my company credit card. I lunch while staring at their bright, homey abstracts which seem strangely accessible.

Post lunch, I stroll down State to the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, which I technically don’t have time to go to. It requests donation, but I don’t have the right bills. (Actually, I do, but they’re stuffed down in my wallet.) I check out one of the floors sheepishly as the docent watches everyone like a hawk. The show is of abstract animals; I bail after a quick glance through, wishing I had the time.

Drive in circles looking for Camp Randall Stadium, and then drive around Camp Randall once before deciding to park there. Sneak and get a view of the field through a supply hall were some chair backs are stored. Field turf shimmers like a lake in the Wisconsin summer sun.

My Secret View of the Badgers’ Home Turf

After threading my way through Madison’s quaint, 1950’s box home neighborhoods, I get on Highway 14 to go to Dakota, Illinois where our next grower is. Most of the highways I have to use are county roads, and I am forced to use my GPS often. Lots of little towns and dairy farms, but I finally get there after another wrong turn. The farms here are closely clustered together, more so than in Nebraska and Iowa.

While I’m at the field, my Dad calls me to say he’s received the locations of our test plots in Wisconsin. Previously, I understood there would just be one or two, but now he tells me that there’s eight, some of which are east of Madison. He suggests that I go back up to Madison to start in the morning, but I decide to go to Freeport (which is only six miles away) and check the e-mail. This is the first time it would have been helpful for me to have 3G.

Freeport, Illinois is so much more run down than it’s neighbor to the west, Dubuque, Iowa. What a difference a state government can make. While Dubuque is defined by its shipping yards on the Mississippi and its agrarian fields to the west, Freeport is a run down factory town. Initially, I target McDonald’s for WiFi, but then I find the public library, which happens to be in a municipal building. I sit in the building’s main hall and check the e-mail: the first field is by Fennimore, Wisconsin, which is directly north of Dubuque, so I go there as I planned and spend the night with my friend Tom.

A Day in My Life…

A while ago, my fellow blogger Eirinn (who you should all follow) wrote a merry post that outlined every thing she did in a day. That really inspired to write a similar post, and after a couple of months, the idea felt perfect for this past Easter Monday.

6:13 My consciousness hums for the first time since last night; I see a wisp of light from outside coming through the window outside, and I hear my parents bustling around downstairs.

7:23 Actually come around.

7:26 Get out of bed, use the bathroom, dress in ratty work clothes, and come downstairs to find my mother engaged in a pre-dawn nap.

7:31 Heat up milk to pour over my natural foods version of shredded wheat. Breakfasts takes me five minutes, during which a read a page or two of Laura Rider’s Masterpiece by Jane Hamilton, a Wisconsin author if there ever was one. I have committed myself not to look at my computer or IPod screen until noon.

7:46 Make coffee; my current brew is an indulgence, Cream City Blend, a signature of Stone Creek Coffee, a chain from Milwaukee that I feel in love with in college and wish was in Omaha or Lincoln.

8:15 Today, I am planting 26 cold samples my father has brought me. I get out six kimpak prep trays, only to find I haven’t made the marking sticks for the trays. So I have to put the prepped trays back in the cold chamber (they can only be out of the cold chamber for 45 minutes). First half of the morning, I do all the sticks and plant 12 samples. I listen to half of an ESPN: First Draft podcast (Kiper and McShay’s back and forth), two segments of an Issues, Etc. podcast (Pastor Will Weedon on the Easter hymn “Ride on, Ride on in Majesty”), and then The Herd on ESPN Radio.

9:45 I don’t like taking breaks before I’m halfway down, but if I start another set, my head will be going numb toward the end of it.

9:50 Snack on a banana and pace a bit. I don’t read, I don’t check facebook or e-mail. Just hanging loose.

10:00 Start back on the remaining 14 samples, listening to my playlist from late last summer (The Band Perry’s “If I Die Young”, The Fray’s “Heartbeat” are the signature tracks), and turn The Herd back on at 10:30, in time to hear Adam Schefter come on and talk NFL.

11:30 Finish with work and head into shower. To rid myself of the horrid scent of wet corn plant and seed lab, I pour on the Axe body wash.

12:05 When I get out of the shower, mom is making omelets for her and dad and offers to make  me one. Thus lunch is an omelet with two cheeses, the last of an oatmeal like cereal that mom made, and toast with crab apple jelly. I’m not eating meat, and I assume it will catch up to me around 3. While eating, I allow myself to go online and check stuff.

12:30 My parents leave for Lincoln to go to my Dad’s dentist appointment, and I settle down for some solid Facebook and e-mail time .

1:00 My mother calls; she has arrived at the dentist’s office in Lincoln and has forgotten the guide book for the diet my dad and she are on. I agree to bring and plan to leave in five minutes.

1:30 Leave for Lincoln after thirty minutes of running the house and gathering unimportant crap that I probably won’t use but might need. (I’m still eight years old.) When I get four blocks from my house, I find that I don’t have the diet guide book that I’m supposed to bring to my mother. I head back to the house to get the book, and after I’m back in the car, my mother calls me again.

1:35 Given that I’m turned around, I now set out to drive the round-about way. Late and listening to “Rumor Has It” on the radio, I get angry when I get stuck behind a gold Cadillac driven by an old person. Flipping the car off (I know), I circle back to the main route, only to re-encounter the Cadillac while it waits to turn into the hospital and holds me up again.

1:52 Get to the light at Fletcher and Highway 34 by the highlands and call my mom; she says they’ll be a while and that I should come straight to the dentist’s office. Could have just taken the Interstate.

1:55 Get off the I-180 at Cornhusker; contemplating taking Cornhusker until I can branch off on Holdredge, then decide to follow Sun Valley to North 10th and get onto Vine. Of course, there isn’t a direct way to Vine from 10th, and end up downtown where the I-180 ends. To try to justify my inefficient route, I take P over to 17th, to then go down to Capitol. This makes no difference.

2:07 I get to the dentists in an office plaza north of the crossroads of 40th, Normal, and South Streets. Mom compensates me for my gas and talks to me about work for roughly twenty minutes.

2:28 Leaving the dentist, I decide that my car is running funny and I should fill up on gas (although the real problem is likely that I need an oil change). I get gas at the Fast Mart on 33rd and A, which happens to be on the corner across from a Valentino’s where worked for two months almost seven years ago.

2:30 When I go into use the bathroom, an older gentleman holds the door open for me on my way out and says “you’re welcome” to me as if I should be ashamed of myself for not saying “thank you”, which I do on my way in. (Hey, I just happened to be in the right position for you to hold the door for an extra half second; if I had been two seconds ahead of you, I would have held the door and been grateful if you hadn’t said anything.) On my way back out, I make a conscientious effort to go out the other side door, but the man has already left.

2:32 Not wanting the trip to Lincoln to be a waste, I go to the Starbucks on 33rd and O, order a green tea smoothie, and set to work on catching up on my e-mail. The place is full, and people are coming and going. I sit on the half-couch, half-chair thing and type to my heart’s content.

3:35 Leaving Starbucks, afternoon traffic has picked up, and it takes me a while to get through downtown. I decide to go to Pioneer’s Park to take my afternoon walk

4:00 I park next a gray Bronco-like vehicle in my favorite parking lot in the middle of the park and hit the trail; millions of kids are out here playing, along with female joggers. I walk along the stream and let my thought peculate.

4:35 Leave the park.

4:53 Stop at the truck stop just of the Northwest 48th Street exit to buy something to drink; settle on two 16 oz. pops for two dollars (root beer and Sierra Mist).

4:58 Blast on to I-80 and blaze for home.

5:26 Get home and make a list of things people I still need to contact.

6:00 Begin to make supper. Mom has left two soup mixes, so break some roast beef out of the freezer and open up the vegetable mix. I dirty an extra pot when I underestimate how big the batch will be. (A blog post on this soup “adventure” is coming.)

7:00 I turn on How I Met Your Mother, the show whose original episodes I look forward to the most. The soup finishes up at 7:10, and I balance eating it with tweeting about #HIMYM.

7:30 Watch 2 Broke Girls while I wash and put away dishes and food. Girls has the best set up of any show that’s come out this year, other than maybe Up All Night.

8:00 Exhausted from standing in the kitchen for better part of the last two hours, I sit and game on my IPod while watching other shows on my computer, instead of doing the things on my list.

9:30 I turn off my computer with the intent of going to bed for Men’s Bible Study at 6:30 tomorrow. Instead I decide to put away some more dishes and fold the laundry that’s been sitting in the basket for several days.

10:30 Prior to going to bed, I fake scan the book next to me for a page or two, then stop kidding myself and turn out the light.

Overtime

6:03 After waking up around 4:30, I decide that I should sleep as late as I can before having to head out. When I see 6:03 on the clock, I’m tempted to go back to sleep, but I know I’ll regret it if I do. I intend to take a five minute shower, and set up my IPod to time myself. My shower last a typical ten minutes. Even still, I somehow manage to show up to Bible study on time.

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