Derek Johnson Muses

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Future Once Happened Here

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A tragedy has befallen Seward. Something terrible has happened in our fair city, so irreversibly terrible I won’t recover.

Dollar General has built a stand-alone store south of town and vacated their storefront downtown. That location had a Ben Franklin store in it until I was in high school, and right after it closed the Dollar General came in. And now, the General Store of Seward sits alone.

Ok, I’m being over-dramatic. Dollar General would not have built a stand-alone store if it wasn’t able to provide more products and better products. But that location has had a store inside it all off my life. And now it sits alone, who knows for how long. Maybe it will become office space, but that is going to take a lot of work.

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Since I moved, I’ve walked a lot to that store to pick up the occasional Gatorade or toiletry. I can still go to Sun Mart (sorry Mike) to pick up some of that stuff, but I’ll miss that store. That small, cramped, rolling floor store, with the cheap Husker gear in the window and the seasonal items by the counter. I hope they still bring out the Halloween candy in August at the new location.

Road Notes: Far From Home

Oh, those early mornings

Oh, those 6 A.M starts. In a filter no less.

Even on familiar roads, I set a personal record, hitting over 15 fields in five days. There were plenty of Subway sandwiches, coffees, lunches in the truck, and desperate map checks in between. Praise the Lord for my iPhone’s map app. The longer I check fields, the more my time on the road becomes simple directions rather than complex thinking. Gives me time to reflect on things.

The highlights:

Southeast Iowa has a bunch of towns (Pella, Burlington, Ottumwa, Oskaloosa, Washington and Fairfield) that I can’t tell apart. I spent 15 minutes driving around Fairfield looking for a Subway that was really in Oskaloosa. I think.

Fairfield, Iowa. Passed this very same light in September of 2009.

Fairfield, Iowa. Passed this very same light in September of 2009, and photographed the diamond store on the corner.

In an odd juxtaposition, Shelton Fireworks has locations off I-29 at the Iowa-Missouri border, and off Highway 27 in the eastern part of the state.

St. Louis seems to have a need to keep all of its office buildings close to the interstate. You rarely even see shopping centers there or even just houses, just miles of glass windows. It’s as if St. Louis has to keep reminding itself that it’s a major city for influence, even though it’s fallen down a few rungs over the past 100 years or so.

I have no hope of finding a better place to eat lunch or dinner than Subway or Culver’s. It’s always Subway and Culver’s. I know everything on their menus. At least Culver’s has variety; my final meal at Subway I searched for a special I hadn’t tried before.

My grower in southeast Missouri is suffering from what he calls the worst rainfall he’s ever had in his life (he has grown daughters, by the way.) The beans are up, but they have a ways to go. Tuesday afternoon, it rained on me for three hours, and one crossing of the Mississippi River.

Tear Drops

Tear Drops

Cairo, Illinois is a dead city. Everyone there has to have moved to either Kentucky or Missouri to get away from paying high taxes for the pensions of lazy government workers.

I’ve had two bad experiences with Wal-Mart oil changes, one in Dubuque where I was rejected and another in Kingdom City, Missouri which took forever when I was in a rush. One guy named Dean at the Wal-Mart in Mount Vernon, Illinois salvaged their reputation.

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Empty Street in Cairo, Illinois

The Wisconsin-Illinois border should be shaded in gray between the small towns on either side of it. The land and farmhouses between the two states are indistinguishable. But the run-down houses of Dakota, Illinois are nothing compared to the brightly-slanted houses just across the border in Brodhead, Wisconsin. The difference in pride is so obvious.

I found a favorite new restaurant just north of Madison called The Pine Cone, a bakery/dinner. I had all the signs: a menu I couldn’t put down, employees who helped each other and were always communicating, and shelves full of beautiful pastries, all of which I wanted to try. I’ll be going back.

Wisconsin Woods

Wisconsin Woods

Tomah, Wisconsin needs a coffee shop. Like, four years ago.

The biggest challenge I have in making these trips is discernment. When do I need to stop for the day? When can I keep going? There was one night when I stopped sooner than I would have liked, but I got my oil changed, rested, read, and started out that morning at six A.M.

Every night but the one I mentioned above, I worked until 9. One night I got an early motel room and took a leisurely dinner, but I still went to my field that night. Thought I would have time to get a Huskermax post up sometime that week, and that pipe dream went out the window.

I missed my garden.

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Promise

The Photo that’s Just So Important

Originally, I had tried to think of something to write about a human flaw, just so I could use the photo below in a post. But I struck out, so here it is. Just the photo.

Hometown Store

Hometown Store

I photographed this store on a road trip I took two years ago. It was trip that I took and told no one about, and even now, the only thing I’ll say about it is that it was to one of the most sparsely populated areas of the country. It was a three-day trip. The first day featured glorious weather. The next two featured bothersome rain.

Tell me, is this picture pretty enough to stand on its merit? Do you need to know the name of the town it is in, that I took it in the afternoon, that it is the only significant town for several miles? Do I have through in long exposition about how I rolled into town looking for a coffee shop but didn’t find one, then continuing to push on towards a state borderline? Does it matter that a whole town full of people spent years of their lives walking by this store, and that part of me feels like I traveled a whole world to find it? It is, after all, just a store, sitting out there on the prairie, with so much in between.

Or is this just another desperate ploy on my part to get attention? Probably, but I hope the other stuff matters too.

Booking Road Notes: Back to Kansas

Watertower of Du Bois, Nebraska

Watertower of Du Bois, Nebraska

This past Monday, I took another delivery for my warehouse landlord, again sneaking into Kansas long enough to say I was there, this time to Seneca. I went off-the most beaten path, taking Nebraska Highways 41 and 50 respectively to get around Beatrice. Just north of Du Bois,the highway service had a sign up saying the road was closed, but since I’m no stranger to the dirt road, I decided to follow the highway as long as I could. Good thing-I would have gone forty miles out of my way just to avoid a single bridge that was out. Come on, Nebraska and Kansas-you can still just divert the traffic on paved roads.

This time, I told myself I wasn’t just going to make my time on the road matter, so I downloaded an audiobook to my Kindle to feed my cuturediness. Culturediness is my bad habit that I feed by buying stuff to feel high-minded. Books. A white end table. A rain barrel. A park bench. My 20-year old Chevy. Even my house to a point. And yes, listening to a biography of Charles Lindbergh and early aviation makes me feel better than if I were listening to KFRX.

Issues, Etc and other podcasts are great for filing the time when I’m entering numbers into the computer, scrambling eggs for lunch, or hanging a shelf. They work in the truck, but books give breadth and depth of knowledge podcasts can’t. Plus turn on some nice stories or history in the truck, and you get the a breadth to the rolling Wisconsin hills or twisting Illinois highway that you just can’t get with the Best of Mike and Mike. Okay, that was snobbish. But also true.

The Lindbergh biography took up two and a half hours of my drive time, with another eight left. I’ll need at least one trip to Illinois/Wisconsin to finish that puppy, and then I’ll have a free book to choose from the audiobooks iPhone ap. Won’t last the summer, but should go a long ways.

 

 

Road Notes: Ear Samples 2013, North Edition

Leftover Ears...

Leftover Ears…

Blue River did not grow any seed in Hastings, Nebraska this year, so I didn’t go there for ear samples, or at any time this year. Instead, Dad had me retrieve ear samples from our plots in Wisconsin and Illinois last week. It was my last trip of the year, and when it was over, I was really happy.

Something must have been in my water, because I left Seward promptly after church, aimlessly throwing hastily packed bags into my passengers seat and heading for Dubuque to spend the night with Tom, and his friends George and Jill, an amazing couple whose kids are all grown who Tom is staying with for now. I hadn’t seen them in forever, so it was great to catch-up.

Monday morning after I talked to Tom (he himself was driving back from Nebraska on Sunday), I rolled out at 7 and took the crappy, narrow US Highway 20 bridge into Illinois, navigating the lesser highways along the Mississippi and in no man’s land to Sterling. Once I made east a ways, I caught ESPN Radio 1000 out of Chicago, a great listen on the first NFL Monday of the year.

The Fine Ear...

The Fine Ear…

Prairie Hybrids, our grower south of Sterling, is run by an Amish-like community, but they have cell phones and trucks along with the neatly-trimmed beards. In typical Derek Johnson-fashion, it took me longer than I expected to get all the information I needed. Backtracking a bit, I went back for lunch at the Culver’s in Rock Falls. Pretty much all of the Culver’s have TV’s in them, and even better, they are all set to ESPN. Finally, I got to watch NFL highlights.

Another great thing about Culver’s is they now have WiFi, so I took occasion to check my rout to my next stop. My tablet directed me to take a county highway from Rock Falls up to Dakota, and I was skeptical, but it turned out to be surprisingly straight and speedy. I had two hybrids to gather, and when I did it in an hour, I counted it as a huge victory. I was able to make it back to Dubuque by 6, and enjoyed an evening with Tom, dinning at the Copper Kettle and watching the Eagles tear it up on Monday Night Football.

The Mississippi that fateful Tuesday morning...

The Mississippi that fateful Tuesday morning…

The next day, I started off with my camera batteries dying and having to stop by Hy-vee. I crossed the US Highway 151 Bridge into Wisconsin, enjoying a morning sun bringing out the orange in the Westconsin rock deposits the Highways are cut into. When I got to Madison,  I decided I would find my own way to cut around the west side of the city, since the state of Madison has not built a suitable by-pass from US 151 to I-39 going north. I zig-zagged through the urban sprawl and the suburbs, heading to our field up by Coloma.

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Ripening corn in the urban sprawl…

Coloma is a town of 500 people where I’ve rarely stopped, which is a bit odd considering how many times I’ve come to our field there. After I got what I need from the field and updated my Twitter, I decided to get lunch at Subway…until I drove up and found they weren’t open yet. There was a nice diner about twenty miles east that I’d eaten at before, but I decided not to take the time to sit down, instead grabbing a sandwich and cookie from a roadside deli.

Main Street in Coloma...

Main Street in Coloma…

The road from Coloma to Tomah is straight but frustrating slow, passing small towns, cranberry bogs, and an Ocean Spray facility advertising for seasonal help. (Passing the bogs, I couldn’t discern an obvious sign that it was time to pick cranberries.) From Tomah all the way up to Eau Claire, there are all these great stops advertising bakeries and cheese houses that I always think about stopping at but never do. This time around, I’m right not to smell the roses because time turned out to be in sparse supply.

While I was thinking the trip through in my head, I had thought that maybe, just maybe, I could finish up at our grower west of Eau Claire 5 or so. I arrive at four, but gather samples from the four fields takes me until 6. That’s what I always hate about coming here to Colfax, is that I always end up here totally exhausted because I’ve driven from someplace else. But I’m done gathering the samples, and I head east. I had thought in my head that I would spend the night at Super 8 I’d stayed at before in Hudson, Wisconsin, but I arrogantly press on and cut through the Twin Cities satellites and stop in Lakeview, Minnesota for the night. A foreign man checks me into the Americinn, and asks about my business. I ramble on about fields for a good two minutes.

The St. Croix River on the Wisconsin-Minnesota Border. One of my favorite secondary rivers.

The St. Croix River on the Wisconsin-Minnesota Border. One of my favorite secondary rivers.

Once I’ve showered and unloaded the truck, I head over to the Green Mill, a Minnesota chain of upscale restaurant/bars that has been a favorite of mine since my college years. I order a walleye sandwich and a light beer. The Twins are playing the Athletics on one TV, US soccer on another, Sports Center is on a third. Two guys are watching the Twins, and a group of girls is giggling while guzzling mixed drinks. I can’t help but wonder if I would have been better off ordering fast food and staying in my room to read my Twitter feed and download the photos from my camera.

The next morning, I allow myself the treat of Minnesota’s own Caribou Coffee and get up early to upload a blog post. I manage to leave by seven, drifting down past golden Minnesota fields towards Ames. My grand plan is to get lunch and stop at my parent’s apartment to take a nap. There is one more customer I have to see who lives between Des Moines and Omaha, and I’ll see if I can met said customer late this afternoon. That way, I’ll still be able to get back to Seward by night fall.

Of course, I wasn’t exactly precise when I did the estimates of where this grower lives. My mother told me he lives south of Watertown, which, when I typed Watertown into my computer, it gave me a location around Atlantic. When I typed in the name of the actual town after lunch, I found it was an hour and fifteen minutes east of Ames. Deflated, I decide to take the afternoon off, stay in Ames, and met the customer tomorrow morning. I call the customer and make the arrangements, then mope about the fact I could have driven straight south from Colfax yesterday and saved myself two or three hours of driving.

The next morning, I make myself Starbucks Via and drag out of Ames, getting to the farm near Clutier around 9. It’s a pleasant couple, who are enthused that they finally were able to get the weeds out of their field. They made my day better, and I wish I had more to offer them. I enjoy my drive through the Iowa hinterlands, linking up to the interstate by Adventureland. I stop for lunch at Culver’s, and press forward, grateful to be home by 4. I left half a load of laundry in my washer, and I unload clothes directly from suitcase.

Leaves Turning in Wisconsin...

Leaves Turning in Wisconsin…

End Note: I purposely watch for rest-stops to throw my recyclables away at. I will let them sit in the back of my truck for days, weeks, and hundreds of miles. Easier than going to the one close to my house. 

Utility...

Utility…

Seward Nooks: Twists and Turns.

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Fairgrounds Border…

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Waiting Game…

Hughes Brothers forms the east border of the fairground on the opposite side of the highway. It must be one of Seward’s biggest employers, but I’ve only known one or two people who have worked for them. In fact, I don’t even know exactly what it is they do there, although I do see a lot of their guys milling around the factory entrance whenever I drive by it on Seward Street.

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Levee Road…

This road leads out of the Fairgrounds and turns into Lincoln Street, rolling along the levee-top without a care in the world, steep slope falling on both sides of the levee. I drive this road worrying about my safety if some teenager or know-it-all with an over-sized pickup comes barreling from the opposing direction, all jazzed up with a case of beer in the front seat.

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Old Folks Home…

Lincoln Street leads out to the Senior Citizens Center, home to potato bake lunches, and other shows for the elderly. (Side note-a couple I knew actually met at a lunch here.) It’s the ideal place to preserve retirement savings, complete with off-color yellow walls, small windows right next to each other, a pop-out from ’50-’60’s mass construction. Of course, the dazzling new building in the background is putting a cramp in the retro-, live frugal style, but anything to attract new business to our spend-lite state.

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Exactly…

In keeping with the neighborhood’s shabby-no-sheek theme, this complex of cheap apartment buildings lies catty corner to southeast from the Senior Center Complex. It was the perfect shade of cracked white until a couple of years ago, when someone had the bright idea to paint the buildings tan. Talk about building yourself out of the neighborhood.Now it looks like a 1980’s-built prison in a desert town, or a filming site for a cheap horror movie. Hope you got a tax write off for that.

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Red Brick Road….

This is Eighth, a brick street that is way too narrow to service the amount of traffic it gets. Even worse than that, it has hills. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been driving down this road, bumpty-bump-bump, hoping that another car doesn’t turn onto the street in front of me. They shouldn’t let people park on either side of this street.

How Much Traveled?

How Much Traveled?

There is a small housing development that is an U-shape of three blocks just off of Hillcrest on Tenth street, which is what should have been done with the Augusta Drive project. This foot bridge crosses a drainage ditch, to a path that leads down to the senior center. It’s a great idea, so at least the people who live on these street don’t have to walk on the busy Hillcrest street, even if there’s just an empty field and no walking trails on the other side.

Many tenants...

Many tenants…

When I was growing up, I was in this place many times when it was the Evangelical Free Church, for youth group and various homeschool functions. Since then, E-Free has moved to a big box location that used to be Wal-Mart, and two Lutheran churches have occupied this space. It never made sense to me why E-Free left after all the money they had to put into two additions, but I guess they are happy in their new location, and the old location is still used.

Once in high school, I nearly ended up in the ditch right there in the spot by the fire hydrant. I was seventeen and had not yet learned how to scrape my windshield when it snowed.

Put her up...

Put her up…

Wish they would have put that hope in when I was in high school. (More Seward Stories…)

August Daze and Winds of Change

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Seward Square…

The turning of the calendar to August marked the three month anniversary of my move into my new home. Three months is a season, so a new chapter has been written and something has changed in my head. I can’t wait to find out what that is.

Walking around my new neighborhood is different because of the heat and the trails don’t feel as wide open. Instead, I walk down to the square and sit read or just watch for people. I’m surprised more people aren’t around the square in the evening, but I suppose if there were more people there, I wouldn’t feel like sitting there and reading.

I always enjoy seeing children and young people hanging out and playing around the square, or on the street outside my house. I wonder if the teenagers are dying to get out of this cracker-jack town like I was when I was their age. (Hope their plans for that go better than mine did.) Sitting out there watching the kids from a bench I wonder to myself if I would have been better off leaving this place.

I had grand plans for leaving this place in high school. I didn’t talk about them with most people but simply went on thinking that I would find a new place to call home, because I knew in my heart this wasn’t my home. I still don’t feel like Seward is my home, even if all visual evidence speaks to the contrary.

Even recently, I still feel inside that God is calling me to leave Seward. I’ve seen evidence to that in the last year, but no path has come together, and given my history, I feel I shouldn’t leave this town without certain things in place. But God is still telling me that He has plans for me elsewhere in this world. Maybe I’m just coming up with this stuff as a way to blame my problems on circumstances. Even if I leave this town, I’m still the same person with the same problems, and I can’t expect everything to magically change. But maybe if I don’t expect everything to change, I will make the most of a move…, oh forget it, I’m reasoning this all out.

Road Downtown...

Road Downtown…

Writing has not come as easily this summer. Maybe I have not been putting as many good things into my head, maybe I need more meaningful interactions and clear some things off my schedule. I do spend more time into editing, to see that the hours invested writing projects don’t go to waste. but I can see things in my past that I left unresolved. At the time, it was the easiest thing in the world not to do anything about certain things, but they have caught up to me now. It’s time to take action.

Seward Nooks: Empty Fairgrounds

Sign in

Sign in

My indifference towards this weekend’s Seward County Fair stems from my lack of children, or from having been out of 4-H for thirteen-some years. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll go enjoy the crowd tonight, but I am loosing a favorite walking/quiet time spots for a few days. To show the area as I know it best, I have assembled these photos of the fairgrounds without people, as it is most of the year.

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Mini-Street

If the Seward County Fair was the Wild West, this would be Front Street. Instead, it’s just food and hot tub-vendor alley. There are some good funnel cakes and stuff, but fair food is geared solely geared toward helping feed kids’ sugary desires and helping adults gain back those ten pounds they’ve lost since Christmas. During the year, it looks musty and worn, but the summer heat sells the food.

The Old House...

The Old Spot…

When I was in 4-H, I spent a lot of time in here working the food stand, all proceeds going to our local clubs. I remember getting there at 9 in the morning, straddlers roaming around, probably having no idea that we had cinnamon rolls to go with burgers and hot dogs we always sold. Th short distance between the food stand and the sheep and hogs that were being paraded around must have driven our sales down. At least I hope it did.

Big Kahuna

Big Kahuna…

Oh, the Ag Pavilion, where I brought my 4-H projects and served as host in the 4-H exhibit room. All the big booths for the important businesses and the stage for all of the big, big acts were under the giant aluminium roof. The silver metal walls gleamed in on all the joyful patrons with a bountiful grin, making it the gem of the grounds. Until they built….

The New Kid in Town...

The New Kid in Town.

I don’t remember the exact year that Harvest Hall was built, only that it was after I graduated college in 2005. All the wedding receptions are held over there now, even if it’s just “the new Ag Pavilion”. The original Ag Pavilion itself does feel less crowded during the fair, but I can’t remember a single exhibit from the one time I strolled through the Hall during the fair. I know its outside walls of this corporate barn better than the inside.

Park it Here

Park it Here

This is where I go when I come to the fairgrounds when there’s no fair. I’ve consumed one too many Runza or Amigos meals sitting under this tree, casting the empty brown bags into the green trash can, walking the grounds to unwind afterward.

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Walkspace…

The fairgrounds are my walking trail when I’m bored with my other walking trail. It’s a makeshift footpath that goes in too many circles, but at least I can get 45 solid minutes of walk-time in without passing the same place twice. I go by the cattle sheds, the metal buildings, the stand beneath which the Demolition Derby is held. It’s not a journey like Seward’s actual trail, it’s just a bunch of loops.

Winterscape...

Winterscape…

That is what the ditch by the creek looks like in winter. The tire trends of maintenance cars filed with mud slushee require that I wear my winter boots to walk. The tall grass has turned to yellow straw, the long winter sky stretching on above.

Rapids...

Rapids…

This bend in the Big Blue River is a good thirty yards away from the main fairgrounds, rough waters playing freely without interference. As one can see, the river did freeze partially at this time. I like walking to this spot, even it is right next to the dumping grounds.

Lazy Lake...

Lazy Lake…

But this weekend, there will not be any frozen water, except for ice to make snow cones and keep a lot of drinks cold. I’ll go, hope to see an old acquaintance I haven’t seen in a while, and maybe grab a funnel cake. Oh by the way, I’m probably going to kick it in Omaha on Saturday morning.

Seward Nooks: Loose West Ends

Even though it doesn’t always feel like it, I’ve lived in and around Seward, Nebraska for the vast majority of my life. I drive on the same roads, go to the same stores, and have outlasted several business. The whole town keeps telling me the same story every day, and even though it gets a bit stale sometimes, the story doesn’t totally suck.

So to that end, I put together a diary of some of the nooks around tow. The first little area is one I drove by all the time on Bluff Road/Hillcrest Street back in high school, and still do occasionally when I go to the Pac-‘N’-Save or to visit my uncle.

Bend in the Road....

Bend….

If this road were any good, I probably would have used more than I have, especially when we lived outside of Seward. It is the first country road west of Seward between US 34 and Bluff Road, curving with the river at the road’s north-most point. Every time there are extensive rains, the road turns to mush. I avoid it even on days when it doesn’t rain because the ruts that are left 250-grade pickups have messed the whole road up. When I’m out scouting fields, the ruts on this roads are the benchmarks for terrain I’m willing to go on.

The Bridge...

The Bridge…

This is the bridge on Bluff Road, right next to the curve and the end of the road I mentioned above. Most of the bridges that link country roads across the Blue River in the Seward area are like this: shoddy metal bridges that I would stop in front of if another vehicle was approaching from the opposite direction. And I know it must be a legal issue, but do we really have trucks rumbling down these country roads that get anywhere close to ten tons, much less the fifteen ton, advertised limit?

One that Got Away...

One that Got Away…

I can remember when this little turn off was first cut into East Hillcrest back in the mid-to-late 90’s. It was intended that this would be the second of two streets across from where the E-Free Church was at the time. It’s been fifteen or sixteen years, and not a single piece of ground has broken on this whole lot.

As a matter of fact...

As a matter of fact…

They haven’t even filed in the lots on the other street, Augusta Drive. (In their defense, they’ve come pretty close.) My best estimation, thirty or forty houses have been built in Seward since those curbs cuts were made. But it’s easy to see why nothing has been done. There are plenty of places to build in Seward where you feel more connected to the community.  Meanwhile, this fake sidewalk meanders on. Too bad we can’t get our tax dollars back on this one.

Twist and Shout...

Twist and Shout…

I’ve never heard of an accident at this intersection, but it’s an accident waiting to happen. The road is part of a thru-route and quite busy, there’s a yield sign to the city traffic, and if you turn west, you go straight over the tracks. Seriously, city-planner-who-designed-this, couldn’t you have kept the road on the west side of the tracks until it got to Bluff Road? Okay, I’m sure it’s a flood-plain issues, but I don’t think the issue would be any better or worse going the way you did.

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Bail Up!

East of that road and southwest of that development that wasn’t is this hayfield which gets mowed every so often. It’s not the worst location in the world, except that’s it is probably considered a flood plain. During the Seward County Fair, it be a great place to have a food stand, but until then, someone will probably keep bailing hay there, even it’s just so conspicuous.

Writing Road Notes

Open Road West of Flint

Out There…

Last year, my main method of writing while I traveled was to type notes on my iPod touch during lunches and driving breaks, but this year I haven’t done that as much, for two reason. One, as I have gone back through old posts, I have found that this writing style leaves me with an incoherent narrative, a problem similar to the problem of tweeting-thoughts are broken into too many pieces. If I sit down the day I get back from a trip, I can write a more focused, direct first draft while it’s still fresh.

Two, I just feel more hurried when I’m away from home. I have a house now and wanting to spend time there, given what I’m paying for it and how much I have to do to maintain it. Either way, whenever I’m on the road, I think more and more about how long it will be until I’m back, although Tom staying at my place now relieves my nerves.

The road can be such a lonely place at times. Maybe it’s no more lonely than the rest of my life, but I still feel so isolated when I’m out there, passing miles of other truckers and minivans packed with kids on summer vacations. The gas stations, the hotels, and the restaurants are all same, which is a very comforting thing. But as the wear of the temporal adds up, I have to accept the confidence to let certain details melt away and remain on the asphalt, trusting that if that colorful mural on the side of an aging brick building in central Wisconsin is really significant, I’ll remember it when I get home and write it down.  All part of using the judgment of a good writer.

Whenever I would stop at a rest stop in central Michigan to write about how the shops in Small Town X were, I was doing so out of an insecurity of a novice who was sure he’d forget. Not that I’ve mastered the craft, but I’m more confident in letting the narrative form in my mind. Now I’m ready to face the silence of the road between my destination and home.

Reflected...

Reflected…

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

My Fall Photo Show at the Seward Civic Center: Rails and Rural Stuff

I’ve been mentioning it for a while now, but finally, here’s a post on my show at the Civic Center. Big thanks to Clark Kolterman, Pat, Wayne, and everyone else there for allowing me this great opportunity. In addition to the video, there are a lot of barn, silos, old buildings in small towns, a buffalo, and a boat in a field of grass. (I’m not kidding.)

The reception is going to be Saturday, October 6 from 1-3. RSVP on Facebook and hope to see you there!

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