No one seemed very excited about our trip to Iowa. “Why are you going to Iowa?” asked most. So I’m pleased to announce the following discovery: Iowa is lovely. Quiet, rural, unassuming – I am assuming this will be a once-in-a-lifetime visit – but still lovely. And as Reddit correctly predicted, the people we met were all delightful, which puts Iowans way ahead of fancy-pants Seattleites.
If you’ve heard anything at all about Iowa, it’s probably because it always snags first spot in the voting schedule for the Presidential primary elections, briefly catapulting the state onto global news bulletins for a few days every four years. With candidates already swarming to
patronise woo the electorate, we were hoping to bump into something political, and as luck would have it our first night’s B&B just happened to be run by enthusiastic Hillary Clinton supporters. So naturally we stuck around the next morning to watch her ‘launch’ speech and pose with banners:
Later on, in unimaginatively-named Iowa City, we dined in Hamburg Inn No. 2 – which it seems is mandatory for any sort of political career in the US – and, in West Branch, we checked out the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum. Hoover is best remembered for being in office during the Wall Street crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression, and the museum’s main strategy for tackling this unfortunate fact is to focus about 80% of the exhibit on his pre-presidential humanitarian efforts.
Hoover’s ‘good guy’ credentials thus burnished, they offer an increasingly desperate series of excuses for Hoover’s failure, culminating in “who’s to say it wouldn’t have been worse without him?”, and then a series of buttons to canvas your opinion on Hoover from ‘Strongly Positive’ (hah!) to ‘Strongly Negative’. I gave him one level up from the bottom. Hell, I can think of worse Presidents…
On Sunday, the weather brightened up and we stopped at Lake Macbride State Park for a spot of swimming and kayaking, which always reminds me of our Wednesday afternoon Sixth Form kayaking lessons down at the Ladbroke Gove canal. Anyway. Kayaking is fun!
Also in Iowa:
- A sign at ‘Family Video’ by the highway promises Report Card A’s Equals Free Rentals!
- It’s not always easy to find vegetarian options on menus.
- But it is easy to find great ice cream at Whitey’s (thanks, Nolan).
- The city of Davenport has built itself a seemingly pointless but enchanting Skybridge.
- Roads are empowered to suddenly declare that ‘pavement ends’ and leave you stranded on miles of unpaved track. We didn’t stay on it long enough to discover what the ‘minimum maintenance’ section would be like.
And in Kalona (population: 2,363) the large proportion of Mennonites gave the place a distinctive feel:
“Not This Frog”
As I say, everyone was super-Mid-Western-friendly. We so enjoyed talking to Daisy, the owner of Iowa City’s A Bella Vista, that we risked the late return of our rental car to stay and chat longer. But the final word should go to owners of Strawberry Farm Bed & Breakfast after we finally turned up at 11pm. Despite the late hour they launched into a discussion of their dog, their neighbours and – most importantly – the frog which was currently perched on their front door.
“Do you know what this is?” the guy asked, but my hopes of being the unexpectedly knowledgeable city boy (“it’s a frog!”) were soon dashed as he began to list possible species. “It reminds me of having dinner under the skylight when we were growing up”, his wife added, “and we’d look up and see this frog. Not this frog.”
Perhaps we were just tired, but it felt like a moment.
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