Unwelcome in Iowa

New Yorkers have a reputation for being unfriendly, rude, brusque, but I’ve never experienced that in NYC.  I’ve had strangers hold doors for me while I navigated a double stroller, patiently give me directions, and make change for me when I got on a bus with only dollar bills.

IowaMost of the places I’ve been in the USA have been more or less friendly.

The exception is Iowa.

On Friday, we drove from Fort Wayne, Indiana to Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  It was dusk when we arrived in Cedar Rapids, and we exited Rte 30 at a sign that claimed lodging was near.  We didn’t see any motels, but signs don’t lie, do they?  We drove on, looking for a place to stay.

Moments later, flashing lights were behind us.  Since my husband was driving slightly under the speed limit, we were surprised that the car pulled in behind us instead of passing by us.

A young Iowa State trooper walked up to the car and told us he’d pulled us over because our license plate was obstructed by our bike rack.  He asked for my husband’s driver license and proof of registration, which were handed to him.

Then, he started asking questions.  Why are we here?  Where did we come from?  Where are we going?  Why are we on this road?

Now, we know we don’t have to answer, but we also know that not answering often takes longer, so my husband politely told the officer that we are driving back to Colorado from the DC area, looking for a motel that will accept our dog.

“What were you doing in DC?” he asked.  We were visiting family, and told him so.

The officer walked away to run our tag and we discussed how weird Iowa is, because the last time we drove through it, we were pulled over for the same pretense.  That time:  different road, different vehicle, no bike rack, more kids, different dog, and that state trooper claimed that the license plate was obscured by its frame – that plastic thing that car dealers put on a license plate with their name on it that in no way covers the name of your state or the numbers on your license.

We had plenty of time to discuss the validity of the “obstructed license plate” excuse for traffic stops, because the officer was taking forever, leaving us wondering how long it takes to run a tag.  As we wait, another police car pulls behind the first, and that officer gets out and begins talking with the original one.  Then a third car pulls up and a mini conference ensues.

By this time, bafflement had given way to annoyance.  Okay, mine had.  My husband was bordering on irate and ranting about the unprofessionalism of the line of questioning and the absurdity of needing two back up officers for an “obstructed license plate” stop.

I was being the calm one, saying things like, “I’m sure it is their training.  They’re probably told to be conversational,” and, “Maybe he’s new and nervous.”  As you can imagine, this did not have a soothing effect. It’s really hard to think of pleasant excuses for poor behavior.

There is also no good speculating why three police cars were needed to pull over a middle aged couple with a bike rack on their car.  I suggested that they were profiling middle aged people with sullen teens and sleepy dogs.  My husband suggested they were on a fishing expedition.

We were relieved when the conference finally seemed to be over, and the first officer returned to our car.

Until he asked my husband to step out of the car.

I admit:  up until that moment, I was annoyed, but not worried.  When my husband got out of car, I began to imagine news stories of cops gone bad looking for reasons to beat up fellows twice their age or shooting small dogs without provocation.

While I watched in the rear view mirror as two of the officers quizzed my husband about I did not know what, the third came over to my side of the car to ask me why we were in Iowa.

I resisted the urge to say, “Doesn’t anyone ever visit Iowa?  Are we the only people to cross your borders this year?”  Instead, I reiterated that we were traveling home and looking for a hotel that takes dogs.  Trixie was asleep on my lap, but since the young man’s eyes were searching the back of my car, I thought he might not have noticed her, which did diminish my dog harming fears, but increased my concerns for my teenaged daughter in the back seat.

As if to answer my unasked question, he responded, “Most people take 80.  What are you doing way up here?”

I was right!  Nobody does visit Iowa!

I explained that it was the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Highway, so we were driving it.  We’d only left it to look a motel.

At that point, whatever had transpired between my husband and the other two officers had ended, and he was back in the car.  The officer questioning me backed away and we drove off.

My husband has sworn that we will never drive through Iowa again.

Once is forgivable, but twice is ridiculous.  What is going on in Iowa that they feel the need to harass those who are just passing through?  What did they think we were?  Terrorists?  Or do they simply find it entertaining trying to intimidate travelers?

It’s no wonder nobody visits Iowa.

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36 thoughts on “Unwelcome in Iowa

  1. Wow. I am so sorry for your experience. I would have started out being concerned which would have turned to annoyance and eventually possibly fear. Yikes. I wish there was some answer to why this has happened to you twice but yes—avoid Iowa. I would and I live in Iowa now. But not forever hopefully.
    Please accept “my” apology for this incident—I have no idea why you were harassed and yes—it does seem like harassment to me.

      • It’s crazy! My story is that in our smallish town it took them 3 passes by our house before they stopped when we called them for something. We live on a cul de sac with 5 houses……… :-) Yep. Sad but true.

          • We were glad it was not an emergency….let’s just put it that way. I suspect they were distracted. :-) But it has evolved into a standing joke with my husband and myself and it makes a great story, right?
            I suspect your incident was most likely trying to crack down on drugs. Seems to be a huge issue although I doubt that your route is one that is the normal drug traffic route. Who knows? I wish you had a better experience.

  2. oh. my word! hard to believe that has happened to you both times you were in that state.

    i’m trying to remember if we’ve ever driven through IA??
    it would be interesting to know what was really going on.

  3. I stumbled across your blog and just had to leave a comment. I am so sad to hear your story! But I completely agree with how you feel! Not all Iowans are this way – and I assure you, you are very welcome in our state! :)

  4. Holy cow! That is ridiculous! I certainly will not be driving through Iowa! Slick investigating on their part, too! I’m sure when they ask terrorists what they were doing in DC, they simply say they were planning to blow something up!

  5. Ginger Kay, no need to drive through Iowa next time. You have friends in Missouri who’d love to see you again. ;0) I must admit, however, that the drive through Nebraska is much nicer, in my opinion, than the drive through Kansas.

    In April, when the grand kids were on Spring break, we spent a week in Iowa. I’m happy to tell you that we had a wonderful experience. The Iowans that we had contact with we’re friendly and helpful. Sorry you had such strange experiences. But it did break up the monotony of that long drive. LOL! Did you ever find a motel or did you just keep on going until you crossed the state line? Haha, I would have probably headed for the border posthaste!

    • We usually do drive through Missouri, JoLi, and every time I wish I was not driving through your area at a ridiculously late hour. I’m glad you had a better time in Iowa than I did!

  6. We’ve had experiences like this in New Mexico, and we live here. One time we were pulled over for “crossing a yellow line” on a dirt rode with no lines at all. My husband was asked to get out of the car too. It was really scary. We were just a block from our house. That was the first time I’ve ever been afraid of the police. I thought they were going to beat my husband up. I was 7 months pregnant. Three police cars came. He was eventually given a ticket that a judge dismissed on the grounds that he knew the first police officer and thought he was shady. A few months later the original police officer was promoted to detective (we saw it in the paper), one of the other officers that came was arrested for smuggling guns over the border into Mexico, and the third officer was fired for sending his ex girlfriend threatening pictures involving a gun to her phone. I think we were really lucky nobody got hurt. We’ve had other things happen too. I think it is hard for some people to believe that the police are not always the good guys. I never felt afraid of the police when I lived in CT, but in NM I definitely fear them. We also have the problem here of the police not showing up when they are actually needed. It’s better to call the fire department if you are in trouble!

  7. Wow what a horrible experience! I agree also, Iowans suck, with apologies to the many Iowans who probably don’t suck. The worst person I ever worked with was an Iowan, he was the only person I’ve ever met in my life I would use the word snide to describe. Yeugh!

  8. I think, as a lifelong Iowan the comments cutting us down make me very sad. Iowans DON’T suck. As with ANY place, there are good people and bad people. Good experiences and bad experiences and I find that it is wrong to group people anywhere as a whole. :(

  9. I empathize with your experience & absolutely detest your unwarranted treatment by state troopers. There could have been an amber alert on your make of vehicle or other plausible explanation for the severity of your law enforcement interaction. However, to stereotype all Iowans by this standard is also very poor behavior. I am originally from Missouri but have lived in Iowa since 1998. I have had very pleasant interactions with neighbors, colleagues, friends, strangers, and others. Spreading hatred about a group of people is just as heinous, so please consider this.

    • It seems unlikely that both times I’ve traveled through Iowa, we were stopped for the same pretense. Had we simply been issued an inspection ticket, and not been questioned for such a prolonged period of time, I would not categorize the behavior as harassment. That, however, was not the case.

      I do not believe that everyone living in Iowa is unpleasant, but as a traveler, I don’t have the benefit of interacting with people in their homes or workplaces.

  10. OMG, what a horrifying story!! I would have been afraid, too, and feared that they were going to beat up my husband. I have to say, I live in Toronto (Canada), and in any of my dealings with the police, I’ve always been treated with respect and even kindness. . . even when they gave me a ticket! That’s really creepy.

  11. How absurd. I can only imagine the wacky scenarios running through your head. Could have turned ugly with power-hungry cops in a state no one wants to visit. Glad folks are much nicer in Colorado — a state folks DO want to visit. Also glad you made it home safe and sound.

  12. I used to live in Iowa but have no memories of it (beyond it snowed and I got a sled….) but my Mother when asked likes to point out that Iowa is indeed a four letter word. Scary stuff tho’ and I’m glad that nothing happened.

  13. That is cookoo pants! I can’t imagine what that was all about. One time we were pulled over in the city of Chicago and totally YELLED AT for talking on a cell phone while driving, which didn’t happen. I was on the phone, but I was in the passenger seat, but he didn’t care he just yelled and yelled. It was pretty scary.

  14. We got a photo-enforced speeding ticket form Iowa last month while we were on our way home to Ohio from Montana. I just called to ask about the due-date, as I have no plans to fight something several states away. The officer on the phone was super rude to me. I wasn’t arguing, or asking any question other than “when is the due date for my ticket?” I suppose I was lucky this was a telephone interaction rather than a face-to-face one. Ugh. I have decided I hate Iowa and I will avoid driving through it at all costs.

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