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.