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.


Eating what I’m served.

During my visitation, I try to be an agreeable guest when in the homes of my family and friends.  Although I am known to be a picky eater, I do eat what I am served unless I know it will make me sick.

That means I eat a lot of food I would never eat at home, which is not a bad thing.

“Would you like a grilled cheese sandwich?”

I so rarely eat in other people’s homes now that I forget that they use white bread and American cheese when they make a grilled cheese sandwich.  I don’t think I have ever purchased American cheese or white bread, although at least one of my children wishes we’d been a white bread family.  It might have been a bland sandwich, if my friend hadn’t also offered tomatoes.
Farm Fresh Tomatoes
This summer, the local farm stand tomatoes are delicious, bright red to their center, juicy, and flavorful.  I’d almost forgotten what a real tomato tastes like.  No wonder I rarely buy them at the grocer’s.

“I know you don’t eat meat, so I made chicken.”

I always tell people not to plan meals around me.  I am quite happy eating the veggies and skipping the meat course of a meal; it’s what I do at home when I cook for my family.  When people tell me they made chicken especially for me, though, I am flummoxed.

Should I explain that chicken is meat?  It seems rude, so I eat a small a portion and hope my digestive tract doesn’t hate me for the next couple days.  I would not know if it did, Cupcake made with lovebecause my entire body is hating me right now for sitting it in a car for hours every day and eating dessert everywhere I go.

I can’t help it.  I’m special occasion to everyone, and they all make dessert for me.  Homemade.  It would be heartless to say, “No, thank you,” to a cupcake loving made and decorated by an eight year old.

“I forgot you don’t eat this.”

Until I arrived, my mother in law forgot that I can’t eat mayo (it does make me sick), so her beautiful luncheon of chicken and tuna salads was out of the question for me.  I was so happy when, without a fuss, she offered to scramble eggs for me.

I never realized she added condensed milk to her eggs before.  No wonder they taste so creamy.  I should try that for guests at my house.

I did remember that my in laws eat cool whip.

Pretzel Delight, the jello dish of my husband's childhoodThe only time I’ve bought cool whip was to make the very dessert she served:  pretzel delight.  I made it for my book club once, when we’d read Bill Bryson’s Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, which mentioned his memories of the many jello salads served during his childhood.  Pretzel Delight was the jello dish of my husband’s childhood.

I am not a fan of jello, or cool whip, and could happily scrape those layers away and eat the entire tray of pretzel, butter, and sugar crust.  I don’t, of course.  I eat a neatly cut square.

As I write about it, I am wondering what non-jello, non-cool whip concoctions I could place atop a pretzel crust.  I’m going to experiment with this when I get back to Colorado.  I’m thinking tart apples and a caramel sauce.  Or berries with slightly sweetened cream cheese.  Or peanut butter mousse and dark chocolate.

I’ll let you know if anything works out, because, if you’ve never had it, you need to try a pretzel crust.

Passport to Dream

Passport to DreamMy passport expired earlier this year.  I only used it a couple times in the ten years it was valid, and I don’t anticipate using it in the foreseeable future.  Yet, I’m sad that it is gone.

Without it, I cannot buy tickets to Italy at a moment’s notice; my husband cannot sweep me away for a romantic getaway to Paris; and I can’t decide that this is the month I should see the Great Wall of China.  Nor could I take an impromptu Kenyan safari or visit a friend in Brazil or England or anywhere else.

Not that I did any of those things in the ten years I had the passport, but I imagined I could.

Without it, I may as well schedule those dental exams six months out and accept the fact that I really will be home.  I may as well stop wondering if these shoes would be comfortable walking all day on cobblestone streets or which is the best season in Prague.

I enjoy my delusions of globetrotting, but are those dreams worth the $150ish fee for renewing a passport?

Three Minute Road Trip


My road trip looked nothing like this, but you really would not want to see a time lapse of Route 70 from Denver to DC.  The first half of it is pretty much nothing, followed by billboards and XXX Truck stops.  The second half is Billboards with Antique Villages rather than XXX establishments, which I find an improvement.

Also, many places claim to have the best pie.  They all lie.  Good pie is harder to find than one would think.

We drive Rte 70 because it is fast, not because it is scenic.

This year is the centennial of the first road across the USA, the Lincoln Highway, so we are thinking of driving it home.  I’m actually excited about it.  It will take longer, but I am hoping for good pie.

What can I say?  I’m an optimist.


The monotony of travel

On Friday, I’ll be leaving town for two weeks.  It’s the same trip we make every summer.

It is one of the unanticipated downsides to moving here.  When we lived within a few hours of our parents and siblings, we took vacations every year.  Since moving here, we’ve used our vacation time and funds to visit our families.

Mount RushmoreAt first, we tried to invite them to come here, or plan joint trips.  That worked exactly once with each parental set, but at least we were able to visit the Grand Canyon and Mt. Rushmore before our parents decided we live too far away for them to travel here again.

So every year for almost a decade, sometimes more than once a year, we pile into the car and make the trip from Colorado to Maryland.  I love my family, but these trips are not vacations.  They’re visitations.

Yesterday, I spent hours selecting and putting audio books on hold.  Nearly a dozen of them.  Because there is nothing worse than driving 26 hours on route 70 without books.

Sometimes we drive straight through, not even stopping for the night.  By we, I mean my husband; I barely drive.  Sometimes we try to break the monotony by getting off the beaten path for at least part of the drive.

Rocky Ridge, home of Laura Ingalls WilderOne year we visited Rocky Ridge, the home Almanzo Wilder built for Laura Ingalls Wilder, and another time we stopped by the site of the Little House on the Prairie.  Well, my daughter and I toured Rocky Ridge; my husband and son walked the dogs.

Last year my husband and daughter visited the Grave Creek Mounds in WV while I walked the dog around the fence line.

Another year we stopped in Columbus, Ohio and saw a replica of the Santa Maria.  It was early Sunday morning, so we walked the dogs around the park while looking the ship.  It, like the Dunkin Donuts we were seeking, was closed on Sunday mornings.

The dogs may be a nuisance when we play tourist for a few hours, but I like having them with me when I arrive at my mom’s.  They give me a reason to go outside, away from the television which is always on.  Besides, I worry about Trixie dying if I leave her behind.  (She has cancer and sometimes refuses to eat when I’m away.)

On the road, they help me, too. Wherever you go, there you are.  I always volunteer to be the dog walker when we stop to eat.  I’d rather walk around than go from sitting in the car to sitting in a restaurant to sitting in the car again.

I also volunteer to stay in motel rooms while others eat or swim so the dogs don’t bark.  In the morning, I take them for a walk while my family eats breakfast.

I walk the dogs more away from home than I do when we’re at home, because it is a good excuse to be alone and active.  Honestly, I value the time alone more.

Walking is definitely beneficial.  Sitting in a car for 26 hours wreaks havoc on my crooked back, but the psychological effect of solitude and quiet restores me in a different way.  Walking the dogs makes me feel purposeful instead of anti-social.

St. Louis Gateway ArchEvery year we debate stopping at the St. Louis Arch, but we never have because my husband and I cannot agree on who will go up to the top with our daughter.  We both want to walk the dogs while the other goes inside.

I’m not sure if or where we’ll be stopping this year, but if you see a lady in black compression knee socks walking a dog, it’s probably me.

This post is part of a BlogHop at Generation Fabulous, where you can read tales of more Transformative Travel.

Travel Anxiety: Carry On or Not?

Today I am packing for my Thanksgiving holiday.  Well, I will be packing, later, after I’ve done laundry.  And goofed around a bit.  Okay, I’ll be packing my one carry-on ten minutes before I go to bed tonight.

I always leave packing until the last possible moment.   Why?

1.  If I packed days ahead of time, I’d have nothing to wear in the interim.
2.  It keeps me from overthinking what to pack.
3.  My dogs start panicking when they see the luggage come out of the closet.
4. I’m a procrastinator.

I think if I traveled with more, or to someplace that did not have a washer/dryer, I’d have to plan ahead a bit, but I’m a light traveler.  I have one suitcase that was sold as being carry-on size.  That is almost true.  It is just slightly bigger than regulation for carry-ons.

Every time I fly (which is not often), I worry that the flight crew will tell me to try to fit it in that little metal carry-on sizing device and then reject it because it doesn’t fit.

As I stand in the boarding queue, I eye the sizer, picturing myself shoving it in there as hard as I can, and then it getting stuck and not being able to get it back out while the rest of the travelers stare, either disgusted by my rule breaking or relieved that the jammed sizer will not be able to detect their own slightly big carry-ons.

My daughter would be mortified.

This trip, I’m flying Frontier, which charges for each checked bag, so I am especially concerned about that possibility.  My husband assures me that we could afford the $25, but if I am going to be charged for a bag, I want it to be huge, not a paltry inch too big.

If I knew I’d have to pay for a bag, I’d do my Christmas shopping this morning and take it all with me.  I’d pack small appliances that I rarely use and give them to my son.  (He was the only one who ever used the George Forman grill anyway, and I still have the ice shaver I bought him when he was 8? to make snow cones.)

Have you ever been forced to check a bag you’d hoped to carry-on?

If you have, warn me now.