Maybe you’ve heard, maybe you haven’t and so you are about to read about it now, but I’ve decided to write a book. And in that book, what I will do is travel around the country and visit dinosaur museums, and tell stories about them. It will be a fun travel log, and also there will be stories about digging up dinosaurs and stuff. It will be awesome, and in five or six years when it finally comes out (because I’m doing this with a budget of basically nothing) you should totally read it. That being said, it occurs to me that I’ve never written a travel log before, so maybe I need some practice. Enter Travelblog! Where I write about my wacky adventures traveling!
So last month the dynamic duo of Patrick and Justin went to Ames, Iowa for the birthday of our friend Terry. I’m not sure which one of us is Batman and which is Robin, but whatever. Patrick was going because he felt guilty about Terry coming to Bloomington for Patrick’s own birthday. I was going because, you know, it’s not like I had anything better to do that weekend. Our friend Lily (who was the person we met Terry through) offered to let us crash at her place, so we were all set. And thus, one Friday afternoon the two of us had lunch at 2:30, and then we headed west, to the wild, untamed wilderness that is.... Iowa....
Within the first fifteen minutes of crossing the border into the greenish amorphous blob that some people call a “state”, it became increasingly clear that everything I’d assumed about Iowa is true. It is a wasteland. Trust me, I am a dude who has played a lot of Fallout, I know a wasteland when I see one.
Seriously, from the Iowa/Illinois border to the city of Ames is a bitch of a drive, and that’s before you throw shitty directions that skip a highway changeover into the mix (for the record, Patrick was the one who was supposed to get directions, even though I was driving). Until hitting Des Moines, other than farmland and ‘towns’ that apparently consist entirely of a strip-mall and a McDonald's, we saw precisely two things of interest. And I’m using a pretty broad definition of the word ‘interest’ because those two things were the self-proclaimed largest truck stop in the world and an airplane. I think the pinnacle of Iowasuck* had to be Iowa City. As soon as we crossed Old Man River into Iowa, we started seeing signs telling us Iowa City was just 40 miles away. 40 miles later, Interstate 80 greeted us with a sign that proudly announced to us that we were in fabulous Iowa City! Home of the University of Iowa and... and.... and other awesome stuff!
The problem? Well, as far as we could tell, Iowa City doesn’t actually exist. Like some sort of modern El Dolrado, no matter how hard we looked for it, there was no sign of Iowa City anywhere**. There was a house or two, and some more fields of pointless crap, but no sign of a city, anywhere. Patrick speculated that maybe the city was actually underground, and that perhaps the entire state, rather than being an empty wasteland of boring bullshit, was actually composed of an advanced labyrinth of complicated cities and cultures, ruled by a race of mole-people. God, I hope he is right, because otherwise Iowa is depressing as hell.
Either way, civilization finally arrived, in the form of Des Moines. Now, full disclosure, we never actually stopped in Des Moines, so I can only discuss it in terms of someone who saw it as he drove past it on the highway. That being said, it seemed... nice enough? I mean, my opinion is probably tainted by how much the rest of the state had sucked so far, but they had an airport, and a zoo, and it seemed pretty nice, for a city in the middle of a wasteland. Truth be told, though, this is exactly where Patrick’s shitty map came into play. Patrick blames Goggle Maps, Lily says Patrick is just a shitty writing-down-directions guy, I choose to remain Agnostic on the map-suckage-getting-us-lost issue. Anyway, by the time we realized that we were lost, we were visiting John Wayne’s birthplace, which means I know more about John Wayne than Michelle Bachmann. I am fairly sure this is one of several topics where I know more about said topic than Michelle Bachmann, but I digress.
After Patrick consulted with Lily- and I looked at an actual map that I ‘borrowed’ from a gas station- we were back on the right track, and soon in Ames. And that’s about the time we realized we had entered the Bizarro universe, presumably at the same point we crossed the Mississippi. You see, Ames is the home of Iowa State University, which we knew going in. Now for those of you who aren’t from BloNo, Normal (the ‘No’ part of ‘BloNo’) is the home of Illinois State University. So, we knew the acronyms were the same going in. But as we drove past signs for the school, we realized that both schools used the same font for their signs. This... was odd. But okay, whatever, we thought.
Anyway, we shrugged it off, because frankly, after 6 hours of driving, most of them boring as fuck, we just wanted to start drinking, and that meant we had to find Lily’s house and park the damn car. So, we get there, it’s like ten o’clock, Pat and I are hanging at Lily’s, Terry is there, and the dynamic duo is hungry as hell. Turns out, Terry hadn’t eaten yet either, so Lily and Terry told us of a bar that had a pizza place right above it. Pizza + Booze? Yeah, Patrick and I were sold.
We made on our way towards said pizza-bar-combo (whose name escapes me, not that I actually care). Along the way we walked past the SERIOUSLY MOST AWESOME THING WE’D SEEN SO FAR. It was the hollowed out shell of what used to be a Taco Bell, that apparently closed a few years back. But apparently, the town of Ames recognized the importance of this famous former monument to bad taste, and gave the place a FRIGGIN’ MEMORIAL PLAQUE. Now, Lily might come at me with “facts” that describe “reality” and tell me its a plaque teaching about the house that used to be there which was the first house ever in the city of Ames, and that the bulldozing of said house years ago leading to the eventual Taco Bell that isn’t even there any more is indicative of American “fuck you, history” culture ignoring our rich history. But you know... Taco Bell Memorial Plaque? Much funnier. So let’s stick with that.
It’s fairly traditional that whenever I go off to some bizarre foreign land, I leave some small piece of culinary wisdom behind me to astound the locals. In Cyprus, I taught the natives the art of the Jagerbomb, and the drunken orgy with the entire wait staff that resulted remains one of the best nights of my life. In London, I schooled them in the zen of dipping french fries (or as they call them, ‘chips’) into barbecue sauce, leading to what I can only assume was a culinary revolution in English cuisine. And in Oklahoma I showed everyone that it was fucking stupid to stop selling booze at 9 pm, but that state is run by morons, so no such luck there. And Iowa, it turns out, would be no different.
After reaching the bar, we got our drinks, and I placed an order for Patrick’s and my pizza. My order, however, was apparently a deeply shocking and outrageous choice, the likes of which Iowa had never seen (this being the same city that is currently boasting “deep fried butter on a stick” at the 2011 Ames GOP Straw Poll, remember). This choice? Sausage and pineapple. It’s a Patrick and Justin classic! It’s like Hawaiian Style, only with a much tastier part of the dead pig! Lily was appalled. Random-Dude-Lily-knew-sitting-with-us had his mind completely blown. The waitress was deeply confused, and Terry was just grateful for some free pizza. Terry is a swell dude, you guys.
So for the rest of the night (10 to 3, basically), we drank, ate pizza, drank some more, talked about how awesome Patrick and I were, and how lame Iowa was. Terry would laugh and approve, Lily would get all indignant and remind us that Ames was one of the safest cities in the country. *Yawn*. We wrapped up the evening at the Korrito stand (apparently a korrito is a Korean burrito. Who knew?), and headed home.
Day two was a lot less exciting, mostly because, as started before, Iowa is a very boring place (but with some tasty food). I can back this up with science. You see, that night was the birthday party for Terry, and this is what we did before heading to the party that night: Ate breakfast, watched two episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, went to a coffee shop, went to a video game store, went to a comic book shop, and ate dinner. GUYS: THESE ARE ALL THINGS WE DO ALL THE TIME. Seriously, if you had to define Patrick and me with one sentence each, they would be “Patrick is a dude who is seriously into video games,” and “Justin is a dude who is seriously into comic books.” When I’m on a big fancy trip and all I do is stuff I normally do every day, that means that the place I’m taking a trip to is boring.SCIENCE FACT.
Oh, but here’s where Ames proved it really is the Bizarro BloNo- I already talked about the similar names, and the identical fonts, but here’s ISU’s mascot at home:
...and here’s the evil parallel universe duplicate from Iowa State University:
HOLY HELL! This got me thinking, though, because Lily was right, Ames is one of the safest places in the US. Crime is super low, the food is apparently amazing, and 4 out of their last 7 governors weren’t sent to jail. The Bizarro aspect was confirmed, but what if.... what if the Bizarros were us?
But fuck that nonsense! Sure, Illinois is openly corrupt, and Illinois State is riddled with STDs, and the police in BloNo are so messed up that they deny the existence of gang activity in the city (despite the shootings, gang territories, and the well known drug runs). But damn it, at least things at home weren’t BORING. Things actually happen in Illinois, we have the coolest damn city in the world here! History’s worst baseball team is here for us to make fun of! (Sorry Cub fans, but deep down you know I’m right) Al Capone used to drive down Route 66 to steal maple syrup from the Funk’s farm outside my home town! That is awesome!
So maybe we were evil. Maybe everyone else thinks we’re the most fucked up state in the union. But that’s just because everyone else is blown away by our awesomeness. So, Iowa, you keep your politeness and safety and significantly less corrupt civil servants, you’re still lame as hell. (Terry’s birthday party was lovely, by the way.)
…. Which brings me to day three: the escape attempt.
When we awoke Sunday morning a gentle thunderstorm was in the area, nothing too serious, so we thought little about it. We said our goodbyes to Lily and her roommate Lauren, packed up our stuff, and drove off into the city. The rain started to pick up a bit, and then some more, and then we realized that the way out of the city had been locked down with construction. Where had that construction been Friday night? It wasn’t a problem then. Was... was the city trying to keep us from leaving? No, the city hadn’t turned into a soul stealing living thing. It was actually much, much worse.
We kept driving around, trying to find a way out to the highway as the rain turned to sheets. The sky had turned black with rage, the windshield wipers going as fast as they possibly could, just so that we could barely see the road ahead. Finally, we managed to make it to the highway, and we thought we had made it- until hail the size of small rocks started falling out of the sky. It was then that we realized how much shit we were really in, as the sky itself, opened as if some vast, inter-dimensional portal was being created. Over the sounds of thunder and hail ruining my car, we heard the sounds of animals pulling a cart- ANGRY animals pulling a cart. “On Toothmasher! On Toothgrinder!” a bellowing voice cried out, with the lightning and hail intensifying.
I swerved to avoid a lightning strike on instinct. Somehow the car next to us just exploded out of nowhere. A hailstone crushed a highway sign. “Shit dude, I’m glad you’re the one driving,” Patrick whispered next to me. As carnage surrounded us, we were being chased by the mighty Thor himself, and somehow, I knew, I JUST KNEW that this was a challenge. A test, for my mortal hubris.
I had done nothing but mock Iowa this entire trip for being lame, and this was the gods of my ancestors’ answer. “You think you’re such hot shit? Your ancestors were viking warriors! They died in glorious battle! They were so hardcore that they rowed a fucking row boat all the way to America from god damn Scandinavia four centuries before the fucking Spanish! Their gods got drunk and beat the hell out of giants, because they were bored, damn it! They were the most bad ass group of badasses in the history of forever, and you think you’re so damn awesome? Little mortal, this is your test. You can either pull over to try to wait out this shitstorm of horribleness, or you can risk your life for no reason other than stubbornness and glory!” Thor didn’t actually say all that, but I JUST KNEW that’s what this crapfest of awful weather was all about. And my choice was clear. As a nightmare of fire, ice, and lightning brought us ever closer to death, I pressed on, because to hell with dishonoring my ancestors! To glory!
We pressed on, other cars and their drivers dying all around us, but we had almost made the cities limits. As the earth itself began to crumble around us, the highway falling apart, the sky itself shattering, the car lept into the sky like so much General Lee. We landed outside the city limits, and I turned one last time to look at the Thunder God, who stopped, and whispered simply, “Well met.” Suddenly, the storm mysteriously disappeared, the sky turn blue again, and it was as if none of it had ever happened.
There’s not a lot to say after surviving a death race with a Norse god to determine if you’ve got big enough balls, and Patrick and I said very little on the return journey. There was no need to. We had just been in a staring contest with forces far beyond our control, and they were the ones to blink. It had been quite a trip, and while it’s ending was somewhat unexpected (and terrifying), it was sure as hell not boring. Maybe I’d been a little too hard on Iowa, there really wasn’t anything wrong with it. I can’t say I didn’t have a good time.
And hey, it could have been worse. I’ve driven through Missouri before.
*The term ’Iowasuck’ copyright 2011 The Amazing Justin Palm!. All rights reserved.
** I’ve been told by the Ames natives that you can’t see much of Iowa City coming through I-80, but if you come to the city from the south instead of from the east, you get this great view of how awesome it is. Frankly, I call bullshit on this, mostly because I don’t really give a damn, and its funnier this way.