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Excerpts of Iowa Travel Diary
State 30 - IOWA 18 SEP 99 - 30 SEP 99



Our cell phone is dead so I have to call Leo from a phone booth at a nearby convenience store. A throng of teenagers are hanging around the store, smoking cigarettes and teasing each other in a cloud of young voices and toxic smoke. I plow through the field of teens and look for a phone inside the store. Unfortunately the phone is right by the door with an automatic "Ding-Dong" that chimes loudly whenever a customer or teen walks over the threshold. Again I excuse myself through a crowd of teens and make my way to the public phone. All voices stop. All eyes watch me cut a path through their group, and then, like magic, the shrill tones pick up again to their previous pitch and volume. Call Leo -- can barely hear him -- but he can hear me, so I yell out my new address to him. I'm about to hang up when I remember the flowers . . . "Hey, Leo, did you get any flowers recently?" He moans, "Oh yeah. And boy, did I get some kidding. They arrived while I was at lunch. When I came back, all the guys were snickering. They said some gay guy sent them to me. I was going to throw them in the trash when I thought I better read the card. It took me a while to figure out they were from your mother." I explain how mum got teased, too, when she called the florist, a longtime friend of the family, and said she wanted to send flowers to a man she didn't know. The florist said, "That's okay. I won't tell anyone." So mum had to suffer some kidding, too. I ask if he gave the flowers to his wife. "Yep. I did. But I didn't say they were from me. I'm not that much of a louse."

A break with the past

While eating pasta last night my tooth broke. Pasta, of all things! Probably the softest food in the world. I couldn't believe it. Just a small break, a sliver, and if it wasn't for the sharpness of the ragged edge, I'd forget about it, but my tongue is being ripped to shreds. Perhaps an emery board will fix it. Ken is against unorthodox self-treatment, so I smuggle an emery board out of his view and sneak off to the bathroom mirror. No good. The break is in too odd of a place; the emery board won't fit in that small curve. This morning I call my regular dentist for advice. Roadside dental work was one of my fears while embarking on this road trip (that, and any possible ER visits.) In my whole life I've only had two dentists, now I have to go to a strange office and have an Iowa stranger probing my mouth. Oh, I don't like it. Not one bit. On the phone my regular dentist warns me that the foreign dentist will try to talk me into a crown. "Just tell him you're only passing through and to bond it until you can see your regular dentist." Okay. Now to the Yellow Pages to find a dental office that accepts emergencies --and Visa. Get an appointment for tonight. They tell me it will be $39 just to walk in the door. Anything after that is extra. In the end the dentist files down the rough spot so I won't shred my tongue. Hope it holds till I get home.

Farmer's Ice Cream

We go to a sweet little town today. Too cute. The entire town square encompasses one block around a small common and a tiny gazebo. Across from the postage-stamp common is a row of stores: two bars, a hardware store and an ice cream shop. The ice cream shop, called "Farmer's Ice Cream" is appealingly old-fashioned: a white wooden building with red trim and red and white striped awnings. Beneath the awnings are white flower pots with red geraniums flanking the red-trimmed glass door. Ever since Olympia, WA, we've had a hankering for a Butterscotch sundae. Today we determine this sweet shop to be the place. Oh. What's this? Shop doesn't open until 3:30 PM. Well, that's just 15 minutes away, we can wait in the gazebo and people watch. Several people approach the ice cream shop, try the door, and when it doesn't open, peer into the windows, scrutinizing the inside. Then they read the sign on the door posting the hours. Now a crowd accumulates around the door, lingering until the shop opens. The wait is making the ice cream that much more desirable. It's tantalizing. The waiting. The watching the door, and counting the number of people lining up. Well, now we've lost our place, we'll be seventh in line. It's 3:32 and the store is still not opening. 3:36 . . .still no activity. The body language of a bald, fat guy shows he's losing patience. He looks at his watch. Looks at the shop. Peers in the window. Throws he cigarette on the sidewalk. Steps on it like he's stepping on the owners of the shop. Others in the crowd peek in the window again. A few try the door again. Not open. Now it's 3:40. Door opens, crowd of ice-cream seekers files in. Ken and I cross the street and get in line. The pimple-faced teenager who opened the store announces it will take seven minutes for the machine to get ready. Machine? What kind of machine is needed for ice cream? The crowd takes a seat, waiting for the "machine." We sit among the crowd, waiting. I whisper to Ken. "What machine? Do you think it's soft-serve, not real ice cream?" I approach the teen behind the counter. It's confirmed. Soft-serve only. I dunno . . . do I want to go off my diet for soft-serve? (But we waited so long.) Okay. We return to our seats, wait our turn, get the sundae. Dairy-whipped ice cream with some Butterscotch sauce on it. "Hey! Where's the whipped cream?" I challenge the teen. "Oh, we're all out." Well, the expression on my face must have looked as though he said, "I just killed your grandmother," because he rushes to appease me before I started crying. "Wait! Wait! Let me see if I can find some in the back." He runs off, and returns with what looks like a giant toothpaste tube with all the contents squeezed out. With all his strength, he squeezes little droplets around my pathetic butterscotch dairy-whip. Ken and I sit down, eat our imitation ice cream.. Very chemical tasting. "It tastes like I'm eating furniture polish," Ken whispers to me so as not to offend the other patrons who clearly enjoy the taste of artificial ice cream. Back in the truck, we are both sick. And both of us have this really strange bad breath. Never experienced bad breath like this before. My mouth feels like its lined in Saran Wrap. Well, so much for "Farmer's" Ice Cream. It surely did not originate from any Farm.

Carnival People

While we were sleeping last night a bunch of trailers moved in beside us. Our new "neighborhood" is now a row of old, rusty, dilapidated trailers. And its occupants look like carnival people. You know, the people who stand behind low counters at carnivals and beg you to try you luck. "Win a Teddy Bear for the lady." I don't know what makes me say this. It's the look on their faces, I guess. An expression of tired disgust. Of world-weariness. I remark to Ken, "They look like carnival people." He readily agrees. From my breakfast table I see them all congregate with their cell phones, reporting to each other on the upcoming conditions -- just like the carnival people we saw in San Antonio a while back. Only the ones in San Antonio for the Big Festival had new trailers painted in matching carnival colors and they all wore matching colored tee-shirts. They must have been high-priced carnival people. Yet, they still had that same "look." It's a deadened look. Lifeless. It says, "I've seen it all. Nothing can surprise me." At the office later we see a sign that the town is having its Fall Harvest with . . . a carnival! So I had guessed correctly.

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