The red haired kid in his early 20s said he was from, “the City.” He pondered what that meant out here, next to a white picket farmhouse on a baseball diamond built in a cornfield, and corrected himself: “I’m from New York.” The three guys shagging balls in the outfield (one Dodgers jersey, one Cardinals, one Rockies) said they came from Queens. I was on the road to Omaha from New Jersey.
So it was that a handful of young people voluntarily drove into the middle of an Iowa cornfield, into the past, to play baseball with people they had never met before. In Dyersville, IA, off of US-20, we came to see the Field of Dreams, and I’m glad we did.
There is a certain quality of roadside stop that compels you to turn off as soon as you see it. It has that magical combination of quirky interest and easy accessibility. It is America, wrapped in cheese cloth and packaged in brown paper tied with string, and it is what I’ve sometimes missed those months I’ve lived outside the US and A.
Such sights are one of the reasons I eschewed the normal westbound stalwart, I-80, in favor of a smaller two lane highway, US-20, on my way across Iowa to Omaha, NE. My choice would be vindicated again a few miles down the road from Ray Cansella’s field (the site of a major motion picture for anyone that hasn’t caught on yet. Amazing, but true, Kevin Costner was a movie star!).
The sign said: Cedar Rock 7. Luckily, I quickly read Frank Lloyd Wright beneath this, and some dormant synapses fired just in time to make a hard right and dash off the exit onto a country road at fantastically dangerous speed.
Cedar Rock was awesome, and the recipient of a coveted Red Tile, which Frank elected not to give to any of his other Iowa designs. Basically, the Red Tile meant that the owners ceded total control to FLW. For his part, Frank went far over budget, methodically hand picked every item, from the flatware up, that went into the house, chastised the homeowners for moving a flower vase when he once stopped by unannounced, and mandated that the house be kept in its original form in perpetuity.
But it’s such a sweet house, built into the very earth of the hill it sits on. Flowers poke through dirt in the living room’s center where the floor tiles abut, forming a volunteer planter with a direct line to Iowa.
It was also obviously a raging swinger’s pad. The owners, Lowell and Agnes Walter, had no children, and everything about the house, from the many interconnected, low-slung, pieces of furniture, to the floor to ceiling windows pointing the way to the private boat house, screams, “Wife swap in…3, 2, 1…” There is wood and brick everywhere, and I loved it.
Unfortunately, due to the combined powers of Moonlight Graham and Austin Powers’ house, I had to forgo the Bridges of Madison County, my final intended movie-themed stop on my tour of Iowa. I also blinked and missed Des Moines. Literally. I saw the sign, sort of let my mind wander, waiting for a skyline, looking at the fuel gauge moving toward empty, and then felt really weird five minutes later when I couldn’t recall seeing anything. It was almost like I had slipped into a brief diabetic coma from all the Starburst and Blow Pops I’d been consuming. At least I made it to Omaha without incident.
My future apartment, in the delightful neighborhood of Benson, will allow me to finally realize my dream of living above a bar and regularly seeing bands I had never heard of before buying a ticket. If you think that future blog posts won’t be written from inside The Slow Down’s walls, then you simply don’t know me. Until then, I’m staying temporarily at my landlord’s girlfriend’s apartment. Fittingly, the place kind of looks like a motel, and comes equipped with cats, an organic garden, and the nicest homeowner, Beth, I could hope to meet.
To prepare for my first night, I stopped by the No Frills Mart to buy some food. From the neck tattoos to the lycra-stretching obesity, it was a half hour lecture on my new Midwestern home come to life. The woman ahead of me paid with foodstamps. If you think I’m judging, you don’t know how little they pay writers these days. I was jealous.
I bought some avocados that were seconds from going off for .67 cents each, a dozen possibly infected eggs for .96 cents, and two boxes of macaroni and cheese for .33 each, or .25 each if I had purchased a mere 10. Returning to Beth’s house, I raided the garden, finding fresh onions, tomatoes, and cilantro. I also found red chiles, and instantly burned my mouth and most of my face trying to taste them. Eventually, I got all the ingredients together with a golf ball of a lime, also purchased sans Frills, and managed to throw together a surprisingly good guacamole.
We sautéed some oil and tortilla into fresh chips, and opened a bottle of white wine, supposedly grown in our very own state of Nebraska. Mick, owner of my future dwelling and boyfriend to Beth, made a fire in the backyard pit. An avid hunter, he had brought over peppers stuffed with prong-horned antelope. I’m normally a fish eating vegetarian, but much as first experience with horse meat in Mongolia, I found the idea of devouring a rare and foreign animal too hard to pass up. The rule, as always: if I have no idea what an animal looks like or tastes like, I’ll absolutely eat it.
I sat and ate, as the fire burned and the sun set over the rim of the horizon. Wine glass in hand, I realized that I had finally made it to Omaha. The road was over.
You could say that there are many periods in a life. The people who usually keep track of them are called authors, and so we call these periods chapters. I am starting a new chapter, after a protracted period of aimlessness, in a new and surprisingly exciting destination.
As the sweet lime balanced the chile in my mouth. I sat recalling the taste of meat, never as unpleasant as I expect it to be after a long period away. When in a contemplative mood, it’s strangely possible to project the quality of your life well into the future. When you are young, these projections range from booooring (most summers) to can’t wait (freshman year of college). You can even do it as an adult. If you’re working a job you hate, you become complacent to the fact that life will probably verge on highly unpleasant for the next six months.
As you grow older, it actually becomes possible to have long stretches of time, years even, that don’t really work out as you plan. You protect their quality, and become strangely confused when it all goes horribly wrong.
I had a friend recently ask me, “When exactly did I lose control?” It’s hard to say for sure. It comes and goes. The sun set, the fire dying, in a new city with new friends doing a job where I set all my own rules, I find it hard to project my life for much more than a few hours at a time. But I’m fairly certain I’m entering one of those good periods, the kind you can see coming from a mile away (give or take 1500 miles). I’ll share it with you.