Today marked our final push through America from one part of the country to another. After today we would not longer be driving great stretched through this land of the free and home of the brave (play ball.)
There were no real plans to do anything. We woke up, and hit the road – destination, Chicago. Kind of, but not really. We were going to Indiana, a town in Indiana pretty close to Chicago. The final stretch of our journey would be spent with a buddy that I had met way back in Europe, when I was staying in Venice. Living forty, fifty, minutes outside of Chicago – albeit in a different state – it seemed like a good way to wind down my journey.
Though there were no plans to do anything between point A and point B plans, of course, materialized on route.
Rolling through Iowa city, we discover that the university of Iowa (go Hawkeyes!) had a free museum in one of the buildings. Finding a place to park took us on a tour of the town. Iowa City is every bit a university town. From the do-it-yourself pottery shops to the new record shops - not to be confused with the used ones filling most cities selling vinyl for one or two bucks an LP - this was a town looking to appeal to every new-youth-adult with a pocket full of their parents money, far away from home. The vegan restaurant, and the independent cinema just went to further the urban cool.
The lawns were covered in students sitting in groups of one, spread the obligatory four meters from all others. Some red books, while others poured over notes – school just getting underway. Others enjoyed the freedom of the outdoors by cracking open their laptops and wandering through the world wide webs.
Walking through the lot we headed into the main building, and up into the University.
The museum covered three floors. The lower floor was mostly an exhibit showing how the others were created. Think of it as taxidermy 101.
The ground floor contained exhibits created detailing the history of Iowa. Rock from millions of years ago was placed alongside modern rock. And rocks(!) from(!) space(!!!) Another case had two native hunters holding spears. There were petrified shark fins, and ancient fish teeth. But the main draw (the one all crayon pictures created by children asked to show their favourite piece) was the giant sloth.
The giant sloth, an ice aged wonder, was a ten foot tall monster which lumbered through the North America forests, which apparently were plentiful during the ice age. I don't know much about that period of time a dozen thousand, or so, years back – so I assume it's possible the world wasn't all ice, no matter what Dennis Leary voiced CGI movies would have me believe.
The Giant Sloth was a magical beast, the type of legends, much like the New Zealand bird, four hundred years extinct. It's thought, much like in New Zealand, that these creatures were hunted to extinction by the early people. Very large, meaty, and slow. Not a good combination.
The third, top, floor of the museum contained the taxidermies specimens of various birds, and mammals. Wolves, and rhinos made this area their home, along with little blue flash cards explaining snippets of their lives. An albatross hung over head, while swans and ducks filled many glassed in cases. In front of one such case a newly minted adult sat with her sketch pad rendering the fowl in charcoal black.
The mammals and birds occupy two different halls on the third floor. This wouldn't be a problem if not for the fact that to access them one needs to walk through a lecture hall. We could have walked down three flights of stairs, then back up three more, but as class was ending, the room emptying of one group, while filling with another, I pounced on the chance to charge through.
The rooms also have a number of skeletons, including one of a human. In an attempt to show we are little different from other animals, a baby blue card was pinned next to that which is us. “Humans are a social animal, usually behaving well in communal groups. However, humans may become aggressive and forceful when in unknown circumstances.”
Iowa City was a welcome stop, not only allowing for the stretching of legs, and free museum, but also for allowing a cultural experience. While I knew University life was big in America, I didn't know just to what extent. In the University book store facial tattoos were being sold for the schools mascot. Streamers, and noise makers could be bought for the football games. There were key chains, bottle openers, and pom poms all sporting the yellow and black. But what was even stranger were the bar-b-que toppers. Cast iron pieces on which burgers and hot dogs could be cooked, searing in the teams name, and logo.
On one side university clothes were on display, while on the other the frat and sorority gear. This was a great divide from what we knew back in Canada.
After Iowa City we drove on. Katherine finished reading The Traveller, and I started to read a book about the quest by leading experts to create a modern day dinosaur by messing with the development cycle of a chicken. Chicken-o-saurus: Dinosaur from the future.
Before rolling into the long driveway in a beautiful gated community, we made just one last and final stop. The birthplace, and tombstone, of Herbert Hoover – former president of these United States.
His birth home? Two rooms. With front and back door open, you could see straight through, and were you to lay on your stomach, with arms and legs extended, you could probably touch the ground on either side of the walls. Still – it was said to be a comfortable place. The recreation of his fathers blacksmith shop is only steps away from the home, staffed by a park ranger who springs into action every time – two or three times an hour, I”m sure – someone walks past the threshold.
Just along the road near by his tomb stone, and that of – I believe - his wife, lay nearby. Free postcard to all those who visit.
And then that was done. Driving on, we made our destination. Introductions all around; a quiet night of watching t.v. and chatting, and being in awe of the decorations (mostly framed, signed, concert posters and related merch) that adorned the walls. Two small dogs, including a far-too-cute Chihuahua named Ren were played with – once more making me reconsider my self imposed ban on pets – and then it was time to sleep.
Drifting off to bed it struck me: this would be the last bed I slept in in all of America. This would be the final bed of my trip – my journey. The year long, and then some, trip would soon end. The next bed I slept in after this would be “my own.”
And while this may not seem like much, I will tell you – it's a huge thought, difficult to even process.
And then, to sleep.