Big Country Little Car Tour II, Day 20: Lincoln, NE to Davenport, IA
I've found on these trips that biting off a big mileage chunk on a weekend day is a mistake, so I decided to take it easy today, a Saturday — stop and browse around where I could. There's a town between Lincoln and the Quad Cities called Walnut that was evidently entirely antique stores, so I thought I'd stop there.
It wasn't far from the Nebraska border, maybe an hour, but by the time it popped over the horizon, I welcomed the stop, because the wind had started to drive me nuts. After days in the west, I'd become accustomed to some strong winds; signs warn you about them every five miles, and my car is a small, light cube that picks up every breeze. But the wind is different there, broader, heavier. Sometimes, a horse just forgets you're there, timing out a hoof treatment or braiding his mane, and he'll lean on you like you're a fencepost; western wind was like that. This wind was pesty slappy gusts, like a younger sibling.
Walnut had trees, which shielded us, and a perfect summer day on offer: hot, but not uncomfortably so, and breezy, but only enough for contrast. I hadn't even gotten out of the car when a couple approached me, the wife a photographer and the husband with his Dictaphone, to interview me for the town newspaper — what brought me to town, what's up with the car. I gave a little interview and let the wife take what I'm sure will be a wretched picture of me squinting into the sun.
Then I visited each shop, looking for gifts, and for maritime décor for the central hallway at Far Thill (in case I've made it sound terribly grand: it ain't. It's the staircase, and it's crooked as a Quaker graveyard, but we think decorating it like a Cape Cod lobster shanty is a fun goal, so if maybe you know where we can get a good price on nets…?). The very first store I went into was the best one, run by another husband-wife team; the husband packed my novelty plates like a pro, and gave me a buffalo-head nickel and a good-luck ritual to go with it. "Can't hurt," I told Cam, and flipped the nickel. Indian side up meant it went on the left side of her dash, not the right.
I took my time, walked on the cobblestones, eyed the clouds for rain, stopped at a bakery. I examined dozens of hobnail-glass cake plates and Strat-o-Matic games, but resisted buying them; Walnut, IA has what must be the highest concentration of Hamburglar novelty glassware in the world, and I resisted buying any of that, too.
After a few hours, I had to go, and the interstate got back on my nads almost immediately, specifically the Illinois drivers and their habit of pulling in right behind me, swerving drama-queenishly out again, and parking it in the left lane at pretty much exactly the same speed as mine. I mean…okay then? People, the car is made of Tupperware. You bang into me showing off, here's what happens: you shear off a headlight and scrape your shit up to the tune of $650. I get out, pop the plastic armor plate back on, and go on my way, no charge. You want to go 80, go 80; you want to follow me, follow me; you can't do both, simple physics. All day with that, too, acting like I was the poky problem and then choking on the big hills. Cruise control, tough guy. Get the knack.
I perked up a little at the sign for the Bob Feller museum in Van Meter, but it had closed at 3, and I arrived at 3:30. I sat in the parking lot for a little while and took arty shots of the giant baseball out front, not wanting to go back to I-80; my arms already hurt from bracing the wheel at five degrees, and the gusting was cutting into Campbell's MPG.
But the day ended well. I'd never stayed at an AmericInn before, and the room was huge — a living room, a pass-through area with mirror bar and bathroom, and a big bedroom. Two TVs! Two pens! I went to a grill(e) down the street and ate in the "club section," which had deep soft chairs and candlelight. I sank deeply into the leather with my book and drank chardonnay and enjoyed properly garlicky pasta and strong, fresh coffee. A rehearsal dinner chattered and clinked on the terrace outside, under a big tree lit by the big moon.
I must have overcooled my luxurious bedroom, or used too much pepper, something, because I didn't sleep right. It wasn't the coffee, because I could get to sleep, but every time I got there, I didn't want to stay — forgotten nightmares about snow, something with a veil, the promise of rain on Sunday.
Tags: Big Country Little Car Tour Campbell Rapid Robert Feller