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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

Big Country Little Car Tour II, Day 20: Lincoln, NE to Davenport, IA

Submitted by on August 19, 2011 – 10:15 AM10 Comments

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.




  • cait says:

    I have dreams of rain, but they never cool. Despite loving rain in the waking hours, dreamrain always seems to hover on the horizon, keeping some of one’s senses awake.

    On an unrelated note, how is the non-smoking roadtrip treating you?

  • Liz says:

    Sars, I think next year you need to take the little car of the New England Coast – Route 1 would be a worthy venture and you’ll find lobster shanty knick knacks a-plenty, including, I’m sure, some actual lobster traps that may double as the base of a console table…? I can’t remember if you eat seafood, but if so, you could compare lobster rolls along the way!

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    “non-smoking”…yeah, not so much. I am but human, alas.

    Already drove U.S. 1 back in 1998, but would do it smarter this time.

  • Nanc in Ashland says:

    Ah, the western wind. Some days even the tough trucks get blown all over the danged road! I love your description of Walnut–sounds like my kind of vacation stop.

    Thanks for sharing the journey.

  • jane says:

    Ah, the Iowa wind. By some strange meteorological quirk, no matter what direction you are driving in Iowa, there is ALWAYS a cross wind. Highways, surface roads, it doesn’t matter. It’s always windy in Iowa.

  • Carolyn says:

    I saw a red Smart Car today on my way home and I had to resist from yelling out the window, “Hi, Cam!”

    It definitely wasn’t you, Sars. That would have been embarrassing.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    ha! I don’t know if anyone remembers that, during the active years of the Zodiac case, SF Chronicle reporter Paul Avery thought he was going to get picked off by the Zodiac, and the rest of the Chron staff used to wear buttons that read “I am not Paul Avery.” Maybe I should have bumper stickers made up for the other red Smarts around the country. “I am not Campbell.”

  • Robin says:

    I can’t believe you were seriously looking for maritime decor in Iowa…one of the. most. landlocked. states. in the entire nation…but it’s as good an excuse as any, I guess, to poke through all the Antique and Junque stores in that type of neighborhood! Of course, if you’d gone to LeClaire, Iowa, that’s where the Antique Archaeolgy store is, of “American Pickers” fame, they’d probably have your maritime stuff. For a price! Happy browsing.

  • Kitty says:

    Ahhh the AmericInn, an old friend. For the past 5 years I’ve had to facilitate a Medicare regulation training in northern Minnesota and this is the only decent lodging around, unless I want to drive an hour south to St. Cloud.
    The first time I stayed there I approached the building cautiously but boy was I in for a pleasant surprise. Sure the decor is pure 1990 but the rooms are HUGE with kitchens and a private hot tub(! and comfy beds. And free make-your-own waffles at breakfast! The MN location I stay at also has a wonderful indoor heated pool walled in glass which is always blissfully empty when I’m there in November. There’s nothing quite like swimming laps in warm, humid bliss while watching 2 ft of snow come down outside.

  • Hawkeyegirl says:

    Too bad you weren’t able to stop in Des Moines, Sars, you would have loved/hated the State Fair. It’s quite the event- food, animals, muffin-tops in tight cut-off shorts and tank tops with Garfield on them… it’s a non-stop party!

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