by: Sara Squires
I was driving down I-35 to meet you a few weeks ago. My former assistant/new Director of Inside Sales Wendy was in the passenger seat and we were making fabulous time, chatting away as the miles flew past. One of the first things we gabbed about was the fact that, although you and I have spent some time together in the past, it was always a hectic drive-through, on the way to some other distant state. I’ve never actually come down there specifically to meet you, to stay in your flat pasture lands or explore your many interesting hangouts. I have never, dear Iowa, just come to spend time with you. We’ve been neighbors all my life, and this would be our chance to really get to know one another.
I’m not sure what I expected. I have heard stories about you, dear Iowa, but I’m not one to believe all the gossip.
Wendy and I were on our way to our Midwest newspaper conference at an event center outside Des Moines, so we were able to drive through the heart of dear Iowa. We noticed that the rumors are true — you are pretty flat. But coming from Winona’s bluff country, there was something rather poetic about the change of scenery; we could see for miles and miles and miles.
The event was held at a huge casino and racetrack convention center. Wendy and I had never been in such a place, and we were excited to explore it. Just before we hit our exit, we stopped to grab a few supplies. Forty-five minutes and about two miles of traffic jam later, minus any supplies found, we both remembered why we have chosen to live outside the big city — that many people is irritating. So, dear Iowa, we found that your reputation for being a flat, small town state to be wildly untrue; even your suburbs can be rather large and unmanageable.
After losing 45 minutes to our fruitless supply mission, we didn’t have much time to check in and get settled before the banquet began. I’ve never been to this conference before, but was lured there (this was the one that they suggested I bring a wheelbarrow to collect our awards) and brought Wendy along for the discussion groups and sales training sessions that would be held the day after the awards banquet.
What happened next is the kind of thing that I sometimes dream about. Before heading to an awards ceremony, I’ll let myself drift off into wishful thinking land. “We’re going to win ALL the awards,” I’ll imagine, just for a moment. Then I’ll remind myself that the thought is not just unlikely, but entertaining it only fuels disappointment with the awards we do win, and I put it out of my head.
This time, though, it happened. As the MCs went through the design awards, we picked up quite a few. Then, we swept an entire category — front page masthead design, and a bit of giggling bounced around the convention hall. No one wins an entire category, first through third place, I thought. But then the next one, the first writing category came onto the screen — again, every award going to the Winona Post. And then the second writing category — each place attributed to our own staff. The giggling turned into outright laughter, and the applause was resounding, our colleagues from around the Midwest recognizing the feat we’d accomplished.
I turned to Wendy. “This never happens!” I whispered loudly. Having judged many newspaper conferences in the past, I’ve only awarded the same publication twice a couple times, and I’ve never given every award to one newspaper. What an incredible honor; I pinched myself more than once that night.
The following day we headed out for a few workshops before hitting the road again and traversing the plains of our dear Iowa. This time, we weren’t rushing to get to anything, so we had a little more time to observe our dear, southern neighbor.
Coffees in-hand, we began plotting where we’d stop for lunch later on, and decided we needed to stop for a little rest beforehand. A sign announcing an upcoming rest stop was welcome, and we pulled off the Interstate to stretch our legs and use the rest room. Except, dear Iowa, there wasn’t a rest room. There wasn’t anything at this rest stop except a parking lot and a pile of gravel. We peered around — is there not even a port-a-potty behind a bush somewhere, we wondered. No. No, dear Iowa, you didn’t not have a rest room at this rest stop, and we scratched our heads over this oddity and got back on the freeway.
A few miles later was another sign, announcing a rest area that even had its own name: “Modern Rest Stop.” “Modern!” we laughed. Does modern, in Iowa terms, mean running water, toilets? Apparently not. Modern, in this instance, must have simply meant a lack of a pile of gravel, because this rest area was even more barren than the last — a litter-strewn field. We cruised back onto the Interstate, laughing with you, not at you, dear Iowa, and began to take our bathroom quest more seriously.
There were no more exits with anything that looked like a bathroom as far as the eye could see until we got to the Minnesota border, where dear Iowa boasted her big, welcome to Iowa rest area. These are the kinds of rest stops where states show themselves off with toilets and pop machines and dog walking areas and all the fixings, we told ourselves. This one absolutely had to have running water. And it did! It was even in a classy barn, built in the ‘90s, with a silo pointing to the sky, a list of rather strict Iowa rest area rules tacked to its side.
We did not get in trouble with the rest area police and were on our best behavior, as we said goodbye to dear Iowa and her fancy rest stop barn. We did laugh until tears fell and take a few photos as keepsakes for our journey through dear Iowa. We plan on coming back, probably next year, because it was a pretty nice trip. This time, we’ll understand that there’s something lost in translation in “rest stop” between Minnesota and Iowa, and we’ll plan our coffee drinking and stopping need accordingly.