A cherry-red barn welcomes us into Iowa. Inside this odd-shaped welcome center, we find out that we have arrived just in time for the most important event in the state. It is the season of the greatly anticipated Iowa State Fair. Unfortunately, our first experience with Iowa residents isn’t very pleasant. Once a week, we take the luxury of sleeping in a real bed and taking a hot shower by spending the night in a hotel. The term “hot shower” and “real bed” are used loosely in the hotels we stay in. Another way we stretch the budget is by using hotel coupons that are given away in the free tourism booklets. While they have saved us a lot of money, they sometimes cause a lot of frustration. In Clear Lake there is a discount for a hotel so we drive in that direction. When we arrive, the woman at the counter looks at the coupon in my hand and prefaces my request for a room by saying the hotel is booked for the next two nights. One look at the parking lot, and we questioned the truth in her claim. Alfonso was immediately irritated at her deliberate deception so he calls the hotel from the car. Sure enough, the same woman answers the phone and asks “would you like to make a reservation?” We didn’t make a reservation, but we did go back inside and explain how upset we were about being discriminated against for trying to use a coupon. We were fired up, but she was unfazed.
Driving past more farmlands and silos, we find a hotel in Waterloo that finally accepts a coupon. We walk to a neglected little park downtown where a five-sided memorial stands for the Sullivan Brothers. The Sullivan family had lived in Waterloo during the great depression and became infamous when all five sons were killed in the sinking of the U.S.S. Juneau. Everyone believed that the ship was abandoned upon impact of the Japanese bombs. Despite a lack of hope for any survivors, at least 80 men had made it to life rafts. One of those men was the oldest Sullivan Brother, George. After ten days at sea, rescue finally came and only ten men still remained. George was not one of them. Survivor, Allen Heyn, recalled one night when George Sullivan was bathing around the raft. Sharks circled and the young soldier was gone. Enter The Sullivan Law. Following this tragedy, congress passed a law called The Sullivan Law, which prevents brothers from serving on the same ship. This was also the story that influenced “Saving Private Ryan.”
We are on our way to Des Moines and pass more cornfields. I watch each aluminum silo change color with the setting sun. Time has vanished here, and simple pleasures still hold their value. A skyline of cylinders lines the horizon of a quiet, yet productive land, honoring the cornfields and hard work that has made this land profitable.
We are on the fence about attending the Iowa State Fair, but when we reach Kavannaugh gallery, the owner confirms we should go. His argument to experiencing the Iowa State Fair is weighed by the importance to the people of this area. “People spend the entire year waiting for the fair,” he explains. So here we go…off to the fair. On our way to discover this momentous event, we take a detour to see Iowa’s old and new capital buildings. The new structure is magnificent, and one of the largest capitals that we have seen. The capital sits high on a hill, overlooking the city and could be mistaken for a palace amongst farmhouses.
As night begins to set in, we are re-energized by the whirling lights of the fair. The twenty-dollar entrance fee is a little steep, but can you really put a price on tasting your first pineapple whip ice cream and standing beside a 3,000-pound bull? No, I’m pretty sure you can’t. We soak it all up and have the time of our life tonight.