Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Lost in a River Town.



Leaving Chicago to the west, I was soon reminded that Plains reach all the way into Illinois. I should have known, but it is hard for a guy from Michigan to realize the wide open plains are so close. The wind slashed at my windows and hit the trailer like Pacific Surge on the rocks of Big Sur. I was weaving my way across US30 toward Clinton, IA.

All the prairie towns seem lonely. Usually huddled around a river or a lake. There is a little car dealer, maybe only one fast food joint, a family restaurant, a hardware store and a sporting goods store. Sometimes these last two are the same. Today, the snow is gone and the rivers are swollen. In the prespring days of early March, the mud along the road looks more alive than the lawns. Everything is brown and grey, waiting for resurrection and the green and blue of spring.

Before I reach the Mississippi, I cross a National Wildlife Refuge. Not much wildlife, but all the trees, bushes and clumps of grass are wearing ice skirts. The rising water had frozen and when it receded, left a little ice tutu around each.

Truckers will tell you, with a wry smile, that Dispatchers lie. A broker is a dispatcher who will probably never talk to you again. How much care does he have to put into this transaction? I'm hauling a broker load. The directions seem easy; US30 west, go south on US67 which turns into 2nd Ave, to 1219 2nd Ave South.

I cross the bridge and the "Big Muddy" into Iowa. It is a typical rivertown trying to make in the modern world; touristy stuff and a casino mix with the remnants of industry on the river bank. Huge refinery stacks and old brick buildings form the romantic backdrop to your big weekend at the blackjack table. Turning South on US67, I am confronted with construction. Everywhere. Apparently, the casino is spending some money on Civic Pride and Beautification. The road, that I would have guessed I need to take, is closed. A bunch of guys in orange vests are doing their best to keep warm rather than finishing the fancy brick pedestrian crosswalk.

US67 curves West and then South again. I've lost 2nd Ave, but there is nowhere to turn around. Clinton is chock full of heavy industry. Refineries, food processing, packaging. All the way through town, I never saw 2nd Ave. again. There is, however, a small truckstop. It is time to call for help.

Dispatch gave me the customer's phone number and a very nice lady, who says she is in a different building, gave me directions to where I need to be. She knew the address I had, she must be right. The Broker's directions were completely wrong! I needed to go North on US67. My new directions are US67, stoplight North of US30, turn right, turn left on 2nd Ave, under a bridge and then under a Railroad Bridge, second on the left.

I wind my way back through town and cross US30. My stoplight is right where it is supposed to be - turn right, then left. I turn into a city street that hasn't changed since the war. I mean the big one - WWII. There is Nora's Cafe, Herb's TV repair, Family Furniture and Lexington Apartments - a real honest-to-goodness apartment block. It is 5 stories and the whole block. Miscellaneous retail fills the first floor along with a State Agency and the Landlord. "Furnished Apartments Available. First Week Free."

I am looking down a long Main Street from the old days. It used to be a concentration of trade. Everyone went downtown to buy anything. Those days are long gone. There a couple mumbling bums walking around with plastic grocery bags dripping with collected cans, but it is just me and them. This is exactly why First Weeks are free around here. It is why Ace Remodeling, Flaming Dragon Body Art and Joe's Comics can afford the rent.

It occurs to me that this long, romantically retro, main street goes on for a long while without going under any kind of bridge. Waking from my internal monologue, the addresses are going up and I am in the 1400's already. This is a problem. It sneaks into the back of my head that the address suffix was "South" - 1219 2nd Ave. South. I'm going the wrong direction. The road is getting less retail, more residential, and narrower. Turning around 80' of truck and trailer, as always, is going to be interesting.

US67 turns left on the way out of town. The turn is tight in a secondary downtown strip going East and West. It is my best option, and luckily, in a couple blocks there is a gas station/convenience store with a large plaza and fuel area. Left off US67 and left on another side street and I can turn through the plaza and head back down US67 the other way.

As you might have guessed, I'm still 5 blocks away from the intersection where this all started and I can already see two bridges. Back past the Lexington Apartments, which should really be Lexington Arms, I'm going under a bridge. The bridge I crossed the Mississippi on. Directly after it is the Railroad Bridge. I've arrived.

If I had kept my head up and my wits about me, I would have made the right turn. From the stoplight, I could have seen the two bridges if I had only wasted the calories on turning my head to the right. I've got good instincts, when I use them. My morning would have been smoother and less stressful. All for the turning of my neck!

It works for life too. So what are you doing? Are you paying attention to where you should be going? Or are you just following someone else's directions? Take a stake in your destination.

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