Iowa: Eats and Treats

Our stay in Iowa was a short one – despite the many blog posts and the length of time it took me to write them, we were only there for one full day. A quick breakfast in the morning at a diner and then lots to do. There wasn’t so much worth blogging about as far as food goes, but for the sake of consistency I thought I would include a brief posting. So, to quote a fun movie, “without any ado what-so-ever…”

Murphy’s Bar and Grill
Riverside

Our stop into Murphy’s was more for curiosity sake than any real desire to have a meal there (you can read more about our stop in Riverside in my previous post). Still, since it was a rainy, miserable night, we were more than content with the greasy bar fare.

Our dinner consisted of a trio of appetizers: jalapeno poppers, wings and rings!

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Our deep-fried dinner certainly was not our healthiest roadtrip meal, but it was fine and served it’s purpose. Thanks Murphy’s!

Stay tuned as the blog finally moves on to some new states.

Riverside’s Most Famous Resident

Our final stop in Iowa was in the city of Riverside. Riverside is famous for exactly one thing, and the one thing it’s famous for hasn’t even happened yet. For the non-initiated, non-geeks of the World, Riverside is famous for being the future birthplace of James Tiberius Kirk, the Captain himself.

We visited this little city (in the pouring rain, I might add) in order to commemorate this sacred spot. Riverside began celebrating Kirk’s birth back in 1984 after the City Council petitioned Gene Roddenbury for permission to erect a monument declaring Riverside as the Captain’s birthplace. With Roddenbury’s full blessing, this tribute to its future resident was installed:

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Hidden behind a small barbershop, the plaque could easily go unnoticed by those not looking. Though the mini U.S.S. Enterprise in the parking lot of the The Voyage Home Museum down the street is a little trickier to miss. Unfortunately, the museum was closed during our visit so we were unable to drop by.

But the plaque and museum aren’t the full story (or history) here in Riverside. The Trek connection apparently began with a plaque under a pool table in the nearby Murphy’s Bar and Grill commemorating Kirk’s conception – a clever marketing ploy the bar had thought up. The town council wasn’t a fan of the plaque though (hence, the more official and family friendly “birthplace” celebration), and it can no longer be found in the bar.

However, the bar does still embrace it’s Trek “connection.” We stopped in for dinner and found a giant banner proclaiming it the Future Home of the Shipyard Bar. So, while the plaque down the road embraces Prime Kirk, the bar is now embracing the new Trek World. Alternate Kirk, of course, is born in outer space. I imagine that plaque is going to be much more difficult to visit.

How many of you Trekkies out there have made the “trek” to Iowa?

“We’d Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover…

“…for really showing us the way.”

It’s not 31st President’s fault that the catchy song from Annie played on repeat in my head throughout my visit to his boyhood home and Presidential Library. Annie is such a deeply ingrained part of my childhood that I can sing every song word for word. I mean no disrespect. It’s just that besides being the subject of an unflattering Broadway showtune, I couldn’t have told you much else about Hoover prior to my visit. I know, of course, that he was considered a failed President by most, and that he has a big dam named after him (I’ve even taken the Dam Tour). But that’s about it.

I’ll confess, history (unless it’s related to the space age) was never my favorite subject, but here I am exploring our vast country, and history – the good and the bad – is a very big part of that journey.

We arrived to the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa late in the afternoon. The site chronicles Hoover’s life from boyhood home, through his presidency to his final resting place. We stopped into the Visitors Center for maps and information, and explored the very brief exhibit there.

Late in Hoover’s life, he said of his childhood, “I do not know much of anything that happens to a small boy in Iowa that is not cheerful. It is a life of more nearly complete joy than any other form of existence I can imagine.” Sill, his early years were not easy. His father, a Quaker blacksmith, passed in December 1880 when Hoover was only 6 years old, and his mom just four years later. At 11 years old, Hoover traveled by train from Iowa to Oregon to live with his uncle, a doctor. In his possession was one suitcase, a basket of food from his aunt and 50 cents sewn into his clothing in case of emergency. He would never live in Iowa again and returned only to assist in the planning of the site.

We wanted to spend the majority of our limited available time in the Presidential Museum, so we made only a quick visit to the various buildings on the property (his boyhood home, the Quaker Meeting House where his family gathered, a blacksmith shop that would have been similar to his father’s, as well as the school house where Hoover was educated).

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We strolled across the vast property to the Presidential Library. Presidential libraries are, by their very nature it seems, designed to be a bit of a lie. Balance isn’t necessarily the goal – the goal is, of course, to showcase the President’s highlights, even if, as in the case of Hoover, those highlights mostly didn’t come during the Presidency.

Blamed for the Great Depression (or for not doing enough to end it), Hoover is pretty much synonymous with “presidential failure.” But there was more to the man than the Presidency, and the museum tells an interesting story of a distinguished Commerce Secretary, and a great humanitarian – a man who spent 50 years in public service, and is often defined only by 4 of those years.

Hoover went to Stanford University, while in it’s infancy, to become a mining engineer. He then used his education in China and Australia, where he literally struck gold and became a very wealthy man at a very early age, earning the adage the ‘great engineer’. The museum showcased the difficult living conditions in the Australian desert and the tense times in China during the Boxer rebellion.

While he was in Europe, WWI broke out and he led the efforts to bring Americans stranded in Europe home safely. He then had the unenviable job of getting American food aid to the European allies, without it ending up in the hands of the German occupiers, thereby cementing his reputation as a ‘great humanitarian’.

One of my favorite parts of the the museum were the flour sacks within the Humanitarian Exhibit.

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Here are a few of the flour sack samples throughout the exhibit.

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Appointed Commerce Secretary by Warren Harding in 1920 (and continuing to serve under Calvin Coolidge), Hoover was said to be so popular that he over-shadowed both presidents. It was joked throughout Washington that Hoover was “Secretary of Commerce, and Undersecretary of everything else.” His great accomplishment during this time was the establishment of the ‘Bureau of Standards’, which established standards for such things like sizes for car wheels and tires; bedframes and mattress. This resulted in vast efficiencies and enabled consumers to buy a car from one manufacturer and the tires from another.

The roaring 1920s were depicted with interesting exhibits. One exhibit presented the early age of commercial radio, and how Hoover thought only live performances should be broadcast, while another chronicled the establishment of the early version of air traffic control.

Having won the presidential election with relative ease, there were very high hopes for Hoover. However, the feelings did not last through the depression. The newspaper articles and cartoons show that there were rumors that he was running away from the country with all his gold on Andrew Carnegie’s yacht.

Overall, we felt the great depression did not get the level of attention that it deserved. Still, the museum was very much an eye-opener for me and an in-depth look at the man, if not the President.

The final exhibit hall, a re-creation of his suite at the Waldorf Astoria (where he spent his post-presidential years) demonstrated the extent of his personal wealth. Hoover would go on to do many great things in those years, including heading the Boys Clubs of America (which he raised millions of dollars for), serving as the coordinator for Food Supply for World Famine during World War II, serving as occupancy adviser to President Truman, among many other things. He also paved the way for the 1949 Executive Reorganization Act, which restructured the executive branch of the government. He also found time to author dozens of books.

A President is laid to rest ~ October 1964.

It is said that his Quaker faith helped guide him through the years. In the Quaker tradition, his grave is marked with only his name and dates. You’ll find no Presidential Seal or fancy engravings here.

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Our visit to the Hoover Library was certainly interesting. We have other Presidential Libraries on our itinerary for the trip, but Hoover was my first. I have been to the JKF Library in Boston, but it was a screening of an installment of the HBO Mini-series From the Earth to the Moon. I have not visited the exhibits. Somehow, we always forget to make time to be tourists in our own states. Will definitely have to change that soon.

Have you visited a Presidential Library? Let us know which and your thoughts. Maybe your library is next on our list. And since we discovered the Presidential Library Passport on this visit, we’re looking forward to checking them all out.

Apologies for the very long gap since the last post. Life has been crazy! Lots more posts to follow.

Born to Be Wild

Our journey in Iowa continues. And no road trip would be complete without at least one completely random and unplanned destination. While on the road, Sriram spotted the National Motorcycle Museum and decided we had to stop in for a visit.

One of the first displays you come across as you enter into the museum is of dare devil Evel Knievel, perhaps the most famous rider of all time. Known as much for his Americana riding outfits as his dare devil stunts, Knievel’s official career spawned 15 years, included more than 75 jumps and resulted in more than 425 broken bones (which earned him a Guinness World Records record for most lifetime broken bones).

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But Evel Knievel wasn’t what drew us off the road. Just around the corner, Sriram got what he came for. The bike.

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Peter Fonda’s famed bike from Easy Rider. I confess, I’ve seen this movie and found it to be … mind numbingly boring and tedious. But Sriram is a big fan and was hoping to come across the bike. He was certainly happy to discover it in the museum.

We meandered through the museum which had some interesting displays and stories, including a display for the first female motorcycle club, an old fashioned 1920’s gas station, a track chronicling the history of race surfaces, as well as many movie and television bikes. As with any such museum (planes, automobiles, etc) it’s so difficult to photograph with any real meaning because the backgrounds are cluttered with so many other bikes. But I managed a few fun shots.

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Notice the bike on the bottom left, it’s an ice-cream “truck”. Such fun.

Of course, for me, the museum was not considered authentic until we came across this display commemorating the best rider of them all, and the object of my (very) youthful crush. The Fonz, himself. No bike, but a worthy tribute.

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It was a fun stop and considering how pricey a lot of museums and tourist attractions are, the $10 admission was modest. I’d recommend it for motorcycle enthusiasts and casual fans alike.

Wondering about a particular bike? Ask in the comments section. I have lots of pictures.

“Is This Heaven?”

“It’s Iowa.”

In 1999, I went on a quest to watch a bunch of baseball movies I hadn’t yet seen. I watched Pride of the Yankees (“Phoebe, the guy WAS Lou Gehrig. Didn’t you kind of see it coming?”), Eight Men Out (a personal favorite), Bull Durham, and The Natural (having already seen other baseball gems, such as the hysterical Major League and the wonderful Sandlot, among others)

Eventually, I made it round to Field of Dreams. As movies go, it’s a bit of a slow one. Non-fans have been known to call it boring. Its most famous line is nearly always misquoted (the line is, “If you build it, HE will come,” not THEY). And the reality is, it’s not so much about baseball. But that’s actually what makes it so great. The story of family, redemption and forgiveness, of believing in the unbelievable and not giving up, is one that has touched many a movie goer for the last 25 years. With it being the 25th Anniversary of the film, I knew that little ballpark in the cornfield out in Dyersville, Iowa was a must stop for this road trip.

There are two ways into the Field of Dreams Movie Site. One way is pretty much right off the main road. The other, through a maze of unpaved dirt and gravel roads cutting between cornfields in the middle of nowhere. We were lucky enough to have taken the road through the corn, a far more magical journey in. We’d been in the Great Lakes area for 8 days, and then spent some time in the city. The scenery in Iowa was a welcome change. We found ourselves surprisingly drawn to it.

When we arrived at the farm we noticed one of the “Black Sox” sitting at a nearby picnic table, chatting with a few people. Moments later he would vanish. A bus was coming down the road, and soon enough he would emerge from the corn and greet them.

Before the site was inundated with tourists, I stepped behind home plate and took a picture of the famous field (though I couldn’t get a full shot)…

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…and then another from third base with the white house (different from the movie only in that it’s missing the porch swing) in the background.

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It turned out it wasn’t the bus he waiting for, so in the meantime he was available to chat and play. His name was Frank Dardis. Frank, a local guy, portrayed one of the ghost players in the original movie 25 years ago. He now greets tour buses and gives little talks. He signs autographs, and hands out old call sheets from the movie (with his name featured not quite as prominently as the likes of Kevin Costner and Ray Liotta). And he plays ball. Here’s Frank emerging from the corn.

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He was really sweet, and it was such a fun, unexpected touch to the visit. We played ball for a while. First Sriram pitched to me for a bit, and then later Frank did (I got one decent hit, and whiffed a bunch of others – need to keep my eye on the ball). We sat in the bleachers, the ones that are still carved with “Ray Loves Annie” and cheered on others as they played.

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We stayed for nearly an hour, reading up on the history of the movie, how the site was selected, how the corn almost didn’t grow, and how all these years later, the field still draws baseball-loving tourists from near and far. We also bought some memorabilia and learned that interestingly enough, the costs of upkeep come solely through concessions (admission is free). The studio has no part in keeping the site open; in fact, the farm has to pay royalties to the studio for the rights to the name/story.

But I’m glad that they have opted to keep things alive there in Dyersville as it’s a magical place. If you ever find yourself nearby, be sure to go explore a little bit of heaven.

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