I awoke in my hotel room and started my day like I normally do, with stretching and doing some exercises. I went down to the lobby for the free breakfast and was a little disappointed by what was there, although I was excited by the giant cauldron of oatmeal. (What? I like oatmeal.)
I sat at the table, reading the Ames Tribune while watching CBS This Morning. As I sipped Lemon Lift tea from a cup with a sleeve that said, “I Wake Up Like This,” I turned my head up at just the right time to see a story about parents in Dubuque trying to challenge The Perks of Being a Wallflower. “Oh, come on!” I yelled at the TV.
“Is everything okay?” a hotel employee asked.
“Oh, yes,” I said sheepishly after realizing what I had done.
I went back up to my hotel room and got ready before packing my bags and loading them into my car, heading out to my engagement in Ames.
I had a splitting headache and felt sick to my stomach. My thing in Ames had gone long and I found myself crawling into the Village Inn on Lincoln Way to get some pie. The rain was beating down on me because of the wind and all I could think of was, “Oh God, I have to drive back to Milwaukee in the wind and the rain. This should be fun.”
I sat down at a booth, trying to shield my eyes from the bright, pastel signs. I only wanted pie initially, but I talked myself into getting breakfast because like tacos, I believe breakfast consumed at any hour of the day solves everything. I placed my order and felt the urge to curl up under the booth and close my eyes, hoping the headache would pass. My food arrived and I devoured it, finding my headache starting to subside. The waiter handed me my cherry pie and I ate it, remembering trips to Village Inn with my mother when I was a child and late nights spent eating pie in high school.
I then drove to the Wheatsfield Cooperative, which has been open for more than 40 years. As someone who is very enthusiastic about cooperatively-owned businesses, it was exciting to go to a business and see one that has thrived in a community and expanded. Honestly, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven when I saw the prices of the coconut milk creamers, the selection at the meat department, overheard the conversations happening among the customers. It was also what I always dream of cooperatively-owned businesses being, where all of the people in the community feel comfortable and buy local, organic goods.
(They had just reopened the hot bar for the first time in months and the chicken was incredible.)
I asked my mom to look at the radar, so I headed east on Highway 30, which isn’t nearly as boring as Highway 20. When you travel on Highway 30, you still encounter the problem of the drive not being particularly exciting, but at least you pass things like Marshalltown and the Meskwaki Hotel and Casino.
I eventually accepted between the wind, rain, and setting sun, I didn’t feel safe trying to get to Milwaukee that evening and would just spend the night in Cedar Rapids. At this point, my headache had come back, so staying in Cedar Rapids seemed like a really good idea. I booked a room at the Hampton Inn off of Collins Road and then headed there, but not before Waze suggested I take a gravel road most of the way there. I would normally have no problem driving on a gravel road because I learned how to drive in Iowa. That said, I can comfortably drive on a gravel road when it’s dry and daytime. I can maybe handle a wet gravel road in the daytime or a dry gravel road at night, but not a wet gravel road at night. I eventually turned around, stopped at a gas station, and headed into Cedar Rapids.
Music: “Stop Desire” by Tegan and Sara
I’ve always had a soft-spot for Cedar Rapids. When you’re a kid who misses the big city and always feels uncomfortable where you live, Cedar Rapids feels like a godsend.
As I entered the city, I instantly felt at ease while I drove past Westdale mall. I had switched to another GPS app after the gravel road incident and headed to the NewBo area, but not before sabotaging myself by taking a wrong turn and not listening to my GPS app. As I drove past the NewBo Alehouse and the NewBo City Market, I thought, “This is what I wish the Third Ward in Milwaukee was. This feels hip, not douchey, and a place where a broader population can enjoy the businesses.
I parked and rejoiced over people in Cedar Rapids being able to parallel park well*. I stopped in Raygun’s store in Cedar Rapids to look around and try to not buy everything in the store since Raygun is the maker of my favorite shirts and some of my favorite magnets. I convinced myself to only walk out with a sticker and mug for myself and magnet for my sister, but enjoyed every moment of walking around a store for a company I’ve been a fan of since they were Smash.
As I was driving on I-380, I was reminded of how you know you’re in Cedar Rapids because you smell it. I was also reminded of something I often found during my trip, which was how Iowa really hasn’t changed in five years. There was the U.S. Cellular Arena, Fox Eye, Rick’s. The only thing I immediately noticed that was different was the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Cedar Rapids, which is a development I applaud because I want to stay at a hotel with warm chocolate chip cookies before walking to a play at Theatre Cedar Rapids.
I arrived at the hotel, tucked near Rockwell Collins’ headquarters. I checked in and was given directions to Hy-Vee, Target–“We have a SuperTarget!”–and the movie theater that is “in walking distance when the weather isn’t this terrible.” I walked down the hallway to my hotel room, making a mental note that I prefer higher floors because something unnerves me about being on the ground floor.
I opened the door and walked into the cozy room, immediately excited at the sight of an armchair and a desk. “Why didn’t I stay at a Hampton Inn in Ames?” I thought.
“Because the TownePlace Suites was less expensive,” I told myself.
After getting settled, I went to Hy-Vee, which is the main supermarket chain in Iowa. Similar to when I was at Bar La Tosca, I had an experience of reverse sticker shock because a bottle of store brand acetaminophen was less expensive than I was anticipating. I went back to my car, took the medicine, and looked around at how things hadn’t changed since I was a kid. I remember seeing the Collins Road Hy-Vee as a child and in the shopping center near the Hy-Vee, there was still an Old Navy and a Barnes and Noble my mom would take me and my sister to before they opened in Waterloo. As the rain fell on the windows of my car, now dirty from the gravel road, I felt comforted while my headache slipped away.
I went up to SuperTarget and snapped a picture for my mom, who always misses the SuperTarget in Waterloo. For those of you who have never been to a SuperTarget, but still think Target is the greatest place on earth, all I can tell you is it is like a really big Target with an expanded grocery section.
“But Targets have grocery sections, Monica.”
Ah, but these have deli and bakery counters and a full produce selection. The aisles are longer and the selection of goods broader. I only needed to pop in and buy a clean shirt to wear the next day, but I had to walk around because I hadn’t been to a SuperTarget in six years. Like the buildings visible off of I-380 and the Barnes and Noble on Collins Road, it was comforting to walk around a store that felt exactly like the one I grew up shopping at in Waterloo.
I decided to then walk around Lindale Mall while I decided what to do for dinner. I was surprised by how empty the mall was since the malls in Milwaukee always seem to be swamped when you get closer to the holidays, but it made it nice to walk around, stretch my legs, and think while I popped in to different stores.
I eventually decided on Cheddar’s for dinner because everything in the area seemed to be a chain, but I knew I had enjoyed eating at Cheddar’s in Lansing, Michigan.
I sat down and ordered iced tea before sitting at a booth and reading. Dinner was going fairly well, even if I was annoyed by the music for the evening mostly being break-up songs from the past ten years. (How I managed to not sob into my chips and queso while “The One That Got Away” by Katy Perry played is beyond me.)
Then the quickest way to ruin dinner for me happened at the Cedar Rapids’ Cheddar’s. They played “Breathe” by Michelle Branch over the speakers and I felt my appetite disappear while my right eye started twitching.
“Please. You can play ‘Everything We Had’ by The Academy Is right now and that would make me feel happier,” I thought. “I can’t stand this song.”
My disdain of “Breathe” stems not from hearing it too often on the radio as a kid, because if that was the case, why do I love Dido’s “White Flag”? I dated someone who had a habit of doing an acoustic cover of “Breathe” while warbling off-key. As a result of this, I have developed a deep hatred of that song and find any situation I’m in ruined if that song starts playing.
I folded my hands and furrowed my brows, looking at the spicy chicken and rice (with salad!) I no longer had an appetite for. “Is everything still okay?” the waiter asked.
I wanted to say, “No, you just played ‘Breathe’,” but instead I said, “I think I’m ready for the check.”
I left the restaurant and headed back to the hotel, ready to get cozy with math curriculum while I sipped tea in the armchair. At ten o’clock, I turned on the evening news, wondering how it was possible for Bruce Aune and Joe Winters of KCRG to have seemingly not aged in the five years I had been away from Iowa. I looked at the forecast and planned my trip for the next day, before falling asleep in my room.
*People in Cedar Rapids always seem to be really good at parking, but when you live somewhere where people seem to struggle with parallel parking, you really appreciate good parking.