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Iowa, my Iowa!
so near and yet so far

My first thoughts upon waking were numerous variations on the "where am I?" theme. Drifting back to sleep and awakening again and again, it seemed like I was an astronaut on some space mission where the crew was in suspended animation (or something like that) for a zillion years and now they were brought out of their hibernation in preparation for landing on some lonely planet, only my destination was Iowa, which didn't seem that far removed from the outer reaches of the Solar System, in my mind anyway.

Gradually becoming aware of my surroundings, bits and pieces of my environment manifested themselves so that I remembered why I was here, wherever here was. I had left Spokane late at night on an intermodal train headed east, settling down into a comfortable well behind a 40' container with a 48-footer on top to provide something in the way of a roof. There wasn't much time to look at the scenery because of the darkness, but soon the Rockies appeared like the edge of a saw on the horizon, faintly visible because of a late-setting moon.

A bottle of White Port seemed to be an appropriate way to toast my emergence into the mysterious Midwest, land of endless grasslands, endless soybean fields, and endless yearnings to be somewhere else. It was a necessary evil to deal with in order to achieve the bragging rites associated with attending the National Hobo Convention, and I found myself thinking over and over that it [the Convention] had better be worth it!

Lying down in a stack well doesn't allow you to see anything except the sky, and most of that was covered up by the end of the upper container. If the land in the Midwest looks boring, you can imagine what half of the sky looks like. I could see why Montana is called the "Big Sky Country", because, in the eastern part anyway, that's about all there is to look at. At least I thought that I was in Montana, but I still wasn't sure. Rummaging around in my pack, I discovered that I must have celebrated with two bottles of White Port the night before, or else one bottle was mysteriously abducted by Aliens. That could be why my mind seemed a bit more cluttered than usual. Fortunately I had the foresight to pack three bottles for entertainment during the ordeal of crossing the dreaded "plains", and this seemed like the perfect moment to begin enjoying the last of the three.

As the monotonous landscape droned on and on, I wondered what the early explorers must have thought when they discovered this part of the country, or the Indians before them, for that matter. Here I was flying along at 60mph, but the poor Indians had to make do at 3mph on horses. I tried to imagine what it would be like to go all the way across the Midwest at 3mph. I don't think that I could go a city block at 3mph! I stood up in the well and, looking out the side, pretended that I was crawling along at horseback speed...

Ahead was a low, grass-covered hill, with an identical one on the other side of the train. Looking back, there was another grass-covered hill on either side of the train, and, looking forward I noticed almost identical hills on either side of the train, too. Soon, the grass-covered hills on the side of the train were replaced by the grass-covered hills that formerly were ahead of the train, with the grass-covered hills that were behind the train blending into even more grass-covered hills along the Western horizon. I made a mental note that if I were ever flying over this part of the country I would bring along some serious survival supplies, because if I crash landed somewhere out of sight of the railroad tracks I'd have a very slim chance of survival.

Soon grass-covered hills gave way to grass-covered flatlands, and I made a mental note that I must now be in North Dakota, or whatever the next state was supposed to be. Farm houses began to appear, then every so often a block-long town or two, with brick buildings right out of some Hollywood movie set. When I finally made my way down to Iowa and got off the train to actually walk around one of these towns-with-brick-buildings, it really did seem like I was on a movie set. I stopped in a small café in Mason City for a cup of much-needed coffee and, sure enough, there were those thingies on the tables where you could choose what song to play on the juke box! The waitress had her hair up in a bun and I swear she was chewing gum. Things were starting to get a little weird. As I walked out to the highway to begin the dreaded 30-mile hitchhike over to Britt, I could almost hear the faint strains of "Seventy-six Trombones" coming from somewhere back in town...

part 2 of 4