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Living in Society Writing

Postcards from Iowa #7

The Pine Barn Inn, Danville, Pennsylvania

Reverse side: The Pine Barn Inn — Danville, PA 17821 As Featured in ‘Back Roads and Country Inns’ Photo by C.G. Wagner, Jr.

I stayed at The Pine Barn Inn while director of maintenance for a large transportation and logistics company. For many years we bought Fruehauf Trailers built in Fort Madison, Iowa. I was in Danville to evaluate a Strick Corporation trailer manufacturing plant as prelude to picking a new vendor. By 1993 the writing was on the wall that Fruehauf was going out of business.

A leveraged buyout in 1986 by the company’s management left Fruehauf burdened with debt, and in 1989 the company was broken up and sold, though one segment, the truck trailer unit, retained the name Fruehauf Trailer Corporation. That corporation declared bankruptcy in 1996 and was sold to Wabash National the next year.

Fruehauf Trailer Corporation Wikipedia.

While many in the truckload segment of the transportation business were buying Wabash National plate trailers, the owner of our privately held company was apparently not a fan. We chose Strick for a non-Freuhauf plate trailer build over others I evaluated.

I traveled a lot during my transportation and logistics career. It came to a point where I would wake on an airplane and not know where I was or where I was going. The job had me traveling to both coasts and from Florida to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I had a heavy carbon footprint in those days.

When I supervised a driver recruiting operation I had offices in Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Georgia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Missouri. We even did driver recruiting in Astoria, New York near LaGuardia Airport. I met people from everywhere and spent a lot of time in transit.

I don’t remember much about The Pine Barn Inn, except it was clean and met my personal needs. That’s what I wanted during business trips. Today I hope most of my traveling is finished. At least I still have this postcard.

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Living in Society

Blow Out on the Tollway

Illinois Tollway H.E.L.P. trucks.

20 miles east of DeKalb the right rear tire blew out and ruined it. There was a two-inch gash, most likely from hitting something laying on the Illinois Tollway. After the noise, we got off to the shoulder quickly and safely.

When I got out of the car an Illinois Tollway H.E.L.P. truck was already parked behind me with his flashers going. The driver waved me away when I approached the truck, pointing to my car. I got to work cleaning stuff out of the back so I could access the spare tire and tools. The driver said he had a jack and offered it. It was the kind one finds in an auto repair shop and just what was needed. Luckily the spare had enough air pressure to make it to the DeKalb oasis where I fully inflated it.

We made it home safely and Thursday I began calling around for a tire. Ours is a common size and I found one easily. There is a catch. The 2002 Subaru is an all-wheel drive vehicle and to a tire person that means just one shouldn’t be replaced, but all four.

I asked a large tire shop salesperson why all four needed replacement and he said only, “because it is all-wheel drive.” An unsatisfying answer to the former maintenance director of a fleet of thousands of heavy-duty vehicles. He quoted me on a set of Hankook tires, about $600. I told him I had to consider it more as I hadn’t planned on replacing all four. I didn’t like his response to my question.

The next call was to my local mechanic. He took the time to explain why I needed four tires instead of one, having to do with the diameter of all the tires matching when the all-wheel drive function is engaged. He doesn’t keep tires in inventory any longer yet he quoted me two options, including the same Hankook tires the large dealer offered at the same price. “We sell a lot of those,” he said. I scheduled the next available appointment.

It’s good to know as I approach age 70 I can still change a tire while parked on an Interstate Highway. The last time that happened, I was on my way home from work in the Chicago Loop. The Dan Ryan expressway during rush hour can be a scary place to change a tire. They didn’t call them H.E.L.P. trucks back then, but an early equivalent pulled up to alert drivers I was there. I don’t know how the tollway figured the budget for H.E.L.P. trucks yet I’m glad they are there.

Many thanks to the Illinois Tollway H.E.L.P. drivers.

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Writing

Travel Day

Side dish of sliced tomatoes at our picnic lunch on Aug. 13, 2021.

Friday was a travel day during which we visited family in Chicago. It was the first family gathering at their place in a long time. We’d been preparing for the trip for over a month. To maximize visiting time, we packed a picnic lunch and ate at the apartment.

It was a good day.

Children return to school in two weeks, Iowa hospital beds are close to full with COVID-19 patients, and we haven’t had a view of the sun unobstructed by haze from the Western fires since I don’t know when. A flotilla of 14 hot air balloons rose over us near Davenport as we drove home. Their bright colors were muted by the pall over the landscape.

Beyond family, these day are not so good.

Despite difficult times we go on living.

It is becoming a habit. I walked around the neighborhood where they live and ended up browsing in a used bookstore. I bought three books and got three punches in my frequent user card. Yes, I have a frequent user card, and plan to return to get all the punches. We made it home safely before sunset.

Stopped at the used bookstore to browse.
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Living in Society

Needed Rain Fell

Fresh from the garden cauliflower.

A gentle rain fell through the night and continues this morning. We need rain to assuage the drought. When it rains, garden-watering is more thorough and much appreciated. A benefit was not having to water the garden by hand last night.

In unexpected ways my trip to Florida was life changing. The driving was uneventful and easy. It was easier for me because our daughter led our convoy and all I had to concern myself about was fuel and keeping the rental truck between the highway lines. We spaced overnight breaks so we weren’t exhausted when we arrived each night. We splurged on food, using delivery services like Door Dash, Grub Hub and Uber Eats. We took care of ourselves. Like a vacation, the time was golden even though we didn’t do anything special besides be together.

I hadn’t visited her in Florida since 2013. I missed visiting at a place she lived for five years, the only residence of hers I hadn’t seen. The seven day trip was the most time we spent together in a long time. What’s changed is now that she’s closer–a mere day trip away–we can make plans that the 1,290-mile distance between us made impossible.

Something else changed.

There is a renewed urgency to get things done, to focus on what’s most important. I want to cross things off my to-do list. During the first part of the coronavirus pandemic I seldom looked at or maintained a to-do list. The trip changed all that.

I don’t know how this will turn out yet I’m hopeful. Hopeful we can spend more time together. Hopeful to find more meaning in quotidian affairs. Hopeful to get things done that are worth doing. I didn’t expect that, but it’s welcome.

It was drizzling rain when I went to the garden. I picked three head of broccoli, a head of cauliflower, four bell peppers, a cucumber, a zucchini and a handful of cherry tomatoes. Every day is like that. Rain is important to a healthy, abundant garden. The future is a slate wiped clean by the trip from Florida. For now, we have enough rain.

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Living in Society

Masking in the United States

Baggage Handlers at Orlando International Airport, June 27, 2021.

I recently flew to Florida to help someone move to the Midwest, my first non-local trip since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. We convoyed from central Florida to Chicago, following major interstate highways all the way. Evidence that the coronavirus pandemic had resulted in the deaths of more than 600,000 people–the most of any nation on Earth–was scant.

The airline enforced a mask policy both in the terminals and on board the aircraft. Hotels where we stayed had well-publicized policy that masks were required indoors and social distancing was necessary. None of the hotels enforced the policies for guests. Compliance was infrequent among staff. All of the other workers we encountered–at truck rental facilities, convenience stores, and restaurants–wore no masks at all. The restaurant delivery drivers all donned masks as they approached us to deliver a meal. Their business is predicated on no-contact delivery during a pandemic, so that was expected. In a Walmart in Indiana about two-thirds of the employees wore masks. The business community seems more interested in avoiding liability while catching up on lost revenue than in preventing spread of the coronavirus.

As far as regular, non-working humans go, few wore masks. In Florida (outside the airport), Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky I saw zero humans with a mask. That changed when we arrived at our destination in a Chicago suburb.

After the maskless trip from the South, I was pleasantly surprised by the neighborhood where people wore masks indoors and out. I asked one person why they wore a mask outside. They said they were vaccinated and the mask was to prevent contracting variants of the coronavirus that are currently thriving. Made sense to me.

I walked across the street to a local grocery store in which most people were masked, including all the employees. Disposable masks were available for $0.99 at the checkout counter. Not required for customers, yet available.

From the beginning of the trip I asked masked people if I should don mine in their company and the answer was a unanimous no. A couple of masked workers in a local Chicago bakery explained it best. They said I didn’t need to don my mask in their store. Customers would be inside for a short duration, however, they wore a mask because they would spend all day at the counter. This, too, made sense.

While settling into the new apartment a neighbor knocked on the door to introduce themselves. They wore a mask and of course we didn’t at home. I asked them if we should put ours on and revealed we both had been vaccinated. It turned out they had as well. We all went maskless for the rest of the encounter.

If there is a mask policy in the United States, it is either unknown most places I went, or unenforced. Masking is something we Americans do only when required, and not always then.

At this point in pandemic progress, people not vaccinated continue to be at high risk of COVID-19. There is a news story circulating about a woman who avoided getting vaccinated because of side effects people mentioned. She contracted COVID-19, was on a ventilator for a month, then died. Her two children lost their mother. Vaccinated people have not been getting sick with COVID-19 very much.

During our drive I noticed the crappy condition of the interstate highways: countless potholes and not enough construction crews. Whether it is infrastructure, healthcare, or masking during a pandemic, Americans don’t do it well. My advice is get vaccinated if you haven’t been, and wear a mask when indoors in a public place. It may not be socially acceptable among your cohort, although it may save your life.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa.

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Living in Society

Overnight in Chattanooga

One of multiple Waffle Houses at this exit in Chattanooga

We convoyed from Lake Alfred through Georgia to overnight in Chattanooga. She drove in front with a mobile command center and an application called “waze.” I brought up the rear, keeping my eye on her and the rental between the lines.

We arrived at our lodging and decompressed. That means we parked the vehicles, ordered Italian via Uber Eats, and got on our mobile devices to catch up.

I walked to the side of the building, took this photo, and posted it on Twitter:

The next morning…

No doubt “regulars” have stepped in to prepare orders. There was a lot going on at that exit off the Interstate.

We continued north before sunrise. Coming down the far side of Monteagle, I trailed in the truck full of her stuff from the last ten years. She turned on the windshield washers to see. The over spray hit my windshield a few car lengths back. I turned my wipers on too. That says something about parenting, although I hesitate to say what it is. I’d rather dwell in the complexity a while longer.

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Living in Society

From Florida to Chicago

Some photos from our recent trip.

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Writing

On the Lincoln Highway

Big Grove Precinct polling place at 9 a.m. on June 8, 2021.

Tuesday was the day to take Jacque to her sister’s home in Boone. We began by voting in the special election for county supervisor. Our candidate, Jon Green – Democrat, won with 66 percent of votes cast. Voting together is an excellent way to start the day. It’s not really a date, but the experience was better than an actual date. After almost 40 years of marriage that’s how we are evolving.

We drove past the Atherton Wetland, up through Ely to Highway 30, which was the first transcontinental road for automobiles, dedicated in 1913. There are historical markers along the way, although I’m not sure the current Highway 30 is the actual Lincoln Highway. In fact, I’m sure it is not in some stretches. I hadn’t been out west on 30 since my in-laws’ estate was settled in the late 1990s.

I used to appreciate the drive, and seeing the patchwork of farms that make up rural Iowa. Yesterday’s weather, mostly clear skies with cumulus clouds, was perfect for travel. My observations were different this time.

The first thing I noticed was how large the acreages had become. There were so few homes, silos and other structures on so much land. It’s reflective of the need for less people to farm in 2021. Grain storage capacity had increased considerably.

As before, the diversity of crops was limited. I noticed corn and beans, and hay bales in abundance. Due to the drought, it is a good time to harvest hay. There was likely oats mixed in the fields, but my eyes aren’t trained well enough to differentiate it.

Maybe they were there 20 years ago, but I noticed a number of concentrated animal feeding operation confinement buildings. In the vast landscape they don’t look like much, yet livestock produces six of ten of Iowa’s top agricultural commodities. I did not see one hog, cow, turkey or chicken during four hours on the road. They were all indoors.

If I once thought the scenery bucolic, I no long do. It is a landscape of extraction, well organized and with purpose. While a natural process produces commodities, it is hardly nature or anything close to it. The lack of diversity among crops and the biome is remarkable once one is acculturated to recognize it. The unseen disaster is the flow of agricultural chemicals, manure and topsoil runoff into Iowa’s watersheds. Farmers say they want good water quality and rely on rain to produce it for corn and beans. However, the industry also relies on disposing of their waste downstream at no cost or responsibility to them. The current landscape and the farm operations on it are unsustainable.

We stopped for a rest break at the Meskwaki Travel Plaza in Tama. They have clean restrooms, clean everything. The signs on the entryway read “masks recommended.” No one, including us, wore a mask. There were no mask monitors and we are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 so are not concerned about contracting the coronavirus. We had our vaccination records with us, but preferred not to show them because of the brouhaha about “vaccine passports.” No one questioned us.

I’ve not been inside the nearby Meskwaki Casino and have no desire to experience it. Later in the day I did buy a Powerball ticket so I’m not a gambling purist. “Loose slots” has little intrinsic appeal.

Noteworthy is the Meskwaki Organix Store inside the travel plaza. It is the first tribal-owned CBD dispensary located on tribal land in the state of Iowa. The Meskwaki Nation set their sights on developing a hemp economy in which they would control the product from seed to shelf. The store is intended to pursue retail markets and will also play a role in market research and product development for CBD. The store opened in November 2020. We didn’t stop there either.

Boone is the birthplace of Mamie Eisenhower. There is signage about her along the main street through downtown. After dropping Jacque, I bought gasoline at a Casey’s store. I went inside and bought a regular Coca-Cola. I don’t recall the last time I drank a Coke, and despite the labeling “original taste,” high fructose corn syrup was used as a sweetener. It was nothing like my memory of going to the corner grocer and buying a 10-ounce bottle of ice-cold Coke after delivering my newspaper route. In Iowa, we are all about appearances, less about substance. We should keep our memories about good times to ourselves.

I will return to Boone to bring her home. I won’t be buying another Coke. It was a mistake to get it, although one that can be quickly forgiven. We’re in Iowa. High fructose corn syrup is what we do.