Letter to the Editor

Going to Jamaica - on $35

Monday, October 1, 2018

an’t stand looking at my Facebook feed any more. Is there ANYBODY I know who isn’t on vacation in some exciting place right now?

Oh, but I have a solution for those of us whose travel budget consists of a change jar.

What if I told you that you could have the most exotic vacation imaginable, sightseeing in stimulating locales like Jamaica, Holland, Madrid, Delhi, East Peru, Manilla, Rome, the Orient, Berlin, Cairo, Brazil, Columbia, Florence, Denmark, Jordan, Lebanon, Santiago, Yorkshire, Kingston, Moscow - and of course, what journey would be complete without stopping in Key West for a Margarita?

Impossible, you say? Au contraire, mon homie.

I’m here to tell you that you could do it in a couple of highly-caffeinated days without benefit of an airplane.

Because all of these are small towns in Iowa.

Take a three-day weekend. Take a selfie of yourself with each town’s highway sign, and you can spend the rest of your life bragging over your amazing travels.

And my bosses thought I was just out driving around aimlessly, avoiding work. I was actually researching this column for all of these years. And, um, avoiding work.

I do keep a notebook in the car, jotting down interesting places and things I see around our state, places I need to go back and explore someday.

Driving the rural roads of Iowa can seem like standing still at times. Uniform cornfields stretching for as far as a person can see in any direction. Hey, didn’t I pass that same cow and faded A&W drive-in sign, an hour ago?

After a while, everything starts to look the same, one big blur of Caseys gas stations and Dollar Generals.

But the state also has its share of creativity, it seems.

Imagine the dashing hopes that founders of tiny places like Persia, Prussia, Macedonia and Jerico must have had as they dredged names from glorious world history for their humble little villages on the plains.

They also sought to reinvent places they longed to see - New London, New Vienna, New Virginia, New Boston. None quite surpassed the old ones.

For classical theater fans, there is indeed a Stratford, Iowa, and an Avon, Iowa. And for good measure, a little unincorporated berg named Bard.

You could tour the country, sort of, without even leaving the confines of the Hawkeye State. Visit Mount Vernon, Brooklyn, Battle Creek, Akron, Denver, Delaware, Fredericksburg, Harper’s Ferry. See Nevada, Toledo, Washington, Wyoming, Worthington, West Point, Oakland, Albany, Plymouth, Bangor or Maine and California (Junction).

Journey to lovely Bloomington, Brownsville, Bridgeport, Charlston, Jacksonville, Harvard, Miami, Montgomery, New York, Nashville, Raleigh, Racine, Terra Haute, Utica, Durango, Little Rock, etc. etc. All names of places in Iowa.

Originality wasn’t always the strong suit of community founders. There are two Hanovers, two Xenias, two Poplars, two Lebanons, two Hagertys, two Big Rocks (wonder which has the bigger rock?) Imagine the poor post office sorter who has to deal with the fact that there is a Blackhawk, Iowa and a Black Hawk, Iowa.

In other cases, names went a bit overboard on the grandiosity scale. I’m guessing unincorporated Cathedral Square has no cathedral, and Castle Hill has no castles. Lourdes, Iowa sounds impressive, as does Luxemborg (though they forgot a “u”).

I count 12 “Saint” town names, which should make Iowans a heavenly bunch.

Some are just plain inexplicable. We have a Pacific City, though we are nearly as far as you can get from an ocean. We have an Ozark, though we are a couple states removed from that mountain range. Montezuma, Iowa, is quite a stretch from the ancient Aztec empire, though to be on the safe side, I wouldn’t drink the water.

Choosing my favorite Iowa town identities is no easy task.

Gravity, Iowa is an awesome town ID. Their motto? You guessed it, “We’re Down to Earth.”

Thor is a must-visit for all of us Nordic-Americans. If you need a quick smile, head for What Cheer - I’m told that it once was a popular greeting, an 1800s version of “Whazzup?”

Jackson County has a little burg known as Crab Town. I wonder if they are cranky folk?

Climax and Whitebreast - make up your own jokes here, folks.

Echo and Eureka and Confidence and Prairiebell and Rising Sun are appealing, pioneer-spirit sort of names.

Motor? Quick? Crisp? Iconium? What the heck?

Cloud... that’s a brilliant name for a tiny unincorporated spot. Oasis - sounds like my kind of place. Surely someone has started a dive bar called The Oasis Oasis.

There is a Neptune, Iowa. Far out, man.

There’s a Cricket, Iowa. Nothing bugs you in Cricket.

There are towns named Wolf and Wren, which are decidedly at opposite ends of the food chain.

There’s a Zero, Iowa. It was a booming coal mine town in the 1880s, but today is considered a ghost town. That’s right, The population of Zero: zero.

Sunshine, Iowa, has to be an ironic place in the middle of dark, -10 below February.

But my favorite town name has to be...

Cool, Iowa.

Population 2,500. Named after its first settler, Hendrix Cool, which is what I would name a rock band, if I had a rock band.

For some, a trip to the mega-malls of Des Moines, the carny-world of Adventureland or the pack of desperate gambling casinos is the best Iowa has to offer. I’d rather get off the paved roads.

I might just go to Jamaica this summer, or maybe Neptune. Or maybe I’ll just chill, Cool-style.