April 7 – 10, 2018
I left Kearney as soon as the snow melted off the roads – let me just tell you for a moment here, about something you may never have considered when you think you want to go live in an RV: FROZEN SHIT. No, literally. When it’s as cold as it has been on my entire benighted journey east (I am writing this in about five inches of FUCKING SNOW in Wisconsin on April 15, it never ends) then the black tank, which is what holds the shit, and, if you have no gray water tank, everything else that goes down the drains, will freeze. Or at least in Amelia it will, because more than half of it is just under the camper and there is no insulation, no nothing, only a (way too small) metal tank full of poo and dishwater. Yeah, it freezes or turns to a really horrible kind of slush and when you go to the dump station there is no joy and the tank does not really empty. OR, perhaps you cannot even open it, because the blade thing that holds the tank closed is frozen solid in place. Which could mean that things will begin to break, which is bad and definitely means that the trailer will not pull well, which is also bad. Whooo! Fun times!
To combat this problem, I had decided that I needed to go to a real RV park with full hookups: electricity, running water and, most important, sewer hookups. So I pored over the map and RV Parky and decided on the Pine Grove RV Park in Greenwood, Nebraska, sort of between Lincoln and Omaha. It had a BAR! I love RV parks with bars! Off I went after a late start, mostly driving on Route 30.
Route 30 in Nebraska (and Iowa, it turns out) runs roughly parallel to I-80 but it’s much more pleasant and definitely slower. It goes like this – (well, actually, the architecture is better in Iowa, the giant ag complexes and train bridges are better in Nebraska) rolling hills, cows, gorgeous Victorian farmhouse, more cows, beautiful old barn, BABY COWS!, fabulous square Queen Anne farmhouse, HORSES!, crops, ruin, cemetery, river, train. You are now approaching a town, so slow down. The town is marked by a huge mysterious agricultural complex hooked up to the train tracks. The population – 824, 1,372, 7,346, whatever, it’s always mysteriously completely specific – is on the welcome sign. There will be an obligatory trailer park before you get to the ag complex. The speed limit goes from 65 to 45 to 35 to 25. There’s a gas station / convenience store – Pump N’ Pantry, Kum N’ Go (I know! They know it too.) or Casey’s General Store. There’s a sign pointing you to the historic downtown (Route 30 does not run through the nice neighborhoods.) Bigger towns have elaborate wrought iron bridge things over the tracks. Then there’s a sign thanking you for visiting and asking you to come again and the speed limit goes abruptly back to 65. Lather, rinse, repeat.
I found my way to Pinewood RV Park and discovered that it was full of weird military kitsch. I also discovered that they had no running water and no showers because a) it is winter and b) their water heater had given up the ghost the day before. “We’ll have it fixed in a few hours!” The lady behind the desk in the bar / office / convenience store told me. I could hear the narrator’s voice even then: they did not. The next morning when I went to take a shower and found out the hot water had not been fixed, I was unhappy. I mean, I know things break and they take time to fix – but it would have been nice to a) tell me and b) at that point, offer me a discount. I was now rocking three days, showerless. Honestly, I took against the place.
I went to the bar and the people there, which is to say the proprietress, a couple of older guys and a younger guy, all of whom worked for, as best as I could tell, either Facebook or some cable conglomerate, were not actively unpleasant to me. The younger guy was pledging to beat up or shoot the older guys’ boss, yeah, but this is not my first rodeo or redneck bar and that shit does not bother me. I can even exchange rueful glances with other old people while youth waxes dramatic about blood and vengeance. But the Semper Fi signs everywhere, the teddy bears in camouflage, the big flags proclaiming that the son and daughter of the house were in Afghanistan, the casual mention of rallies and occasional bursts of angry laughter about guns and how nobody was gonna take them, all in all made me uncomfortable. We ended up talking about historical presidential trivia.
I genuinely liked the lady who ran the place – although, again, hey! Discount for total absence of water? She did get someone to come turn the water on at my site as I was leaving so I could rinse the sewer pipe and fill my tank, but still. I felt, bone deep, that she would shoot me without a second thought for my ideologies. I am not exactly a stealth liberal, even though I do try to tone it down some, by which I mean that my OMG GOP WTF button is inside the camper rather than outside, I don’t wear a few of my T-shirts in public or Nebraska and I try – I really do try – not to say anything political. The country is so divided now that it feels actively dangerous to talk politics, even for an older middle class white woman like me. It has of course, always been a dangerous topic for a lot of people but not for my subset, until now. Yay. It’s just great how much progress we’re making.
Anyway, the last time I felt that unwelcome in a bar I was a twenty something artsy kid trying to infiltrate an old man bar in the outskirts of Baltimore. They would have let ME stay, it was the two guys I was with that they wanted out and they chased us away successfully by continuing to ask for new forms of ID (no, we require four forms of picture ID, kids) until we caved and fled. Back in Nebraska, I finished my drink and got the hell out.
I left on Monday and headed to Creston, another drive on route 30 and then its even smaller brethren through a surprisingly beautiful, if bumpy, Iowa.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: HEY! IOWA! You really really really really need to do something about the state of your roads. They are TERRIBLE. AWFUL. I had no idea that a paved road could be a washboard like that. They were just the absolute worst.
But Iowa is, perhaps surprisingly, really beautiful and the architecture? The architecture in Iowa will take your breath away. It’s like the entire state was built between 1885 and 1915 and all of it was done with love and care. Between the fantastic farmhouses and the hawks – the prairies are FULL OF HAWKS and it’s GREAT – I kept finding myself wanting to pull over. No dice. Another problem with rural Iowa roads is that they have no shoulders. There is no pulling over and if you are going slowly you will be hated. Not as much as you will be in Wisconsin (Wisconsin drivers are the worst) but hated nonetheless. And this is why I have so few pictures, sigh.
Anyway, I got to Creston and found my way through town – it’s quite a big town – to the Green Valley State Park. Where I wrote the following (when I described all this to my friend Elizabeth she said, girl, I have seen that movie and it did not end well for the protagonist):
I am completely alone in this big campground. There is a sign at the check in station that says the water is turned off for the winter but the electricity works. I can see a big lake full of small fat black ducks out my window. Across the lake is a big house. It’s probably not an old house but if it was it would look like. . . an asylum. I imagine a local saying to me, “oh yeah that’s the old asylum! It’s been abandoned for years! They say that if a member of your family was ever locked up there – but that wouldn’t affect you! You’re from North Carolina!”
Nevertheless, this park would be paradise but.
But cars keep appearing, driving slowly around the campground circle and disappearing.
This campground is not on the way to anywhere. It’s a dead end, in fact, down a long road through the state park to the campground next to a lake. You do not stumble across this, is what I’m saying, and you don’t go here on the way to anywhere: all you can do is go around the circle and then back out the long road to a (very) slightly more trafficked road. So why are there cars?
It’s 33 degrees outside and there is ice on the road, on the trees, on the half formed buds of the bushes. It’s early April but it’s cold and every so often the sky tosses some snow or ice or sleet in this general direction. It’s not the kind of night where you might park to see the stars or smoke a joint and make out. It’s Monday. They aren’t parking, anyway, they just. . circle. And leave. And don’t, so far, inasmuch as I know, come back. Yet.
I stepped outside to rig up the small space heater in the outside compartment that keeps my water tank from freezing and I heard coyotes. I generally like the sound of coyote packs greeting the night but this one was, uh, close. Extremely close. A little too close. On the other side of the lake, I told myself, but the lake is not, really, that big. And it sounded more like wolves than coyotes, starting with straight up wolf howls that slowly morphed into the alien yip yip of coyotes.
I kept on taping up the compartment door and then a gray truck drove oh so slowly around the campground, staring at me. I looked right back, summoning up every bit of angry punk streetwise disdain I ever knew and I waited until it was gone before I scampered back into the camper and nearly hyperventilated. No more wine, I told myself, Oh god no, myself replied, we may yet need all our wits about us tonight.
I am good and spooked now. Fucking terrified and yet, what the hell am I going to do? Try to hitch up the camper in the pitch dark and drive to. . I don’t know, Wal Mart? I can’t see in the damn dark and I’m not spending an hour out there with WOLVES and who the hell ever is driving around in circles in the middle of nowhere this cold night. Go get into the truck, abandon the camper and find a motel? That seems expensive, depressing and defeatist. Or just stay here and give myself over into the Hands of Manos, Hands of Fate and hope for the best?
I am hoping for the best. I am staying in this nice if empty campground. I am in FUCKING IOWA and we’re not in complete post apocalyptic total dystopia YET although I think we are certainly heading there full throttle no brakes. What on earth am I afraid of? Renegade 4H kids? FFA gone bad? I mean, this is ridiculous. I am not going to be eaten by wolves or sacrificed to the corn or caught in the middle of a bloody gang war or axe murdered in IOWA. Right?
Gods I hope so. And people ask me why I don’t go to free campsites. THIS IS WHY. This isn’t even a free campsite ($11, yo, ELEVEN DOLLARS) and here I am, alone and terrified. The free ones are worse.
So, hey, I survived. Nobody even bothered me and a couple of rangers stopped by the next day to say hello. It was fine. If you want a lovely, quiet, cheap place to stay in southwest Iowa? Do not listen to my inner horror movie writer! Check it out! **
* the next blog entry might go into this a bit. Or it might not! Suffice it to say that my grandmother had some issues and she did eventually spend some time in some asylum somewhere, but I don’t THINK it was in Creston.
** Unless a member of your family was ever a guest of the local asylum, that is! AAAAIIIIIEEEE!!