Thing a Day 4: Roadside Reflections

 

It is running season, and though I don’t run, my wife does. So, for the month of April and part of May, I got to drive across Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa, as well as the very eastern edge of South Dakota and Nebraska. It’s Thing a Day; so a few reflections on 28 hours in a car.

1.) I come from Kentucky, where we have small, but reasonably sized, cities every dozen miles or so. A thousand people here, a thousand people there. Five thousand, eight thousand. Sure, we have the larger cities of 20,000 residents, and the three major cities of Lexington, Cincinnati, and Louisville -but we are spread pretty evenly throughout the state. So it was interesting to see the upper Midwest and its great plains of nothing, punctuated by quite large cities. Sioux Falls is 176,000 people. Rochester, MN is 115,000. Cedar Rapids is a quarter million. These cities just spring up, like a copse of trees, on the prairie. I have no deep or interesting point -it was just different from the experience I’m used to. Even in Missouri -along I-70, there are cities at fairly regular intervals, but not that far north -there’s not much of anything until there is a major city.

Rochester, MN

2.) The feel of each of the cities is different, too. I thought I knew what an agricultural hub felt like -after all, Kentucky is an agricultural state. Then I saw Peoria and Cedar Rapids. The cities broadcast their agricultural production. As you drive through them and see the mills, you know you are in a place that processes corn. Sioux Falls, on the other hand, is a banking city -and in many ways feels a lot like Lexington, KY. But where Lexington has the antebellum and post-war architecture combined into a modern city with a past -Sioux Falls still feels a lot like a prairie city of 30,000 that just happens to have a lot of banks. Indianapolis -860,000, feels like a discount New York. The various architectural styles never actually gelling into anything in particular. And Madison felt like a giant suburb.

Indianapolis, IN

3.) The US is enormous. I already knew this, but driving across the country makes it obvious. You watch the climate and the geography change as you go. Mountains to hills to plains. Forests to prairie. You drive for hours and you still haven’t left Iowa. Hours, and still in Minnesota. And every place is different. The feel of the cities, but also the pace of life. Sioux Falls still has the slow pace of a suburb or small town. Rochester had a faster, more urban pace. Sioux Falls had a lot of young people -many in ROTC uniforms. Rochester felt more urban-professional. These are, of course, impressions. But the cities aren’t that far apart, and yet they felt very different.

And Iowa and Peoria are different still.

There are also similarities. I snapped a picture of the below Rotary monument -a snapshot of Americana common to all the cities we passed through -if not in exactly the same way.

Rotary Gear monument in Sioux Falls

4.) Finally -it’s a small thing -but Sioux Falls has a waterfall. I feel like that should have been more obvious to me. They’ve got a park around it, with monuments. Once upon a time, it was an active rock quarry of Sioux Quartz, and the falls -which drop about a hundred feet over a quarter mile -were used to power grain mills. It’s beautiful and worth checking out if you have the opportunity.

Sioux Falls – Sioux Falls, SD

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There are 27 comments.

  1. Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq Contributor

    Wisconsin? Y’all should have dropped me a line when you were passin’ through.

    That goes for all of you.

    • #1
    • May 16, 2019, at 8:32 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  2. Mark Camp Member

    I’ve been authorized by the Mayor to say that we are honored, and are reciprocating by declaring Newport to be in Ohio.

    • #2
    • May 16, 2019, at 8:36 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  3. The Reticulator Member

    Rochester has the Mayo Clinic which dominates the local economy, so it’s not surprising that it feels like an urban-professional place. I pretty much skirted the medical areas when I rode through it in late 2017, the first time I had been there since I took my students there on a class trip in the mid 70s, so my recent memories are of a slightly seedier place than I knew it to be. 

    Sioux Falls never managed to make much of an impression on me even though that was the source of our television signal back in the late 50s. I think I was there for a friend’s wedding in the early 70s. Other than that it was a place to drive past. I’m glad you got to know it better than I ever did. I am familiar with some of the smaller places north, south, east, and west of Sioux Falls, but never thought of them in terms of Sioux Falls. It’s different in other regions, where I sometimes think of the smaller towns in terms of the “larger” cities where the roads go and where people drive to work.

    In the 90s when when I started bicycling in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana, it all seemed so exotic to me after coming from Minnesota and northeast Nebraska, because these more “eastern” places had so much visisble history that went back to ancient times before the Civil War. And it was history that had left visible marks.

    I would like to do some serious bicycling in all parts of Europe, but if it doesn’t work out I don’t care, because there are so many small towns to get to know in the Old Northwest and its neighbors. I suppose it might all seem the same to someone coming from Europe or Asia, but each sub-region is different. The landscapes, and the spatial arrangements of roads and buildings are different from one sub-region to the other. The methods for finding roadside history or visible manifestations of local government vary from one region to the next, as do the plans for finding something to eat or a place to stay overnight.

     

    • #3
    • May 16, 2019, at 8:39 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  4. The Reticulator Member

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    I’ve been authorized by the Mayor to say that we are honored, and are reciprocating by declaring Newport to be in Ohio.

    Some of my German Lutheran hillbilly ancestors got off the boat in Newport, but then went to the nearby hill country in Indiana for a few years, before heading further northwest. They skipped Ohio. 

    • #4
    • May 16, 2019, at 8:43 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. Arahant Member

    It’s colder up there with nothing to break the winds. People have to huddle together in large hives.

    • #5
    • May 16, 2019, at 9:09 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  6. The Reticulator Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    It’s colder up there with nothing to break the winds. People have to huddle together in large hives.

    They have a very continental climate. Compared to my current home in southwest Michigan, the winters in northwest Minnesota are much colder and the summers are a little hotter. Here the temperatures are modified a bit by Lake Michigan.

    • #6
    • May 16, 2019, at 9:17 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. Arahant Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    It’s colder up there with nothing to break the winds. People have to huddle together in large hives.

    They have a very continental climate. Compared to my current home in southwest Michigan, the winters in northwest Minnesota are much colder and the summers are a little hotter. Here the temperatures are modified a bit by Lake Michigan.

    Ditto on this side of the state. If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look around you.

    • #7
    • May 16, 2019, at 9:22 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  8. The Reticulator Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    It’s colder up there with nothing to break the winds. People have to huddle together in large hives.

    They have a very continental climate. Compared to my current home in southwest Michigan, the winters in northwest Minnesota are much colder and the summers are a little hotter. Here the temperatures are modified a bit by Lake Michigan.

    Ditto on the side of the state. If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look around you.

    I’d like to get one of those t-shirts that say, “Four out of five Great Lakes prefer Michigan.”

    • #8
    • May 16, 2019, at 9:24 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  9. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    It’s colder up there with nothing to break the winds. People have to huddle together in large hives.

    That and I think the factors that lead to settlement were probably different. Also possibly the temperaments of the people who moved in. 

    • #9
    • May 16, 2019, at 10:04 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  10. Guruforhire Member

    Yeah you can definitely feel the time period in any given city where it “Grew up.”

    • #10
    • May 17, 2019, at 5:05 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  11. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Thatcher

    I know that well traveled lobster, I even contributed to it’s delinquency. 

    • #11
    • May 17, 2019, at 5:22 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  12. PHCheese Member

    I don’t think Ohio is ready to concede Cincinnati to Kentucky quite yet. That would be a bridge to far.

    • #12
    • May 17, 2019, at 5:44 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. The Reticulator Member

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    I don’t think Ohio is ready to concede Cincinnati to Kentucky quite yet. That would be a bridge to far.

    They already have the bridge. Several of them, actually. 

    • #13
    • May 17, 2019, at 5:53 AM PDT
    • Like
  14. Vectorman Thatcher

    I ended up taking a college course called Economic Geography. The professor stated that Iowa was studied as the most representative state of the Union. It has the largest city and capital in the center of the state. Davenport and the Council Bluffs area as major import/export hubs to other states, and high tech in Iowa City/Cedar Rapids, etc. Another state that matches this description is Indiana, originally based in agriculture but developed other industries organically. Both states are in better shape than Illinois, which is dominated by the Chicago area.

    • #14
    • May 17, 2019, at 6:27 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  15. The Reticulator Member

    I have avoided coming up with a challenge to Sabrdance’s observation, because I find it interesting that he made that observation and would like to understand it and how he came to it. However, I wouldn’t say there is nothing in between the major population centers that he named. I find quite a lot between those types of places when I travel.

    However, it is true that populated places are further apart as you go west as far as Iowa and Minnesota, and a lot further apart when you go even further west. When I travel by bicycle in those regions I have to be more careful about making sure I’ll encounter food and water during the day, or making sure I carry enough with me.

    One thing that I have noticed is that in Minnesota (away from the Minneapolis-St. Paul region) a town of even 5,000 is likely to be a shopping destination for rural people, whereas a town of such population in my part of the world might have local jobs at an industrial park for light manufacturing, but it will not be a shopping destination. There are bigger places within easy driving distance that serve that purpose.

    I don’t do all my traveling by bicycle, but that tends to give a different view of the country than driving through on the Interstates. I used to think northern Indiana was boring until I started traveling through it on bicycle-suitable routes. Then I found it to be almost a storybook land. In 1996 when I did a bicycle tour of all the towns in the Midwest League (Class A minor league baseball) I figured I’d just have to slog through boring old northern Indiana and northern Illinois and that the interesting ridess would start in Iowa and Wisconsin. It took only day 2, between Fort Wayne and South Bend, to gain an entirely different impression of northern Indiana, and it has since been one of my favorite regions for bicycling, largely due to the small towns and type of agricultural scenery. 

    But even allowing for that, I find it interesting that Sabrdance came up with his observation. I’ve ridden and driven on county and township roads, as well as state and U.S. highways in all of the regions he talks about, and would not have come up with quite the observation that he did.

    • #15
    • May 17, 2019, at 6:58 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  16. Mark Camp Member

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    I don’t think Ohio is ready to concede Cincinnati to Kentucky quite yet. That would be a bridge to far.

    Maybe it was a mistake, but it’s too late. In my Comment above, on behalf of the Mayor of Cincinnati, I already accepted the honor of my town being admitted to the Commonwealth of Kentucky.*

    It is similar to the situation years ago, when a soccer Dad buddy–not only a Kentuckian, but a true, Bluetick Coonhound-owning, I-prefer-possum-meat-to-racoon-meat Kentuckian–got me officially approved as a Kentucky Colonel. Once I accepted it the designation, there was no giving it back.

    Speaking of those bridges, I just found out that Roebling’s practice bridge (much more beautiful than the real thing over in Brooklyn, or is it in Manhattan?) was strenuously opposed by many morally upright Cincinnatians because, state borders being what they were and still are, it would bring the evils of chattel slavery quite literally to our shores.

    * (I simultaneously announced Ohio’s annexation of Newport, which is not a big deal: the only reason they invented Newport in the first place was to provide a resettlement site for the peeler bars and brothels that were being kicked out of downtown Cinci, and now that Newport is an upright yuppie haven, there’s no point in not making it part of Ohio)

     

    • #16
    • May 17, 2019, at 7:45 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  17. Percival Thatcher

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    I don’t think Ohio is ready to concede Cincinnati to Kentucky quite yet. That would be a bridge to far.

    You mean Greater Covington?

    • #17
    • May 17, 2019, at 7:46 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  18. Mark Camp Member

    Percival (View Comment):

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    I don’t think Ohio is ready to concede Cincinnati to Kentucky quite yet. That would be a bridge to far.

    You mean Greater Covington?

    I’m looking for the I Protest button but all I can find is the Like button, so please do not misinterpret my vote.

    • #18
    • May 17, 2019, at 7:51 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. Aaron Miller Member

    Sabrdance: I thought I knew what an agricultural hub felt like -after all, Kentucky is an agricultural state. Then I saw Peoria and Cedar Rapids. The cities broadcast their agricultural production.

    Some towns in east Texas are like that. Granaries tower over everything and the shops are not for city slickers.

    • #19
    • May 17, 2019, at 11:22 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  20. Blondie Thatcher

    I’d think that was @randyweivoda in your Rochester picture except for the spoiler on that ‘stang. 

    • #20
    • May 17, 2019, at 11:29 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  21. Randy Weivoda Moderator

    Blondie (View Comment):

    I’d think that was @randyweivoda in your Rochester picture except for the spoiler on that ‘stang.

    The resolution makes it hard to tell in that photo but I think that’s a 2013-14 based on the taillights, where mine is a 2011. It warms my heart to know that Wildfire and I are still in your thoughts, @blondie. 

    • #21
    • May 17, 2019, at 1:41 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  22. Boss Mongo Member

    Sabrdance: so a few reflections on 28 hours in a car.

    And not a single admonition to keep that Gatoraid bottle handy? I do hereby dub thee Mr. Cold Steel Sabre w/ Iron Bladder.

    Sabrdance: The US is enormous. I already knew this, but driving across the country makes it obvious. You watch the climate and the geography change as you go. Mountains to hills to plains.

    From Monroe County, FL, I know that I’ve got 12 hours of driving in front of me before I even get out of my state.

    • #22
    • May 17, 2019, at 5:22 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  23. Burwick Chiffswiddle Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment): I don’t do all my traveling by bicycle, but that tends to give a different view of the country than driving through on the Interstates. I used to think northern Indiana was boring until I started traveling through it on bicycle-suitable routes. Then I found it to be almost a storybook land. In 1996 when I did a bicycle tour of all the towns in the Midwest League (Class A minor league baseball) I figured I’d just have to slog through boring old northern Indiana and northern Illinois and that the interesting ridess would start in Iowa and Wisconsin. It took only day 2, between Fort Wayne and South Bend, to gain an entirely different impression of northern Indiana, and it has since been one of my favorite regions for bicycling, largely due to the small towns and type of agricultural scenery.

    If you think northern Indiana is interesting (and it is, as is most of the country — except Florida), try far-eastern Ohio.

    • #23
    • May 17, 2019, at 7:13 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  24. The Reticulator Member

    Burwick Chiffswiddle (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment): I don’t do all my traveling by bicycle, but that tends to give a different view of the country than driving through on the Interstates. I used to think northern Indiana was boring until I started traveling through it on bicycle-suitable routes. Then I found it to be almost a storybook land. In 1996 when I did a bicycle tour of all the towns in the Midwest League (Class A minor league baseball) I figured I’d just have to slog through boring old northern Indiana and northern Illinois and that the interesting ridess would start in Iowa and Wisconsin. It took only day 2, between Fort Wayne and South Bend, to gain an entirely different impression of northern Indiana, and it has since been one of my favorite regions for bicycling, largely due to the small towns and type of agricultural scenery.

    If you think northern Indiana is interesting (and it is, as is most of the country — except Florida), try far-eastern Ohio.

    I didn’t get to that exact spot, but I rode from Van Wert to Marietta in 2013. The final day’s ride was from Zanesville to Marietta. Nice country.

    • #24
    • May 17, 2019, at 7:37 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  25. Boss Mongo Member

    Burwick Chiffswiddle (View Comment):
    If you think northern Indiana is interesting (and it is, as is most of the country — except Florida)

    You wanna ‘splain that parenthetical comment? Or do I have to go all “Florida Man” on you?”

    • #25
    • May 18, 2019, at 6:07 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  26. Percival Thatcher

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):
    do I have to go all “Florida Man” on you?

    I’d buy tickets to see that. Hell, I’d sell tickets to see that.

    • #26
    • May 18, 2019, at 8:26 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  27. Arahant Member

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Burwick Chiffswiddle (View Comment):
    If you think northern Indiana is interesting (and it is, as is most of the country — except Florida)

    You wanna ‘splain that parenthetical comment? Or do I have to go all “Florida Man” on you?”

    *Pops popcorn*

    • #27
    • May 18, 2019, at 8:52 PM PDT
    • 5 likes