Heroes

Wednesday, May 8th

This morning we woke up in Rockford, IL after a meandering 427 mile drive from Cleveland through Chicago. Bill and I each got our respective morning exercises out of the way, ate our complimentary Marriott breakfast (not terrible) and were on Rte 20 West towards Iowa by 10:00 am or so. Route 20 is great. It starts off with a four lane imitation of an interstate but soon sheds pretense and offers up instead a perfectly serviceable two lane country road the rest of the way to the Mississippi River. And western Illinois is absolutely beautiful. The terrain changes to rolling hills at the end and gets downright steep in places. Weather in the morning was sunny and warm and the early driving was perfect.

We stopped for a bit in Galena, Illinois where we visited the home of U.S.Grant. After the Civil War, the grateful citizens of his hometown bestowed on the newly minted hero a neat house where he and his family lived briefly until Grant was elected President in 1868. Since Bill and I were the only tourists in sight, our guided tour, by a cheerful if robotic docent, got upgraded to Personal.

I’ve always been fascinated by Grant. The guy who couldn’t really do anything right but got everything right in the end. A mediocre West Point cadet. Then a career soldier in a western outpost who quit because he got homesick. Then a failed farmer and businessman. Then a commanding general so tortured by the Civil War’s carnage that he drank himself through the worst of it even while doggedly prosecuting affairs to their bitter conclusion. Then President, but with both terms marred by scandal and intrigue. Then world traveler. Then hopeless spendthrift whose fortune was only restored by publication of the inspired autobiography he raced to finish on his deathbed.

But that’s not the story you get in Galena. Their version? He went to West Point, won the war, was given this cool house, got elected president, travelled the world, wrote his memoirs, and died of throat cancer. The end. It made me wonder why they felt the need to scrub his legacy to make him less complicated. And it made me wonder how many other subjects get that treatment out this way. A taste of midwestern vanilla maybe?

After Galena we detoured North for a brief while so we could add Wisconsin to our visited list, then jogged back and crossed the Mississippi River into Iowa at Dubuque. We noodled around town there for awhile and Bill indulged me patiently while I looked up a few old haunts. Including the Miracle Car Wash where I worked briefly many years ago. Looks exactly the same. Unbelieveable.

After Dubuque, Bill took the wheel. We hit the road then with a purpose, made a dash for Waterloo, IA, turned right and headed for Minnesota. Our overnight destination is in Albert Lea (named after a 19th century army surveyor – you’re welcome). Tomorrow? Possible sprint across South Dakota, through the Badlands to Rapid City and Mt. Rushmore. But we’re flexible.

Some quick notes on today. Major changes in terrain since Indiana. There are Red Winged blackbirds absolutely everywhere. Bill noticed how green Wisconsin was compared its neighbors – odd. Dubuque has casinos! Saw our first rain of the trip in the late afternoon. There’s snow on the ground around the Iowa – Minnesota border. Large clusters of wind turbines appeared today; I counted seventy in one spot. Many anti-abortion billboards. And, U.S. Grant. Can’t get him out of my mind.

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