The International Writers Magazine: Road Trip America
crosses America to find the 'Field of Dreams'
August, I moved across the nation from Los Angeles to Washington
DC. I changed careers. I had some time to spare, so I decided
to drive instead of fly. It really was a proverbial "no brainer";
I love driving, I had driven the southernly cross-country route
(I-10 to I-40) over my winter teaching break, just "for fun".
Most friends and
colleagues scoffed at my idea of making a 2,800 mile trip that can,
and has been done, in a 15 day trip, but I was psyched. To top it off,
a buddy of mine from NY, still in college, had agreed to take a flight
to California and embark upon about two-thirds of the trip with me.
We sketched out the "plan of attack" via email but knew
it would be circuitous in nature, taking advantage of long, warm summer
days to go north as much as possible. Then a friend suggested we take
a slight detour, being certain to eschew the balance of I-80 in
Iowa and head north through the backroads to Dyersville, Dubuque and
Galena, Illinois on our way into Chicago.
What was in these cities, though? Why should I detour from the "plan
of attack" for such unknown areas? Well, for one, Dyersville had
the original movie set from the 1989 Field of Dreams. My favorite movie
of all time. I was told it also has a random, majestic, European-esque church,
right in the center of this tiny town.
Apparently, Dubuque and Galena were "quaint towns". But actually,
Dubuque is a mid-sized city overlooking the Mississippi and Galena
is a small town just a few miles away but in a separate state. Nonetheless,
we mapped it out, and better yet, this would allow us to add Wisconsin
to our list of states for the trip.
After a Sunday afternoon minor league game in Des Moines,between the
Iowa Cubs and Memphis Redbirds, replete with Boy Scouts, families and
the Iowa State Capitol in the distance (True Americana), we spent
the night in Iowa City near the University of Iowa. Monday, after a
stop by President Herbert Hoover's library/childhood home in West Branch
(just a few miles east of Iowa City), we hit the back country roads
of Northeastern Iowa. Considering the fact that the only thing
you see on interstate is interstate, well-maintained State and
US Highways are a serene treat on beautiful days.
drove through farms, lush hills and small towns for about two
hours, along Iowa's various highways and county roads, circumscribed
by the state's infamous corn until we arrived in Dyersville: population
4,035. After consuming our third lunch buffet at
Pizza Hut of the trip, for the rest of the morning and early
afternoon Matt and I threw the ball around the "Field of Dreams"
about three miles from the center of town.
Photo: Dyersville St Francis Xavier
At one point, I
made a running snag and the momentum took my right behind where Shoeless
Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta in the film) and Terrance Mann (James Earl
Jones) once stood, and into Ray Kinsella's (Kevin Costner) corn.
Yes, as he once indicated, I was a "guest in his corn." Luckily,
I found my way out. It was too cool. I snapped many shots, and with
the free admission, I was sure to buy a postcard and a bumper sticker.
I even bought my dad a shirt that said, "Dad...wanna
have a catch?" I can see him sobbing right now. He loves the end
of that film.
Since we entered on the left field side of the farm, we were "forced"
to play catch only in left field, and not to cross some sort of imaginary
line into the infield. Apparently, the farm is owned by two families,
hence the restrictions and dueling souvenir stands. I found that this
bit of "controversy" augmented the appeal and ambience
of this wonderfully intriguing place.
As for the kingly (and seemingly out-of-place) church in downtown
Dyersville, it is the St. Francis Xavier Basilica: a 212' high structure
seating 1,200, in a town of, as noted, just 4,000 people. The informational
brochure explains that a basilica is often referred to as the Pope's
church for his use in the event he should ever visit the area. Of the
33 basilicas in the United States, this is the only one outside a metropolitan
area. Perhaps unnecessarily, the brochure adds, "it is not expected
that the Pope will ever visit here." I, for one, think he should
on, we drove through Dubuque, and my three year-old car crossed
over the Mississippi for the first time. We would hit Dubuque later
that evening as our hotel was there. For now though, our destination
was Galena, Illinois, a town of slightly fewer folks than
Dyersville. However, the similarities stop there. Galena is actually
a touristy area, as Chicagoans make the three hour trek west on
various summer weekends to buy antiques.
This was a Monday
and the town was still "suffering" from the weekend's activities.
The downtown is cute, but also very closed in, so we decided to walk
up the hills and into the red brick-dotted housing areas. The houses
were old-fashioned looking and we caught a view of the tiny, but attractive
Galena River which is surrounded by a bridge and a small military park
with statues and cannons in Civil war style. All of this is quite romantic,
as Galena is abounding with bed and breakfasts. It seems a perfect
weekend jaunt for couples. Too bad I was with Matt and not my girlfriend.
After Galena, we sojourned north into Wisconsin through the towns of
Hazel Green and Cuba City, eventually heading southwest, back across
the Mighty Mississippi and into Dubuque. Dubuque is extremely interesting,
and the quintessential middle America, lily-white city. At 57,000, it's a
veritable metropolis compared to Dyersville and Galena. They even had
their own newspaper and county courthouse, which was definitely an architectural
marvel. As it sits along the Mississippi, it is a port town with a River
museum, casinos and a 300 foot incline railway/elevator that gives you
a view of three states, the downtown and the river. Aside from the courth
ouse, most homes, shops and hotels have "nice" architecture.
Dubuque, considering the incline, views and proximity to so may other
locales, felt similar to Chattanooga, Tennessee, whose population is
about two and half times that of Dubuque.
On reflection, of all the places I have been and seen, the Tri-cities
was perhaps the most rewarding and interesting of my road-trip.
© Ari J. Kaufman
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