The International Writers Magazine
: Road Trip America

Ari Kaufman

Ari crosses America to find the 'Field of Dreams'

In 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. 

We 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

Later 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
November 2005 (Politics) (Sports, Travel)

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