We expected the flatness. Long, empty stretches of highway lined with cornstalks and soybeans. The sun climbed higher into the sky as we trailed across Iowa. And it was very flat.
I looked over at Ten. “Is there any place to stop along the way today?” He was the official navigator for this trip, after all. Ten checked my iPhone’s map, but quickly set it aside. The GPS has been loading slower and slower the further we get from “real civilization”. Next, he pulled out the AAA map of Iowa. No luck there, either. Nothing looked remotely interesting (or unique. We passed cities called “Oakland”, “Dallas”, and even “Brooklyn”!)
I wasn’t ready to give up, yet. Opening the middle console in the car, I pulled out a book entitled “Next Exit” (an awesome gift from Rodger and Peggy Hall in Indiana). It lists all the upcoming exits and the restaurants/gas stations/attractions located at each. Ten got the hang of finding the right roadway, and started reading off all the exits we would encounter for the next hundred or so miles. I was about to take the book away from him, when suddenly he exclaimed, “Pella!”
Pella? I thought, my mind immediately leaping into archaeology mode. That’s an ancient city located in modern day Jordan; it was one of the Roman Decapolis cities.
Did I mention that there is nothing unique about the names of the cities in Iowa?
Ten quickly erased all thoughts of Romans from my mind. “My old English professor, Dr. Ryken, used to talk about Pella, Iowa all the time. He had this whole spiel on “small-town America”. I must have heard it three or four times. There’s a really good bakery there!”
Tell me no more! We got off at the Pella exit, blatantly ignoring the fact that the sign said it was 35 miles out of our way. As soon as we got off of the highway, the landscape changed drastically. Instead of gliding across a bland plateau, we began rolling through the countryside. Barns sat atop hills in the distance, reminding me of scenery you might see on the face of a jigsaw puzzle. The forty-minute drive flew by. We knew we were in Pella the moment we topped a ridge… and caught sight of a giant windmill. Not a windmill you might see in the hills of California or the plains of Indiana. We’re talking old-school, Dutch windmill. And it was huge! Turns out, Pella is one of the original Dutch colonies in the States. The town square spanned a block in each direction. The central park area boasted of an annual “Tulip Festival”. We slowly drove around the square, giggling over the funny names of the shops (let me rephrase: I was giggling. Ten was rolling his eyes at my giggling). We found the bread shop, “Jaarsma”, and got out of the car. It was only then we noted the large “Closed” sign hanging from the front door. Between our excitement over having arrived in this quaint town, we had both failed to notice that there was not a soul in sight. Apparently, Sunday’s are taken seriously in Pella:everythingwas closed!
While we lamented the loss of our bakery prospects, we were still able to amuse ourselves by taking pictures with all the windmills that decorated the town. Instead of driving back the way we came, we took a smaller highway west that eventually meandered back to I-80. The scenery itself was worth the day’s detour. We reached Omaha by dinnertime and enjoyed a delicious meal with old friends, Dawn and Kevin. Dawn lived with my family in Florida when I was five-years-old. I’d only seen her once in the following 17 years! It was such a treat to catch up with her and her husband. They also introduced us to a new fro-yo shop: Orange Leaf (the Brownie Batter yogurt topped anything I’d ever had at my favorite Chicago shop, Yogli Mogli). I also appreciated the chance to watch the NBA game with true basketball fans.
Another day of travel complete. Next stop: Somewhere in western Nebraska…