Notes on the Road

Davenport, IA

I had to visualize a matrix in my mind’s eye so that I could get through the next few weeks. Let’s see if you can keep up: I’m on a trip inside a trip and will leave Iowa for a trip inside a trip, on vacation from my primary trip. Confusing? I’ve driven 400 miles so far this week, gigging in Davenport (Tue.), and Cedar Rapids (Wednesday, Thursday). This week’s trip takes place within my major four month trip to Iowa. After a gig in Davenport on Saturday (two Friday gigs fell through, one in Des Moines, and another in Iowa City), I drive back to Des Moines, unpack from this week and repack for next week.

This Sunday, I fly (liquid-less) to San Francisco, only to unpack and pack for a week-long trip to Burningman. Then I head back to SF, unpack and then pack lightly for the return flight to Des Moines (coach class for the first time ever…. I upgraded with frequent flyer miles). So, Monday before I left for this trip East, I also had to pack for the trip to SF and Burningman.

If you need it drawn out for you, contact me and I’ll give you a nifty flow chart or something.

Gigs East
The Tuesday carny performance in Davenport was short and uneventful. The SEIU had a press conference on health care, so the media cameras were there. The games are extremely photogenic, so they caught the few people who tried to win a “cute little puppy doll” on video before they left. Jess tagged along in Dave’s PieMobile to give away ice cream and schmooze.

We drove back West to Iowa City and ate lunch in a hip Jamaican cafe downtown in the throng of back-to-school students. Jess drove back to Des Moines and I drove up to Cedar Rapids. I wanted to stay in Iowa City, but my contact for the next set-up never called me back about details. So I hedged my luck and drove North to the land of Quaker Oats.

A cluster of corporate hotels sit next to the highway just outside of Cedar Rapids, overlooking factories and smokestacks and fast food chains. Not a pretty sight, but the light scent of hops from a nearby brewery made the desolate scene a bit more bearable. I had to go to three hotels before I could find one that had a room for two nights. “Why are all these hotels booked on a Tuesday night?” I asked.

Corporate hacks, that’s why. That explained why the first two hotels were booked, yet their ample parking lots were barely full. When I went to the continental breakfast Wednesday morning to get a bowl for my organic muesli and fruit/nut cereal, I saw them all in the lobby, brrrm brrrm-ing into their cells and hacking away on their laptops. They all looked the same (I stereotype, I know)!

Czech Village and Kirkwood Community College
No big highlights in Cedar Rapids. My two morning gigs at Kirkwood Community College went fine. My volunteer and contact never showed up and called late in the gig on Wednesday. I had no idea where to set up, and found out when a Wells-Fargo employee drove up to unload. The woman working for the college didn’t know that I was coming either, because the volunteer never confirmed my booking. All ended up good, and I set up by the student life center with the other orgs on the first day, right next to the plasma clinic. “You all should set up later in the semester when the students are low of funds,” I joked.

I met at least three former servicemen at Kirkwood. One guy really dug our message. He was part of the rapid deployment troops based out of Germany and he said “I fucking hate Bush!” He confirmed what we all know: they hate us for being there, it’s a proving ground for terrorists, and we should’ve left last year. The other two folks were more polite but played the games and understood the message.

After the Wednesday gig, I drove to the Czech Village to see if I could eat lunch there. Only a block long, and anchored by the Czech and Slovakian National Museum, I appreciated the low-key, ungentrified feel of the ‘hood. Other than new sidewalks and street lights, the buildings stood in various stages of disrepair, some housing off-beat small businesses. I found an authentic Czech restaurant and had paprika chicken with sweet and sour cabbage, potato dumplings, apple sauce and rye bread. Topped it off with a draught beer and apple strudel for dessert. Haven’t had a meal like that since I was last in Europe in 1995.

I took a long walk into downtown Cedar Rapids to digest that huge meal, and went into town via the river-walk. Iowa cities have developed trails along their rivers, something that amazes me in this unprogressive part of the US. Not much going on downtown, so I headed back via 3rd Street. Right across the river from Czech Village, near a huge yuppie condoplex, I walked through a ‘hood that was funkier than the Village. A sign called it South Side, and strange old houses stood in various forms of disrepair. Mixed in amongst the empty buildings were a few funky shops and diners, and one building with four huge solar panels on top of it. I noticed no signs of corporate American anywhere, and felt grounded as I looked at all the art that an organization had hung on the empty buildings and inside the small business windows.

After my gig in Cedar Rapids, I ended up on the phone coordinating my trip to SF on Sunday. Once I get there, I have to unpack, pack, go to storage and pack some more, and then go to Rainbow and buy some food and beverage. Had to see where the hell my bike was (it made it to Valencia Cyclery), and deal with getting a ride to the airport in Des Moines.

I then drove to Iowa City for a late lunch. After cruising around the Old Capital building, in the midst of thousands of students en route to wherever, I ended up eating a so-so veggie sandwich in Coralville.

Drove to Davenport and found a decent hotel on the edge of town (55th Street) that has a “whirlpool” (hot tub) and wireless. Thank gawd for high-speed wireless and laptop computers! Went down to the Mississippi for the first time since being in New Orleans in the 1990s and walked a bit in downtown Davenport. Again, not much going on. Picked up a weekly for the Quad Cities and ate at a good Thai restaurant.

So the day winds down now. Tomorrow is a free day that I had hoped would be filled by the Miss Rockaway crew. They just updated their blog and are still in Minnesota. Their engines have broken down seven times each and they’re losing about four passengers due to scheduling. Miss Rockaway still managed to give workshops in Winona, MN and perform their “rough around the edges” show. They may be in La Crosse tomorrow, so I doubt I’ll get to see them as they float through Iowa.

I need to work on a speech tomorrow anyway. More of a presentation I guess. I set up the games at an Iraq war forum Saturday and have to give a 10 minute presentation about our campaign. They also want me to the the BB/nuclear missile bit too. I haven’t spoken in front of this many people yet, and the BB bit will be my first one. Not that worried about it beyond editing the text down to fit the time and then finding a place to print it out. Tuesday, an organizer also mentioned that I should make time for Q&A. We’ll see how that goes!

Other than that, I plan on visiting a local health food store to buy some healthy food. Haven’t eaten too bad this week. Always a good thing.

No blog entries next week, but will see if I can journal at Black Rock City and bring some of the magic to the interweb. Trying not to make any big plans on the playa, but have scheduled a few things. The less to do the better!