Thursday, June 30, 2011

East from Omaha

It pains me to say this, but the Bob Feller Museum in Van Meter, Iowa, is a real disappointment. For starters, it’s quite small and surprisingly filled with things other than Feller memorabilia—pictures of other baseball players who have visited the museum, for example, and autographed football helmets. There is no clear overview of Feller’s life or career—you wouldn’t know when he was born or when he died or even, as Rob pointed out, that he died. You don’t see his lifetime stats or any other detailed assessment of his career. There is a lot of ephemera—some of it charming—and a lot of material related to Feller’s three no-hitters. But then there’s the extensive display of baseballs signed by “Hall of Fame Players.” Never mind that decidedly non-Hall-bound players like .404 career slugger Jim Eisenreich are amply represented—what is Barbara Bush doing in there?

Feh. Despite our love of Feller, this was a waste of time and money—and to say that something of even nominal interest in Iowa is boring is both sad and damning.

I don’t think I have a statistically normal sense of what is boring and what isn’t. Certainly, I can find fascination in things others find numbing, and vice versa. So I would not jump to say that Iowa is uniquely or even especially boring. It is, however, kind of drag to drive across in a hurry, which we had to do today.

We began with a noxious breakfast at Shirley’s, just outside of Omaha. When am I going to learn that in too many places a vegetable omelet isn’t going to contain anything other than Velveeta, slimy spinach, and mushrooms from a can? Rob’s Spanish omelet made him no happier.

Perhaps as a result we decided not long thereafter to more or less trespass our way on the site of the Malcolm X birthplace marker. We found the Malcolm X Foundation easily enough, though it was closed (as, perhaps, it always is), and we were able to spy a memorial marker nearby:

After some further (ahem) reconnaissance, we were able to read the marker in detail and to wonder why, exactly, access to the site is less than easy. We're guessing a formal opening can't be too far away. Can it?

We had to recalibrate the itinerary a bit on account of the Missouri River flooding going on right now—multiple river crossings are closed, or I should say submerged. We canceled plans to go to the Strategic Air and Space Museum in order to have more time to take back roads up the Museum of Religious Arts near Logan, Iowa. Here, among the usual rehashings of Christian iconography, we found these kicky nun dolls:

After that, we got down to serious driving. What I wonder is whether Iowa is more boring now than it used to be. After all, there was a time when it took weeks to cross, and each small town would have been some sort of oasis—and, one hopes, less homogeneous than Amercain towns tend to be now. We did notice a refreshing lack of chain retail in the many small towns we passed through, but it’s not clear whether that’s on account of the small populations or the distances from major markets. We eventually reached a profound and wonderful oasis of our own in the town of Oxford, where the Augusta Restaurant served up fantastic New Orleans–style food and an array of local microbrews on tap. The tale of the place is here. Go there if you can—it's charming, the people and friendly, and the catfish is perfect.

We got to Clinton in time to take our seats behind the first-base dugout at the LumberKings game against the Beloit Snappers. Clinton’s a small, smelly town, but it does seem to have invested heavily in street improvements. (Hello, Complete Streets Coalition!) The smell apparently comes from a rendering plant, by the way.

Beloit made this one a laugher in short order, scorching ten runs off Clinton starter Jandy Sena before he departed partway through the third. Beloit’s behemoth first baseman, Michael Gonzales (6’6”, 270 lbs.), hit two shots in the game for 5 RBIs, though he also fanned twice. The final score of 14–5 makes the game sound closer than it actually was (box).

The unexpected highlight of the game was meeting the old man (a real old man, not aspiring one like us) next to us, who turned out to be an honest-to-gosh minor-leage baseball-park inspector. He travels the country, checking for compliance in problematic parks on matter such as lighting, clubhouse measurements, drainage, and so forth. We saw him on the field after the game, seemingly measuring the evenness of the lighting—and now, of course, we each have a new career to dream on. It won’t get us into the Hall of Fame—or will it? Who knows who gets in there anymore.

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