Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Apocalypse Iowa

It was hazy, hot and humid on the Saturday of Independence Day weekend; arguably a beautiful summer day in the Midwest.  And yet, something seemed not right.  Melvin, Watson and I would not fully understand until we attended that evening’s game between the Clinton Lumberkings and the Quad City Bandits.

We drove up to Muscatine for breakfast at the Clam Shell Diner, one of a few depression-era Valentine Diners still actively used as a restaurant.  It was a half-cocked trip since I had not checked when the Clam Shell is open, and it was closed when we arrived.  There was a sign in the window portraying a clam with arms and legs and a chef’s hat who proclaimed, “Clem the Clam Says, Boy my friends Sure taste good fried! (sic)”  Another sign announced an all-you-can-eat breakfast at the local VFW post and that is where we ended up.

As you might gather from Watson’s expression, breakfast left something to be desired.  Some restaurants advertise home cookin’, just like mom’s.  This was just like dad used to make when mom went out of town to help your aunt with the new baby.  Not bad, just not good, and as Watson kept consoling us, it was a fundraiser.  Maybe it's the decor, but I always find VFW posts a little scary and the streets of Muscatine were quiet, "a little too quiet," as they say in the movies.  When you start to feel like you are in an episode of The Twilight Zone, it's best to get out of town.

We continued on to Iowa 80, purported to be the largest truck-stop in the world and home to a museum of hauling by truck.  Melvin was disappointed, having hoped that this would be not just a museum at a truck stop, but a museum about truck stops.  I am not sure how that would be configured curatorially—An exhibit on the changing consumer tastes of truckers? Another on the evolution of services provided around the country?—but leave it to Melvin to want to drill down on a subject.

We also explored the truck stop with its wide array of merchandise, from the necessary to the frivolous, for truck drivers and others.  The wide selection of nut covers gave us an opportunity to indulge in some adolescent humor.  I was the only one who could fit into the Davey Crockett-style hats and as handsome as I might be wearing the flattened face of a fox glued to a faux fur cap, $24 was more than I wanted to spend.  Are those farm-raised, or road-kill?

Most of our afternoon was spent in the Quad Cities; Davenport, and Moline, Iowa, Rock Island, Illinois, and Bettendorf, Iowa.  Our first stop was the Figge Art Museum, in Davenport.  We enjoyed the amuse bouche that was Corn Zone, by Michael Meilahn (especially since we had been listening to the Corn Weenie variations—"really, really”—through-out the trip).  For an appetizer, we had The Art of Seating: 200 Years of American Design.

The reason for our visit, our entrée, was to see Mural, a 1943 painting by Jackson Pollack, the centerpiece of A Legacy for Iowa: Pollack’s Mural and Modern Masterworks from the University of Iowa Museum of Art.  The university’s ownership makes the artwork state property and Republican legislators have twice introduced bills that would compel the institution to sell the painting, valued at $140 million, to offset $743 million dollars in flood damage to the school.  Sen. David Johnson (R-Ocheyedan) has called the abstract expressionist painting “a fraud.”  State Democrats (the minority party), the university president, the American Association of Museums and others oppose deaccessioning the painting.

Interestingly, the show does not mention the controversy at all.  Nor do the exhibition or university websites.  And yet the message is clear: the painting is valuable and has local significance—and therefore should not be sold, the possible conclusion.  (See also a 2008 report to the Board of Regents.)  Or perhaps the show is a going-away party.  I can understand the museum not wanting to further piss off Republican lawmakers but I operate under no such constraints.  Nothing quite says "decline of civilization" like philistines attacking works of art.

Across the river we went to the Rock Island Arsenal Museum.  So many guns, but also so much more.  The museum records the facility’s history of material production, everything from armament to pot belly stoves, and as a camp for thousands of Confederate Army prisoners of war.  The Army Corps of Engineers also operates the Mississippi River Visitor Center on Rock Island, but we skipped that for a very satisfying pre-game supper at the Moline branch of Bier Stube.

We should have known something was not right when some of the home team (Nick Longmire, above) snuck onto the field through a corn field next to the Quad Cities River Bandits bullpen.  Modern Woodsmen Park is a beautiful stadium.  The round 1931 structure, nestled under the Centennial Bridge across the Mississippi, has been renovated a couple times but when we arrived at our first row seats behind home plate, one was missing—that was a first.

The River Bandits scored one in the first and two in the second, a pattern that would have resulted in a 36-0 game had it continued.  However, the Lumberkings scored two in the fourth and one in the sixth, tying the game.  That was about when the mayflies (top) began to swarm under the ballpark lights.  The insects drove "The Miner Family Reunion" from the picnic area.  Unfortunately for them, the Lumberkings' bullpen (below) had nowhere to hide.  Everything down the right field line was carpeted with bug carcasses.  At first singly, then in greater numbers, the infestation found those of us on the third base side.  We were relieved when the River Bandits broke the tie in the bottom of the eighth.
Box Score

Three outs later, we were on the road back to Chicago.  Most fans stayed for a fireworks show, which must of been strange in its own right because the decision was made to leave the stadium lights on due to the mayflies.  We listened to the Episode 56 of Up and In: The Baseball Prospectus Podcast during the drive.  Self-conscious of the length of the previous episode, Kevin Goldstein and Jason Parks restrained limited themselves to a couple hours, which only got us two-thirds of the way home.  Melvin and Watson’s home, that is.

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