One weekend, at the last minute, my future partner and I decided to take a road trip. Picking me up at work in a rental car late Saturday afternoon we headed northwest. 5 hours later we arrived at our destination, the town of Prairie de Chein, on the Mississippi river, the border between Iowa and Wisconsin. It was October and the midwest had been basking in a freakish warm spell. For the last week high had been in the mid to upper 80's. People were out in droves. As we drove down the main road all the hotels and motels sported signs reading "No Vacancy". In desperation, my partner, leaving me in the car, went into one of the largest hotels to ask where we might get a room for the night.
Returning to the car he tells me what he has found out from the woman at the hotel desk. There is not a single room available in the town. They have been sending people to Dubuque, 90 miles away, although they are not sure if there are rooms available there. She has told us that if our car seats recline we can sleep in the car in the field across from the hotel. If anyone questions us tell them she said it was alright for us to do so, giving us her name.
After a few more minutes of fruitless searching my partner suggests that we return to the hotel and ask the woman if she will rent us pillows and a blanket for the night. Our seats did not recline but the back seat folded down which would make the hatchback a small, cramped and hard but serviceable place to sleep for the night. Upon entering the hotel the woman says "I'm so glad you came back! I found you something!" She handed him a piece of paper with a name and phone number on it. We go to the local casino boat and using the pay phone, cellphones were not ubiquitous then as they are now, dials the number. Speaking over the din of the casino and adjoining lounge he jots down the directions he is given. They go something like this.....
Head south on County Road 91. When you see the big rock on the left turn right. After you cross the second wooden bridge you'll see a barn and a farmhouse, that's the old Miller place. Turn right, go about 2 miles and you'll see the motel of the left. We were in the country.
When my partner says we will be arriving late so how will we get in the man at the motel replies, "It will be the last door on the left on the first floor. I'll leave the key in the lock." We were definitely in the country.
The casino boat sat in the river, which is technically Iowa. In Wisconsin, two feet away across the gangplank that connected the boat to the shore, gambling was illegal. After a period of unsuccessful gaming we crossed the gangplank and simultaneously the state border, returned to the car, said a prayer and headed south on County road 91.
There are no lights on these quiet county roads. Our headlights provided the only illumination. The need to pee became unbearable so we pulled over to the side of the road. As we "answered natures call" we looked up and were mesmerized by the star filled sky. We never experience that many stars at home as the city's glare overwhelms their more delicate brilliance and the beautiful, intricate patterns they create.
Following the directions we were given we do eventually come upon a small two story structure. There was indeed a key in the door of the last room on the left. The interior decor of the room resembled the interior of the ramshackle trailers envisioned by Hollywood set designers that are sometimes featured in slasher movies, fake wood paneling, poor, worn country reproduction furnishings and all.We were not there for the decor, we are there for the bed. Especially considering that it was the only one available for miles in any direction., We tucked ourselves in and fell fast asleep.
The next morning, after settling our bill with the owners; the ones that had provided us with the excessively rural directions of the night before; we began to wind our way thru the farm fields and small towns of Wisconsin. The tiny hamlets struggle for claims to fame, which are proudly provided to you on signs as you enter each one. "Home of the 1963 State High School Champion Falcons", "Home of Miss Wisconsin 1953" and my personal favorite, "The Wild Turkey Hunting Capitol of the World." Think about it, really, who is going to challenge that claim? Who else would want it? One towns overlong explanation is, not the place where the first Gideon bible was left, but the place where the two men first discussed the idea of leaving the bibles in motel rooms nationwide.
We traveled through the bright fall colors enjoying the warm autumn afternoon. We passed cows tranquilly grazing in fields, it was Wisconsin. We stopped at a farm stand and purchased gourds, jams, cider and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Stopping at the border we bought the obligatory cheese before crossing into Illinois and heading home.