I did not stay at the Muskie Motel in Muscatine, Iowa. I stayed at the Super 8. It wasn't until the next morning, when I got up and drove into town, ready to cross the bridge over the Mississippi into Illinois, that I saw the Muskie Motel and had my regrets.
I'd been out to see my mother in Des Moines, once again. It was spring, I think, and one of the early warm days that let you know that summer really, actually, truthfully, was going to arrive. Of course, my mother was in the nursing home and I was driving back by myself.
For whatever reason, I decided to take the smaller roads back to Illinois instead of I-80. I decided to take Highway 163. I went through Prairie City and made a short stop in Pella. Pella is a pretty enough town and full of tulips in the spring--though there were no tulips when I visited. So either it was too early, or I'm mistaken about the time of year I made this drive. Who knows . . .
I kept going, taking in Oskaloosa.
Oskaloosa, with its funny-ish name, was a town well known to people my age and older who spent part or all of their childhood in Des Moines. Oskaloosa was the answer to jokes and riddles by Floppy, a dog puppet, on the Duane and Floppy Show, which was a kid's cartoon show out of Des Moines. Anyway, I think I knew one person from Oskaloosa, a guy I met in Iowa City who lived on my dorm floor with Mike Policicchio. He smoked a lot of dope. Then again--like the time of year--perhaps I'm mistaken. Maybe he was from Keokuk.
From there I kept driving. Now on a smaller road, Route 92. It was a very pleasant day and I had the windows down. Was in no hurry. Just enjoying the countryside and wind and fields and the little towns. It was so much nicer than the rush of the Interstate. I wasn't sure where I'd stop for the night, only that I would stop and not try to drive all the way back in the day.
Rose Hill. Sigourney (which I think Iowans have a strange pronunciation of, though I don't recall it at the moment)--a nice-looking town. Signs for What Cheer (I have never been to What Cheer). West Chester. Then at the connection with Highway One there was evidence of a bad car accident--lights and ambulance, cars rolled and crunched, backed up traffic. I was patient. Made the jog south and continued east.
Washington--a big town for the area. I knew a young man from Washington who worked at the University. I met him when I worked at Iowa during the summers, at Burge Hall, stripping and waxing floors and housekeeping and goofing off. He was a good kid--country, a little wild. Maybe his name was Jeff. Not sure. He taught me how to make a squirrel-call using three quarters and your hands. And there was Norbert from Kalona, just north of Washington. Norbert was married, had a kid. He was killed in a car accident, coming home at night from Iowa City, a friend driving ran off the road. I think they were drunk.
Columbus Junction surprised me. I'd never heard of it. It had a river and a big shift in the land--almost like a bluff. Hills. It was just odd to me was all.
Then I got on highway 61 and drove into Muscatine and it was late enough that I figured I may as well stop. I'd never been to Muscatine before. My dad called all cantaloupes "Muscatine Melons"; I guess there are Muscatine melons but most are cantaloupes . . . I made my way up past some fast food places and other chain stores, chain restaurants, chain gas stations, a car dealership, then some chain motels, settling on that Super 8.
I walked up an embankment to some restaurant/fast food joint. Arby's? Wendy's? Once again, I don't recall, other than it was pretty uninspiring. I think I took my food to my room. Maybe it was Burger King. Watched some bad TV. Felt bad in return. My mother. My leaving Ft. Lauderdale. Not moving to New Orleans like I was supposed to. Back in a place I did not ever want to be back in. And now in a Super 8 in Muscatine, Iowa . . .
One of my first roommates at Iowa on the 2000 floor of Burge Hall was from Muscatine. Now, his name was Jeff, for sure. My other roommate was Chuck (from a Chicago suburb). This was freshman year and I knew hardly anyone in Iowa City--though it all turned out very well. Jeff was a little odd--a smart guy, music major, actually a bassoon major at that time. Yes, he played the bassoon. Chuck became a closer friend than Jeff ended up being, but we got along. He was a good enough guy.
So, it was the next day as I used my brand new iPhone (I'd had flip phones until then) to plot my route into and out of Muscatine and over the river into Illinois that I drove past the Muskie Motel in Muscatine.
Man. The Muskie was exactly the kind of place I'd wanted to stay at: cheap, small-roomed with their own doors that opened out to a parking lot. Not ratty, but nonetheless a place with its own suspect distinction.
Maybe. Who knows? Perhaps it would have been a lousy place: spongey bed, no reception for the TV, thin walls and noisy neighbors, bedbugs. It could have been an even lousier night, for all I know.
Then again, maybe if I'd stayed at the Muskie Motel in Muscatine, maybe I'd be a happier man to this day. Maybe my mother would have gotten better or lived longer or--well, no. But possibly it could have altered some small smidgen of things. Possibly.
But it didn't.