I can understand why politicians get speeding tickets on I-80.
The stretch between Des Moines and I-29 is so hilly you have to accelerate just to stay with the pack. Coming down, you go so fast you’re almost guaranteed a friendly visit from a state trooper if you don’t brake.
Even worse, you could get caught between two semis playing passing games and wind up draining your windshield fluid before you even get to Van Meter.
If you had all the time in the world, you’d probably stop at some of the many attractions (from museums saluting everyone from Bob Feller and John Wayne to the Bridges of Madison County) just to make the trek less arduous.
Instead, you refuel at one of the “land o’ truckstops," get a drink at McDonald’s (which, if you played it right, could be refilled at the next one down the road) and count the number of folks who look at their cellphones while they’re getting back on the interstate.
(If you have to go on I-680 to get to 80, you realize this stretch of road hasn’t been touched since Lewis and Clark. Bumpy, broken and beaten, it’s the first project I’d tackle if appointed to repair America’s highways. I’d fix the signage, too. If you happen to get behind one of those semis two miles before you turn back to get to I-29, you’ll never see the dinky exit signs. If that happens, enjoy Council Bluffs and remember this spot when you start that repair manifesto.)
On a recent trip to Des Moines, I thought of all those politicians who make the trek on a weekly basis. They love to brag about hitting all 99 counties, but I think you can pick off a lot of them just by stopping at most of the I-80 Casey’s.
Once in Des Moines, I realized someone planned the city with a hat tip to those of us coming from the edges of the state. All streets lead to the capitol. Look up – anywhere – and it’s there.
Surprisingly, most Iowans freely admit they’ve been to the gold-domed building on one of their visits. (Currently, they want to see the “first dude’s” doll – but that’s another story.) They can get to the Wells Fargo Arena pretty quickly, too, and don’t have to worry about finding the fairgrounds as long as they stay away from the botanical garden. (Get caught in that parking lot and you’ll never get out.)
For what it’s worth, Des Moines streets are amazingly well-planned: All roads lead to the Jordan Creek Mall. For those of us on the West Coast of Iowa, it takes no convincing to swing into the exit and check out the Apple store.
Back on I-80, there’s no reason to worry – for at least an hour. Then it’s just a matter of keeping an eye out for that I-29 exit.
If all goes well, you’re just a spit away from Missouri Valley and the McDonald’s that serves as a beacon to all weary travelers.
The road is winding, my friends, but that's because everybody doesn't want to be a politician. Get enough travelers on the stretch of Iowa and, sooner or later, you'll see a toll booth.
It's one of those ideas that pops into your mind as a way to make it up and down that long ribbon of highway.