As the 2020 campaign starts to unfurl, correspondents from the big media cities are venturing into the heartland, tweeting back their anthropological insights. One journalist noted strange things about Iowa, including this gem: “The dirt roads are terrifying.”
Perhaps she thought that civilization was unraveling before her very eyes, and the dirt roads would lead to camps of sullen, suspicious Iowans dressed in animal skins, fingering the tips of their crude spears. Which is ridiculous. That’s Wisconsin. Iowa is much more civilized.
I traveled some unpaved roads in Minnesota this past week, heading down to Mantorville, where one can do some serious Mantoring. My GPS said the quickest route was closed for construction and advised a twisty detour that went dirt after five miles. I don’t mean gravel. Folks in these parts dreamed of the day they’d get those fancy gravel roads.
“In half a mile,” said the navigation app, “turn left on County Road Z, then turn right on 650th Street.” Really; somebody counted out 650 streets. It’s as if they laid out Dodge County expecting Kasson would grow into a city 10 times the size of Manhattan.
The GPS is remarkable, really. In the old days you would have a paper map, and someone would call out directions: “Here! I think! Left!”
“Now? There’s hardly a road. There’s a furrow that goes through the field, but it doesn’t look like a road at all.”
“That’s what the map says. It’s a straight shot to Essenay.”
Two miles later you come out of a cornfield between a barn and a shed and realize you’ve been following a crease in the map, not a road.
Not now: The app knows exactly where to go. You can’t get lost. I could make up some nonsense about how it was better in the past when you had a sense of adventure and discovery, but no one would buy it.
According to old movies, this was how it used to work:
Wife, exasperated: “Well, we’re lost.”
Husband: “OK, OK, don’t worry. Any minute now we’ll spot a farmer leaning against a fence chewing a stalk of wheat, and he’ll give us directions. Ah! Look! Up ahead, there he is. Even has the suspenders and straw hat. I’ll bet he spits on the ground and squints and says ‘Jiminy.’ ”
(Car pulls up to the farmer.)
Husband: “Hey, Mac, do you know how to get to Mantorville”?
Farmer: (spits) “Yup.”
Husband: “Well, could you tell us?”
Farmer: “Reckon so. Mantorville, you say? Well, you’ll want to go down this road a spell, then over Johnson’s Creek, ’course it dried up in ’09, t’aint nothing but a culvert now except when it rains heavy, but don’t look like it will. At least according to my bunions. We get a gully washer, they ache up fierce.
“So about six acres past the creek you’ll come to the old Parsons place, and you’ll see a tree about yea wide, and you’ll take a right or left depending on whether there’s a raccoon sittin’ in the crook.
“About 40 rods later, you’ll come to Edzedizah Haugh’s old place. He was carried off in ’18, and the Widder Haugh still mourns him something fierce. You’ll want to speed up because she thinks every car is the hearse, and she throws stones. In a few miles. ... ”
I just hope the next GPS I get has Farmer Mode.