Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Iowa 08 (The Long Road Home {Minonk, IL and Dunkin' Donuts})

Every town should have a Dunkin' Donuts (Pittsburgh closed their downtown location and Richmond doesn't even have one -- WHAT?!). If you don't have the luxury of a Prince Street Cafe (and there is only one), Dunkin' Donuts (hereafter DD), is your next best option (sorry Southern friends, Krispy Kreme doesn't quite cut it and is one K short of offensive).

From Bloomington-Normal (once you've gathered your morning coffee) the Veterans Parkway, I-55 South and, I-39 North take you to Minonk, home of the Patriot Diner and all-things small-town-middle-America. Jeri-Lynn keeps the history books (at least in her own mind) and Mr. Jacick keeps you company. One is amenable to being photographed and the other, not-so-much.

The Land of Lincoln is an interesting (poor word choice) place and even two days from May, sleet and snow might fall. The old men grow restless as premium-planting season is seemingly passed by a second year in a row. No one will be taking 66-west though; this is not the dust bowl, it is quite the opposite: precipitation prevails.

The Regulars sit around the Round-Table in the Patriot and Russ prepares meals in mere minutes, keeping his customers happy (all but Jerri-Lynn, of course) and in-and-out in under thirty. There's a new place opening down the street and Russ is a little more than peeved; "It won't last a week", he says. No one really knows quite yet, let's hope for his sake he's right.

The sun is out and up and down again, bringing more sleet, rain and snow which finally give way to cottony-blue clouds and whipping winds along the now sun-splashed plains of central-Illinois. The green is out and as we all know, green is the colour of life, and no matter what these blustery late-April temperatures tell us, spring is here.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Iowa 08 (Day 5 {The Mother Road})

McLean. Atlanta. Lawndale. Lincoln.

These are the dots that are connected by the line that is Route 66; just south of Bloomington-Normal, home of State Farm Insurance, and a Dunkin Donuts, complete with a man named Gene, right around the corner.
In Thirty-Eight, it was the very first completely-paved US Highway while it stretched (and still does) from Chicago to Los Angeles. To-day, it is overcast, mostly barren and still paved, but replaced by the Eisenhower Interstate System of '56 which I-55 bears witness to as it runs parallel to much of the Mother Road through Central-Illinois.

Bloomington-Normal is a funny place, there is so much history here (and nearby) but much of it is by-passed for manufactured strip after strip of stores and identical house after identical house, plopped right down in the heart of the Illinois farm-country; a city raised out of nothing. There is no surrounding body of water that would facilitate life in days gone by, yet the need to settle here was clearly of utmost importance.

"Subdue the Earth", God said. Even the American Midwest and a town called Perfect Normal.

Hope is a beautiful thing. So beautiful that just a few chapters of it read out loud can bring (mostly) grown men to tears. On that day, when all is made new, when we really do finally get that everything was made for our losing, and for no reason other than that, on that day there will be the justice that we all scream at different volumes for, on that day, on that very day the sharp focus that is reality will veil Itself no more. It is on that day that we bank.

Literally and figuratively. Let us smile in that.

Coffee Count: Week: 112 + To-day (40) = 152oz.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Iowa 08 (Days 3 + 4 {Tom Raper, I miss you}).

There's something bizarrely therapeutic about waking up on spring and summer mornings in a big city - that blue morning light pouring itself all over the cool concrete masses is a wonder to wake up to. Waking up in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia is a distinctly different experience than waking up Richmond; size matters.

A major critique of Richmond (thus far) is the lack of quality coffeeshops and diners. Captain Buzzy's pours the best cup in the River City but anything else is a distant second, and all over the city, coffeeshop atmosphere is severely lacking. On the corner of Buena Vista and Jacksonia, in the beautiful War Streets (on Pittsburgh's North Side) sits Beleza. Most of my free time in Pittsburgh is spent there - pouring over photographs or the deep nuances of Christian doctrine. The coffee has slowly grown on me and ever since Wednesday, October Tenth of last year, I cannot help but buy one of the stunning cinnamon rolls for a scant two dollars; it's pastry perfection.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have not won more than 79 games since the 1992 season and we (foolishly) thought that perhaps this was the year that they'd arise victorious in just 82 of the 162 total contests, but, even though the season is young, this trend does not appear to be in any danger and soon the Pittsburgh base-ball club will have set a record for seasonal futility (16 losing seasons and counting). Instead of handing over hard-earned currency to see the beloved Buccos finally win for the first time in a week, we opted to stay in, eat vegetarian and sip some of the best Pennsylvania micro-brew. A better decision could not have been made.

There is Bloomington (east) and Bloomington-Normal. One lies at the heart of Hoosier-land and the other just south of Chicago-land. The latter lies 546.8 miles from Pittsburgh and despite stops in Farmer City to re-photograph old landmarks of past trips through the land of the Illini, one can reach the first home of Photography Legend Ralph Meatyard at an average speed of sixty-two-point-five miles-per-hour.

That's 7.50pm central time.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Iowa 08 (Day 2, Monday)

Spring mornings in Pittsburgh are new-earthly (when the new Jerusalem comes, I swear it will be a mix of {mostly}-Lancaster and Pittsburgh). As the golden sunlight crisply streaks through the morning fog and lands on the Allegheny, then the Ohio, then the Mon, the city hums to life. It's not too cold, not too hot and the green is beginning to show its shy face on the newly budded trees. Spirits are high and not because the Pirates' season has just gotten underway - the city has awoken from its grey slumber.

There is even more excitement in the city this spring, for this is the first time in anyone's memory that a Presidential Primary has actually meant something in the state of Pennsylvania. Bill and Hilary were in Market Square at lunch-time; Obama held a rally here. Obama seems to be everywhere, even on Sara Buss' bumper-sticker.

Sara Buss is a lawyer from downtown who spent a month in Latvia earlier this year teaching Latvian students the basics of the American Law System. During her month there, she kept a journal which is being published in Pittsburgh Professional Magazine (accompanied by my photographs of her). The weather was typical Pittsburgh-April: beautiful, streaky sun in the morning followed by a mostly cloudy afternoon; a little chilly. All things were go until we were reprimanded for attempting to make her Portrait in the Rotunda of the Amtrak station (that wouldn't have happened in Lancaster). Fortunately, the garden on the corner of 11th and Liberty and the thick layer of clouds provided us with their own photographic-covenant of blessing.

Coffee Count: 32oz/64 cumulative/12 on the floor of my car.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Iowa 08 (1)

4.37 pm, Richmond, Virginia.
Trip: 0.0 Miles.

It had been raining off and on all day, so hard, in fact, that it woke me up at 7.26 - thirty-four minutes before my alarm was set to go off. From under my pillow the text message alert goes off. "Robert Greene", I thought to myself. I pull the phone out from under the pillow, check the time (7.41) and click the SHOW button: " soon as you can would be great". That means most of our core members are already (or will be soon) at Holton, setting up, even though the service doesn't start til ten.

"Why'd I go to Third Street last night? I'd be less tired if I didn't go. Stupid Third Street. I don't even like that place and I always get talked into going....".

Thirty-Eight minutes later, I was out the door and into the driving April rain.

Gas seems to go up about a nickel every other day or so. Remember back in the 90s when a penny every two weeks was a big deal? Remember when gas was eighty-eight cents? Remember when you could fill up for under ten dollars? In college we complained because a dollar-forty-nine was pricey and seventeen dollars was way too much to pay for gas. Three-thirty-nine-and-nine-tenths. That's what gas was on the corner of 17th and East Broad yesterday. That's $33.75 for just about 9.9 gallons. Nine-point-nine gallons won't even get you to Pittsburgh, a scant 352.0 miles away. Good thing I got a fourteen gallon tank.

At 7.45 pm I-270 merges into I-70 West to the tune of Mr. Brightside. On August 24, 2007 I made the opposite merge (and for the very first time) to something Smashing Pumpkins. This was new territory: I-270, I-495. I felt like Magellan.

Interstate 70 is my home. It merges with the Pennsylvania Turn Pike at exit 162 and from there you can go all the way to Cove Fort, Utah. It's 220 miles through Ohio and 156 through Indiana. At exit 90 in Indiana you can catch the Indianapolis Beltway (465) and connect to Indiana Route 37 at Harding Street. Follow 37-South for about forty-five miles and you've just landed in Bloomington - the home of Big Red and John Cougar. On 15th street there is a little white house with the number 312 on it. All Midwestern adventures are locus here.

Seven dollars and just about two hours gets you from Breezewood to Allegheny Valley. The Pittsburgh skyline never ceases to be so stunning, just as I wrote several years ago. Take 28-South along the Allegheny and you'll nestle through the hills of Blawnox, Fox Chapel, Sharpsburg (home of Pittsburgh's Top Chef) and Millvale. To the left, across the 40th Street Bridge, is Lawrenceville and just beyond that, Bloomfield, hipster-haven. Twenty-Eight winds its way into the North Shore; Beautiful PNC Park and Heinz Field (home of everyone's favorite football team) lie to the left. Look for 19/65-North and take the Marshall Street Exit. Here you'll find Marshall-Shadeland: three-hundred-fifty-two miles and thirty-two ounces of coffee from Church Hill.

11.09 pm, Pittsburgh, Pennsyvlvania.
Trip: 352.o Miles.
Tolls: $7.
Coffee: 32oz.