The real reason for our Iowa roadtrip: the impossible task of finding Broken Wheel, existing somewhere out there in my imagination amongst the corn in southwestern Iowa.
The closest we could come was Clarence, Cedar County. So we drove past Cedar Rapids, past prosperious small towns with white fences, large houses, golf courses (!) and three curches. “This must be Hope”, Carina said and I was inclined to agree with her. Honestly, a golf course?
So we kept going. The corn fields replaced each other, silos came and went, a train rail suddenly appeared and with it, large freight trains that passed by every other ten minutes.
We arrived at Clarence. It’s basically just a Mainstreet, surrounded by a few streets lined with trees. Half of the stores are closed; there’s a lawyers office that doesn’t seem to be doing all that good, and a café that’s open four hours a day, wednesday through sunday.
The diner is a bar and is not called Grace’s. In stead, it has some sort of racing theme, with a torned checkered flag. Everyone in Clarence seem to be here on a Saturday. We buy coffee and drink it on the bench just outside.
A local keeps us company. He seems to have start drinking at breakfast. “I’m somewhat of a local historian”, he tells us. “My wife use to tease us for it. But this used to be a great town to grow up in. My mom could give me some dollars and send me of on my bike to the store to get bread. Who does that nowadays? And there were stores. We used to have three gas stations! And now? One.”
“What does people do around here?”
“Hard to say. Lot’s of people commute. It’s more of a sleeping town.”
It’s a quarter to six. The evening sun is shining over corn. Freight towns are passing. We drink weak coffee and the local and I smoke a cigarette.
“It used to be different”, he says. “Nowadays we’re hardly a thousand people here and most of the stores are closed.” He nods to himself and takes a step to the side, wobbly. “I love to talk about how this town used to be.”
Me and Carina gets ready for the final goal of the day: taking a photograph of us amongst the corn. You can’t come all the way to Iowa and not photograph yourself amongst the corn. But before we go, we have to check out his car. We admire it as should be and say things like what a good deal he made, and when we leave he tells us again how nice it was that we stopped by. “Very nice!” he says again. “You should come back soon.”
And who knows? Why not?
A few minutes later we find our corn, and we find a broken wheel. Carina thinks it must be a sign. Clarence in Cedar County, and a broken wheel at that. I think it’s one of those times in life when the line between fiction and reality becomes blurred; like standing on King’s Cross Station and seeing platform 9 3/4, or being happily in love and imagining sunsets on the beack.
Or standing in the corn fields in the evening sun in a make believe completely real town in south western Iowa and see Grace and Sara and George and Tom and know that they exist out there somewhere, living happily ever after.