Posted by: trevormeers | July 31, 2011

Day Two: I Spent Most of My Money at Lemonade Stands. The Rest I Just Wasted.

Daily dispatches from a week-long bicycle trek across Iowa.*

Just about every rural Iowan would be glad to sell you something as you ride a bike across the state. You could go broke $1, $2, $3 and $5 at a time buying water, Gatorade, watermelon, muffins, breakfast burritos, burgers, tenderloins and anything else that can be iced in a brand-new stock tank or whipped up in the kitchen of a farmhouse or Legion hall. Few of the passing cyclists begrudge this opportunism since such a massive migration of well-heeled visitors may be a once-in-a-generation event for many of these towns. If you figure on a minimum of 10,000 cyclists (and it’s closer to 15,000 or 20,000 on many days) riding bikes that average $1,000 in value and wearing bike clothing averaging $200, you’re looking at $12 million worth of gear passing down each Main Street when the RAGBRAI route smiles upon them. You can count on such a demographic to leave a few dollars in town.

The sales pitch is usually grass-roots all the way. Sharpie on posterboard to announce your menu, and promise air conditioning if your venue is so fortunate. When the writer deviates from straight comfort food, things get dicey. I saw two posters for “Gaterade” and the same one everyday advertising “Cappucio” at a coffee stand. In a single day, I grew immune to most of them, trying to develop an eye discerning enough to find the truly special food stands.

The church ladies' fierce competition in the pie game.

But when it came to one specific sales pitch along the rural highways, I immediately had to develop a strict budget if I was going to preserve enough cash to keep me in Gatorade to the next ATM. As the father of two little girls, I’m largely helpless against their powers. Therefore, little girls, I’ve decided, should be banned from food stands by the state’s Consumer Affairs division. While I’ll dodge any purchase by repairing everything I own with duct-tape and baling wire, if you put a little girl behind a snack stand, I start spending like a lottery winner buying new trailer homes for his cousins.

“Please help send me to Savannah!” one girl shouted as we approached her front yard. For all I know, she’s dreaming of going to Savannah to attend puppy-kicking school. But it doesn’t matter. How can you not buy a cup of lemonade?

A pair of sisters sitting on a cooler in the shade tried the power of purchasing in bulk. “Cold water!” they shouted in tiny voices. “One for 50 cents or two for a dollar!” Another team used fear marketing, yelling “Big hill ahead. Better fuel up.”

I spent Sunday afternoon rolling past farmsteads in a mass of cyclists, launching an experience listed among America’s 100 top adventures by a magazine that ranks such things. But all I could think of was how much I was missing by not being home on a Sunday. My wife sometimes wonders aloud whether I’d be happier on weekends if she and the girls went elsewhere so I could mow the yard, write and do all the other things I don’t get to during the week. My curmudgeonly attitude sometimes justifies that theory. And both of us sometimes get cranky in the midst of a demanding Sunday schedule that sees us attending church twice and trying to jam breakfast, lunch, dinner and way too much ironing in there with some sense of normalcy.

But when I’m far from my own two little girls, every long-haired kid in a sundress is simply a reminder of how much I love Sundays, even—perhaps especially—when I don’t cross a single thing off my to-do list. If I were home, we’d make sandwiches for lunch after church and tell Allison she’s way over her pickle quota. We’d wait for Katie to make herself a yogurt moustache and sit there motionless until we all notice. We’d lay in the bean bag and watch Katie’s favorite Signing Time DVD and celebrate each sign she gets right. We’d work on one of Allison’s knitting projects, trying again to get the loops down. And if I don’t waste the whole afternoon on mowing, we might drive to Mabel’s Place in Colfax for ice cream. And then, most importantly, we’d get everyone dressed to go back to church on Sunday night, trying to show our girls that church isn’t just one thing we do. It, and the beliefs it represents, is the wellspring of all we do.

Mid-morning lunch, small-town Lutheran style: Prime rib sandwich, corn, pie and cold drink for 10 bucks.

Church is never far from your mind when you’re eating your way along the RAGBRAI route. If you spot a steeple, you’ll usually find a good meal at its base. And as I sat down with a plate of apple pie, corn on the cob and a prime rib sandwich in a Lutheran church fellowship hall, I realized I was having a big side dish of nostalgia. I’ve spent much of my life in rooms like this, especially because from third grade through high school, I went to school in the same building where I attended church. Add a social event, and we’d be there seven days out of seven. Today, Sunday services still hold a special spot on the schedule as a rare chance for our family to slow down, sit together, mingle with like-minded folks and focus on the very teachings that make me want to be a better dad and husband in the first place.

With all this in my head, I spent most of Sunday afternoon with the bike’s crank spinning and me thinking how lucky those dads were who got to sit in the sliver of shade under a cedar tree and watch their girls sell overpriced water.

Good food and a shady spot in the church yard. All welcome.

Fortunately, RAGBRAI spends a night 9 miles from my house in a couple of days, which means as soon as we hit Altoona, Teri can come pick me up to spend whatever time I have with the family before riding on in the morning. I’ll be pedaling a little harder all day Wednesday, and it’s no offense to all the little girls along the route if I zip past them in the hopes of making good time.

* For the Iowans among you thinking, “Hey, wasn’t RAGBRAI last week?” Yes, but when a small city rolls across a rural state, cellular web access gets dicey. So while the posts were written the day of the events, they’re going up exactly one week later.



  1. Puppy kicking school…good one.

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