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Monday, March 30, 2009

8 Days in Iowa. 18 to Go.

One week down on this trip and so far it's my least favorite. It's not Iowa. Iowa is fine. The weather reminds me of why I left Indiana when I graduated from college, but I got lucky and Spring is trying to take hold now. And, the area where we're working is very nice; I've hardly seen a single piece of litter anywhere, and everything looks like it was built last summer. But, if you read any of my writings about El Paso, you know I like things a little gritty. And warm. So far, I've found nothing to do - at least not within walking distance. Everybody here speaks English, too. It's just a little too bland here.

Also, I hate this "hotel." It's one of those extended stay apartment-like places which means no lobby, no breakfast in the lobby, no manager's receptions, no pool. Not that I ever use a pool, but I like the idea that there's one available. I do have an ice maker in my room fridge, but in this case that amenity just takes away one of three excuses I have to leave my room (work and coffee are the other two). Speaking of coffee, I just remembered that I once again forgot to get some at the store this afternoon for the second time. I can get coffee from a dispenser downstairs in the canteen (free), but it's not very good. When I got to my room last Tuesday there was one pre-measured coffee pack; apparently that's all I get for the duration of my stay. Today was weekly maid service day and there's no new coffee. Seems a little stingy to me.

I suppose having a kitchenette helps me save some money. I can microwave and eat cereal instead of going out for dinner. I've been to the grocery twice so far. As I said, both times I've forgotten to get coffee. Today, among other things, I picked up a frozen pizza and a small bottle of dish washing soap. Turns out the thing I thought was an oven was a dishwasher. So, I can't cook the pizza. Using Joy soap in the dishwasher might create some excitement, though. I found an even smaller bottle of dish soap under the sink when I was unloading groceries so I really didn't need to buy one.

One of the worst things about my room is that it's on a smoking floor. It's a non-smoking room, as requested (which is one of the only things I've requested through our travel agent that I've actually gotten), but, much like a non-smoking table in a small restaurant, having a non-smoking room on a smoking floor of a hotel is mainly symbolic. I didn't realize there were so many smokers still living. They must be having a convention in Des Moines this month because the hallway reeks of cigarette smoke. A lot of it finds its way under my door. I don't suppose it matters too much because three of the other three guys I ride to work with are smokers, so I'm couped up in a van full of smoke at least four times a day.

Today one of my smoking co-workers went to the store with me. He had to make an extra stop for smokes. He paid $54 for a carton of Marlboro Reds! I almost wish I smoked so I could quit and save thousands of dollars a year. As it is, I'm not sure what I could cut out of our family budget (yet to be finalized) to save money.

So. I'm sitting here outside of Des Moines, Iowa with not a heck of a lot to do and not really enjoying it much which is frustrating. I like to think I can find something to do no matter where I go. It's just not happening for me here. Guess I'll finish up my taxes, work on that budget, sketch some ideas for the house, and read a couple of books. That and a few hundred games of on-line backgammon should occupy most of my downtime here. The work is going well and I still enjoy it, which is probably a lot more than many guys can say about their jobs.

Nonetheless, I suppose I'll use some of my time here to dig into the job market a bit deeper. The latest e-mail from my recruiter wasn't very encouraging; I'm starting to doubt that job will ever come through, so I need to find something else in Huntsville - or just learn to like driving 280 miles a day to and from this job when I'm not on the road. I applied for a trash truck driver job, which may seem an odd choice but is actually sort of a logical choice for me. For starters, riding around the block in the trash truck was one of the highlights of my week as a kid. In 1968-ish, I guess my mom wasn't worried about the trash men abducting me. Also, the trash company didn't have to worry about being sued if I bumped my knee getting out of the truck. People didn't sue over stupid stuff back then. Anyway, riding in a trash truck was probably one of my first exposures to the world of work. Perhaps that experience is what makes me totally shameless about stopping my car to grab stuff out of people's trash now that I'm older. My wife jokes that driving a trash truck would be perfect for me because I'd be getting paid to drive around picking people's trash. Plus, I'd get first dibs on the good junk. Hey, getting paid to drive around for 8 hours with no supervisor looking over my shoulder with the fringe benefit of grabbing up free junk is a pretty attractive deal. Frankly, it's about like being a pilot except possibly smellier.

I'm trying to put a finger on how I feel about Iowa in general and I cannot. It's very nice here. Litter is virtually non-existant. All the cashiers can make intelligent (but brief) conversation and change at the same time. Generally, the people I've encountered are very pleasant and speak standard English. But, at least around Johnston - the western suburb of Des Moines where we're working, there's just not much soul. The whole area is like a brand new subdivision. Some of the houses are incredible. One looks like a colonial governor's mansion, and I'm sure I've seen several that are at least 5000 square feet not counting the three-car garages. But, they're all brand new and built on what was clearly farmland until very recently. There's no sense of history. Of course, I haven't been to downtown Des Moines yet. Maybe Johnston is just an anomaly - a Stepford suburb which just happened to pop up around a National Guard post. I know John Wayne was born near here in the very Madison County which was the setting of a very good book about covered bridges. (OK, I know Bridges of Madison County was not actually about bridges, but presumably the covered bridges which are still there were at least part of the inspiration for the book.) I'll reserve judgment for now. Right now my impression is that this would be a great place to raise kids but not a very interesting place to live.

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