The weather is screwing with everyone's schedule. Bill Clinton has canceled three planned stops on behalf of his wife. John Edwards has canceled his first event of the day in Clinton, Iowa. Ron Paul has several stops in Iowa planned starting this afternoon, but for now there's no word on whether they're still on. I bet they are. The freedom train rides no matter what the weather. (permalink)
Dec. 10, 2007
Marshalltown, Iowa, 6:15 p.m. CT. I have been spoiled by the GPS locator in my rental car. Some of the rural addresses here in Iowa are very odd. They seem more like FedEx tracking numbers than addresses. The digits and dashes are arranged in ways that don't seem quite right, but the Hertz Neverlost system can handle the task. I punch in the location, and the brassy lady narrating my trip directs me with confidence.
In the old days, I had to press the atlas against the dashboard while driving with my knee. I still have my sturdy Iowa map from the '96 and 2000 races, with its highlighted routes and coffee and french-fry stains, but I left it at home this trip. There's a certain romance in the old method, but it wasn't terribly safe. The Neverlost system, by contrast, is always looking out for my well-being, chiding me when I try to type in directions while driving.
With satellite guidance, I don't have to watch every passing street sign. I can do interviews while I drive, check in on the kids (my son's handwriting is excellent, the teacher says), and eat McDonald's food which, despite my doctor's prohibitions, I feel is required on a day spent following Bill Clinton. It's like method acting, but different.
Driving in the dark to Marshalltown to catch an Edwards town hall, I am really grateful to my guidance from above. There are no lights on the road. I'm surrounded by miles of corn, and there are no other cars on the two-lane highway. When cars do appear, they have an air of menace. Something happens to gentle and welcoming Iowans after dark when they get behind the wheel. They drive very fast, and before they pass, they bear down on you like they want to skin you and turn you into a lampshade. One minute you're enjoying the gently illuminated Rural Iowa Water Tower, and the next you feel like you're in a dramatization on America's Most Wanted.
Sometimes however, the Neverlost Lady loses her mind. At a crucial moment in the progression, just as she should be telling you what turn to make, she is overtaken with vapors. The screen goes blank, and she chimes, "Recalculating route." This is the equivalent of getting the spinning beach ball of death on your computer or the dreaded hourglass. If you think that's annoying on your desktop, imagine what it's like when you're moving at 80 miles per hour. Sometimes she acts like a man, insisting she's right about a location when she clearly isn't. A month ago, when I tried to find an Obama event at the local rodeo grounds in Fort Madison, Iowa, she put me in the middle of a cornfield. I typed in the address again, but she would not move from her position. I raised my voice. It didn't work. It was like we had pulled over in the darkness to have a marital spat.
Monday we were getting along fine. I followed her every direction as I headed to 1604 South Second Avenue in Marshalltown, where I expected to find the local high school. "You have arrived," she said confidently. (I take this as geographical as well as psychological validation.) I had stopped among the gently twinkling Christmas lights of a small suburban neighborhood. The snow frosted the trees. I expected to hear carolers or a host of angels. What I did not hear was the loud whooping of a campaign rally or the idling rumble of John Edwards' campaign bus. I hadn't doubted her as she piloted me into the little cluster of homes because sometimes schools can be found tucked into little neighborhoods. That was not the case here.
I typed in the address again. No luck. I dialed 411. I had the right address, but looking at the street sign, I saw that she had taken me to Second Street instead of Second Avenue. She refused to accept this. I used harsh words. I looked to the heavens, but it was overcast. There were no stars to guide me. An SUV rolled up next to me, and a young man rolled down his window. It was another reporter. "Do you know where Marshalltown Senior High School is?" he asked. He held up a PDA on which Google maps had misguided him.
It was a human that saved us in the end. At a gas station, I left the Neverlost Lady prattling on in the car—she was telling me to take U-turns to go back to the It's a Wonderful Life neighborhood. I asked the woman behind the bulletproof glass for directions. "The school is just over the way there, she said pointing. That's something the GPS could never do. (permalink)