Rest Stop Education: The Mighty Mississip-pee

We were road-trippin’ down I-80 through Iowa looking for fast relief at the rest stop. We got the promised “rest” PLUS we got an unexpected history lesson about the mighty Mississip-pee in what the information sheet called “this new generation of Iowa rest area.”

You see, this rest stop has a historical theme, one which was designed to “mimic the character of the Mississippi riverfront.” Good idea! Why expend a massive effort to attract visitors to your museums when you have a fully-captive audience pulling in off the interstate?

Little did I know that this location played a unique role in the history of the 2552-mile long river. It is here, in the middle of Iowa, that the river flows decidedly from east to west.

Looking for the ladies room? Just follow the steel “trestles” right into the building.

Public artwork is integrated throughout the site that highlights the importance of Mississippi River transportation in Iowa–tows, barges, and the lock and dam system. Look up and you’ll see a wall mural depicting a vehicle-rail bridge.

Look down and you’ll see a floor mural that depicts the Army Corp of Engineer’s boundary marker, the river’s locks and dams, all connecting to a floor map of the “Quad Cities.”

What’s that on the walls? They’re terra cotta blocks and tiles that are designed to help visitors imagine “locking” through a Mississippi River dam. They “rise and fall” like the water levels and depict tows, barges and their valuable cargo…”coal going upstream and grain going down.”

And then… the promised payoff! (Not sure what those numbers represent; maybe there’s a height restriction for this loo, somewhat like roller coasters!) And just in time, because as fascinated as I am learning all these river facts, I came here to go! When it comes to rest stop public art, I think I prefer function before form!

According to the onsite plaque, credit goes to artist David B. Dahlquist working with French Reneker Associates (Engineers) and Yaggy Colby Associates (Architecture and Landscaping).

Old School Photo Fun

Before digital cameras, before Photoshop, back in a simpler time, this was considered side-splitting, knee-slappin’ entertainment. And it still is, if you ask me. Count us among those who believe that authenticity still trumps fake digital manipulation, no matter how good it might be.

Beware of the owner of this bottle of water! From Lunar8000 on Flickr, this photo was taken in southwest Bolivia at Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. Incredible strength for such a petite woman!

Taken in Marshalltown, Iowa by M.E. Sprengelmeyer for, here’s a shocking photo of an apparently naked man putting a small child in a danger atop a mini water tower. Or maybe saving the child from danger on the water tower, I can’t really tell.

And this photo was taken by yours truly sometime in the eighties. It’s my brother Sam showing off his phenomenal sport fishing feat. (Not perfect, but remember, this was with real film in a cheap camera! No instant digital previews! I had to mail the film somewhere far away in a bright yellow envelope, and then wait weeks before knowing if the photo was a success!)

Road Rules: Help with Highway Hydration

No wonder folks are confused! Following, some snapshots from my recent road trip from Kansas City to Chicago. Certainly, more information is better than less but I REALLY want to know…WHO, for example, would fill their water bottles from an oil and gas-splattered spigot at a fuel pump?

We spotted this at a gas station in Don’t-Know-Where, Missouri. In this town I concede that if you are parched, it is OK to bend the rules a little and head inside the C-Store for some bottled water.

Similarly, travelers are advised not to quench their thirst from a crumbling island in a remote Iowa rest stop. (I think the top sign must mean that RV’s should sink their lines and extract some fresh ground water instead. Oops, I meant groundwater.)

At another Iowa rest stop, though, this helpful signage points thirsty people to the bathrooms. (I might add that there were NO helpful signs on the toilets, like these, to dissuade people who might confuse the loos with the promised fountains.)

And at the Chicago IKEA (Bolingbrook, IL), helpful instructions in this bathroom floor display. This sent my imagination flying – there must be experiential reasons for this sign to exist, and I’ll bet some IKEA employees have some troubling stories to tell on why the sign is critical. (The stiffer acetate sheet used here has given me an idea on how to implement a 2010 technical improvement on the April Fools Day Toilet trick!)