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2 January 2008

Iowa on a Greyhound

"Iowa City is such a liberal, fun town. So basically it's not like the rest of Iowa AT ALL."

By Dan Hancox

Dan Hancox and Tom Humberstone are on the road in America blogging the US presidential primaries, with Dan writing the words, and Tom drawing the pictures

We’re riding the Greyhound bus out of Chicago – it’s scuzzy, but no worse than the National Express – and as we trundle precariously, slowly through the deep, deep snow my artist friend Tom and I get chatting to two Iowa State students – one past, one present.

The former, Mark, is in his late 20s, and is on his way to Los Angeles to “do the actor thing… i.e. I’m going to wait tables” he snorts, self-deprecatingly. “But I wanted something to talk about when I get there, to mark myself out from the other wannabe actors. So I figured I’d go take my grandma to the caucus on the way out west.”

19-year-old Business major Jess, blonde, drop-dead-gorgeous, and from an Iowa town so small it doesn’t have any stop lights, isn’t planning to caucus. She doesn’t want to be here at all in fact. She’s returning to Iowa City after a friend’s NYE party in Chicago, three whole weeks ahead of the start of ‘school’, for a court appearance at 9am the following morning. “It’s so annoying. I got done with public intox”, she says, bored at the thought of it. “It’s so stoopid.”

A friend had been walking her home from a bar (there’s been a spate of drug-rape type assaults on campus recently), she was just reaching her dorm, and “some fat, ugly cop who can hardly walk” charged her with public intoxication and stuck her in the drunk tank. She’ll probably get a fine of a few hundred dollars and a probationary period – just for being a student walking home while a bit tipsy.

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In Iowa City you can get into bars at the age of 19, even though the drinking age is 21. “It’s pretty much the only thing that gets any of the students at Iowa State motivated, when they threaten to raise the bar-entry age to 21 like the rest of the country. That’s the only thing anyone takes that seriously.”

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If Barack Obama really wanted to lock up the youth vote in Iowa, this is obviously the route he should have gone down. Forget ‘Hope’, just buy the youngsters a drink and let them enjoy their student years the way we do in the rest of the civilised world.

We rumble on through the snowy plains, and finally, with an hour or so to go until our destination, there’s some excitement. We’re approaching the largest truckstop in the world. Officially. It even has its own cinema. Like everything else on this trip around the US, it’s a regular British-style motorway service station, put into some kind of mad-scientist particle accelerator. It’s so big I can’t see where it starts and finishes. There are murmurs of interest on the bus. Mark laughs.

“Yeah everyone’s getting excited, but we’re not actually going to stop there. We’re going to stop at the small one on the other side of the highway.”

And so we stand in the mid-afternoon twilight outside the regular, non-record-breaking rest-stop on the other side of the highway, smoking Mark’s pre-prepared doobie, dazzled by the frozen beauty of it all.

Later that night when Tom and I walked back to our B&B, it had dropped as low as 4 degrees. Farenheit. But when you’ve just sneaked into a secret Hillary Clinton rally, and you’re essentially in a small midwestern version of paradise, you can’t really complain.