Iowa City to Memphis: A drive through Middle America
I drove 535 miles today, from Iowa City, Iowa, to Memphis, Tenn. From the site of an NCAA women’s regional to the site of an NCAA men’s regional. Late airline tickets are expensive, and connections from Cedar Rapids to Memphis aren’t exactly like Dallas-to-Houston.
So I volunteered to drive and didn’t mind it. I saw a section of the country I’d never seen before. I’m actually making a big circle. Drove from Oklahoma City to Kansas City last Wednesday, from KC to Iowa City on Sunday morning, now to Memphis, and either Saturday or Monday, I’ll complete the trip with a trek across I-40 back to Oklahoma City.
I’ve driven the OKC-Memphis byway a bunch. Same with OKC and KC, and even KC to Des Moines, which is about 100 miles west of Iowa City. Des Moines to Iowa City was fresh meat, but not terribly different from the rest of Iowa. My pal from the Denver Post, Tom Kensler, pointed out that Iowa is the only state in the union that’s not much different, no matter where you are. That’s a generality, of course, but Iowa is more alike across the board than virtually any other state.
All of which means the Iowa City to Memphis was going to be the real open-road adventure.
I left Iowa City going south on state highway 27, which went through some picturesque farm land and didn’t really go past many landmarks. Except you go by Mount Pleasant, a decent-sized hamlet. I kept racking my brain. Where had I heard of Mount Pleasant? When I got there, I remembered.
Mount Pleasant is home to Iowa Wesleyan College, where a lifetime ago a football coach named Hal Mumme hired a law graduate named Mike Leach to help him coach.
Into Missouri, I drove through Hannibal, the river town of Mark Twain, and the town was charming. Clean, modern. I didn’t have time to pull over and enjoy all the Twain stuff. That’s for another day. But Hannibal is definitely a place that made me want to return.
The best way to get to Memphis takes you through the St. Louis suburbs, though not the city itself. St. Louis’ western suburbs — Chesterfield, particularly — glisten. You realize the difference between Oklahoma City and St. Louis by its suburbs. The St. Louis suburbs seem to stretch for 50 miles, from Wentzville on the northwest to Arnold on the south.
The drive south of St. Louis reminded me of the Ohio hills south of Canton. Lots of rocky bluffs as the highway sits just off the Mississippi, though river sightings were few. I went through a couple of towns I’d always heard about — Cape Girardeau and Sikeston — and they seemed nice.
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