Around a year ago, JoJo and I took a road trip up to Omaha, Nebraska, across the state of Iowa, and back home to Texas. When people learn about this trip, they usually get a confused look. I mean, why eastern Nebraska and all of Iowa? What a lot of people from other states don’t realize is that there’s more than corn, cold, and Midwestern farmers in these two states. It’s just like when I mention that I live in Texas, everyone assumes we all wear chaps, cowboy boots, vote Republican, eat lots of barbecue, and say “y’all” a lot. Okay, those last two are true. However, the cities we were planning to visit–Omaha, NE, Council Bluffs, IA, Des Moines, IA, Iowa City, IA, Cedar Rapids, IA, Dubuque, IA, the Quad Cities, Burlington, IA, and Fort Madison, IA (my birth town), all have something going for them. Well, maybe not Burlington and Fort Madison, but whatever.
So, one chilly, rainy April morning, we left North Central Texas and headed towards Omaha in a rental. My car wasn’t in the best of shape at the time, and JoJo was driving a Hyundai Elantra. So no. There was no way our two fatasses were getting trapped in a small car together for thousands of miles. I mean…we didn’t want a murder/suicide to be the end of the tale. Though, that would have been much more interesting.
The first day of the trip, I only took one picture on my iPhone. Mostly ’cause Jodi made it clear that if I shoved a camera in her face that early in the morning, one of us would spend the trip dead. Or, at the very least, trying to pry said iPhone out of an orifice where I wouldn’t want anything to be shoved. So, I took the one picture and used my words to annoy her instead. Which was really enough, if you ask her. Regardless, the first day was pretty fun and mostly uneventful, save the chilly weather and the rain storm that followed us through Oklahoma into Kansas. However, by the time we found a place to stay overnight in Kansas, the weather had let up, and we had high hopes for the next day.
Let me back up here and mention–JoJo made it clear from the get go that if I was going to make her see my birth state, she was going to get to see a bookstore or two along the way. And not just large chains that could be visited in any major city. She wanted real bookstores. So, being the awesome individual that I am, I found a bookstore in Omaha that she would like, and another in Iowa City. My job was done. I thought.
So, we got into Nebraska the next day and got our hotel in Council Bluffs, IA, which is just minutes across the Iowa border. Immediately, we headed to downtown Omaha so that we could check things out. Also immediately, JoJo asked which bookstore we were going to visit first. With a roll of my eyes, I let her know that Jackson Street Booksellers was on the itinerary. Well, it ended up being the itinerary. I mean, sure, we got to see a lot of downtown Omaha, but we spent most of our time in the bookstore.
If you’ve ever been inside Jackson Street Booksellers (I wrote a whole post about the store), you can easily spend days in there and not see all of the books. There are shelves and shelves of used books, piles and piles of used books, and it’s just incredibly overwhelming. So…it was in mine and JoJo’s wheelhouse. We stayed in the store as long as we could without getting too overwhelmed, I took some pictures, and then we left–after I purchased a copy of My Antonia. All in all, not a horrible day, if I did say so myself, though I was quite shocked that JoJo hadn’t bought a single thing. If I had known then that she was just stretching, I would have been afraid.
The next day, we drove on to Des Moines, Iowa. And of course, JoJo wanted to know which bookstore was our destination. As though bookstores were the only points of interest in the great Midwest. Well, I started to panic. I hadn’t planned a bookstore for Des Moines, but lucky for me, a quick Google search on my iPhone showed me where the closest Barnes & Noble was, so the day didn’t have to end in murder.
So…we obviously went straight to Barnes & Noble on University Dr…but I didn’t take any pictures whilst there. Sure, we spent hours there. But the book shopping that commenced overcame any thought I had to buy books. But, it was a standard Barnes & Noble store. However, if you don’t know what that looks like–here’s a pic from their website. It’s a lot more exciting if you get out of the car and go inside. I mean, a parking lot is a parking lot, right? We’ve all seen those before. However, you’ve never seen JoJo go buckwild with a credit card inside of a B&N. And if you haven’t–put it on your bucket list. It’s like running with the bulls in Pamplona. We either bought a dozen books or twelve-hundred. I can’t remember. But the backseat of the rental was already filling up. And this trip wasn’t even half over.
As if one bookstore in a day wasn’t enough, we drove on to Iowa City afterwards, where the other bookstore I had planned for was located. This one was called The Haunted Bookshop—and I also have written a whole article about it, too. Apparently, the name is misleading, because the bookstore is not haunted…the store just gets its name from the book The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley. Not that that’s a deal-breaker or anything, just a bit of trivia. Luckily, due to the traffic (and foot traffic) we encountered in this college town, along with the drizzling rain, and the fact that we were getting tired, only a book apiece was purchased here as we were worn out. Plus we each “stole” a bookmark from the check-out counter. The rental car heaved a sigh of relief at seeing such a small load coming out of the store, I am sure.
Fortunately, once we drove on to Cedar Rapids to stay the night (and checked into a hotel straight out of American Horror Story: Hotel) and had take-away Chinese for dinner. Speaking of which–this was a shady freaking place. I had to have Chinese that night, and when we drove up to go in and get food, there were teenagers smoking illegal substances and begging people for cigarettes and money out front. And the inside of the restaurant left a lot to be desired. In fact, I was pretty sure that the meat in our food was human or rat. It was tasty, though, and I’m not one to complain, so…
Anyhoozles…the next morning I did finish one of the books I had brought along for the trip while I was waiting for JoJo to wake up.
Yeah. That’s The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald. Which I highly recommend (see what I did there) for a rainy day or a road trip–or just ’cause. Sooooooo freakin’ good. On a side note–do I or do I not look like I was having a stroke on the left side here? I was fine. I just hadn’t had any coffee so both eyes couldn’t operate simultaneously.
Anyhoozles…we drove on to Dubuque after JoJo woke up and we had showered and checked out of the hotel. We hadn’t planned to go to Dubuque, but at the last minute thought it would be interesting since I had never been. And just like my birth town of Fort Madison, it was right on the Mississippi, and I hadn’t seen Ol’ Man River in a long a minute. So, off we went.
It was a mistake. Kind of.
Halfway to Dubuque, JoJo announced that I needed to find a cool bookstore to visit while we were there. Oh, lord. This shit again. I mean, not that I’m not a crazy book nerd muhself, but we were going to have to ditch our luggage if we were going to be able to carry all of our book purchases home. However, like a good person, I found a place called River Lights Bookstore on Main Street.
Okay, first of all, Dubuque, Iowa is an awesome city. Mid-sized, right on the river, full of good food, entertainment, a lively night life, , plenty of beautiful scenery, and all the amenities one could wish for–we thoroughly loved the city. However, once we got to River Lights Bookstore, we found out that it was also our favorite bookstore of the whole trip. While we didn’t buy as many books there as we did at Barnes and Noble–the selection was awesome for a smaller bookstore, and the sales staff were amazingly warm and fun women that spent at least twenty minutes answering questions about books, the town, and volunteered lots of information about what to do while in town. In fact, they pointed us to the Mexican restaurant across the street for lunch–a place called Salsa’s. Unfortunately, I haven’t written a post about this bookstore yet. But it’s coming…
Side note: on another trip back to Dubuque, Iowa six months later, we visited River Lights Bookstore and Salsa’s every day of our trip. We fell in love with their queso, pork carnitas, taco salads, and chips and salsa. We’re not drinkers, but their margaritas looked absolutely delicious! There’s JoJo on our first trip to Dubuque and our first experience with Salsa’s. She may be smiling like an idiot since I insisted on taking her picture, but rest assured, she was very happy with our lunch. In fact, we were very sorry that we hadn’t planned to stay in Dubuque overnight on that first trip because we easily could have went to River Lights Bookstore and Salsa’s numerous times in two days. Oh, well. You live you learn.
Moving on, we drove on for the night and got a hotel in Fort Madison, Iowa–again, my birth town. Rounding out our trip, I showed her around my hometown and we ended up finding another bookstore–at JoJo’s urging again–and ended up in Burlington, Iowa at Burlington By The Book. This was another independent bookstore that was absolutely charming. Small as well, but with a pretty big selection for its size. We ended up dropping way too much money again–mostly because we saw so many books we wanted…and the owner was such a nice guy.
Finally, we rounded out that day with a nice sit down visit along the river walk in Burlington.
And then we had a nice early dinner at The Palms in Fort Madison before heading back to the hotel so we could rest up before driving home the next day.
JoJo was so sick of my picture taking shit at this point in the trip.
So…what was the point in this blog post, you’re probably wondering. Well, I wanted to share some sights, and give some suggestions of books you should buy, and where you should buy them–if you happen to be in Nebraska or Iowa. But ultimately, this was a cautionary tale about not giving JoJo and I credit cards and sending us into bookstores. I know I came home with more than a dozen new books, and JoJo had at least as much. I wish I could say this was an isolated incident…
Until next time…