Nobody seemed impressed.
Chris and I had decided a road trip would help alleviate our family’s cabin fever. We jumped at the chance to get out of town, even though it was only a two-hour drive.
Pella, a town of approximately 10,000 residents in central Iowa, is known as “America’s Dutch Treasure.” It was established in 1847 by a group who immigrated to the United States from the Netherlands. Pella is best known for its annual festival, Tulip Time, which draws over 150,000 guests to the community in early May when thousands of tulips are in bloom. (We could never attend that festival and leave with our sanity– too many people, too much sensory overload, too much chaos, too many Dutch wooden shoes.) Pella is also quite a conservative community. For example, for years businesses weren’t allowed to sell alcohol or be open on Sundays.
We hadn’t traveled far when Isaac began to grumble about the Saturday routine that wasn’t happening as usual. “Hy-Vee!” he cried.
“Yes, you’ll go to Hy-Vee later today. Saturday. Hy-Vee today,” I said, trying to reassure him as the country music on 98.5 FM blasted at full volume. I was behind the wheel, Chris sat in the backseat opposite Henry, and Noah claimed the entire back section of the van as his own space. As usual, Isaac sat in the front passenger seat so he was able to control the radio.
Unfortunately he’s become a huge country music fan.
I don’t know most country music artists or the songs they sing. This all changed when my husband introduce me to the best smart phone app: Shazam. It listens to music and in seconds identifies the artist and song.
Thanks to Shazam, I know we listened to “What We Ain’t Got” by Jake Owen. We ain’t got our sanity, I wanted to say. We listened to “Drinking Class” by Lee Brice.
When we had been in the car about thirty minutes, I noticed a big billboard displaying a picture of a country musician who will be playing at a nearby casino Saturday, March 14. What struck me is not that he was a country singer (which surely was on Isaac’s mind), but I was wondering if “John Anderson” was his real name. Shouldn’t John Anderson be a U.S. Representative? Or an actor? The name didn’t seem right for a guitar-wielding, singer songwriter. It doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Conway Twitty”, “Waylon Jennings”, or “Kenny Chesney.”
“Look at that billboard!” I exclaimed, when I saw it in the field by the roadside. “No alcohol, no drugs, no abortion, no regrets.”
“Yep, we’re getting close to Pella,” Chris explained. As he uttered those words, I glanced at the phone Isaac held in his hand. The country radio station was playing (now KMGO 98.7 FM). Shazam had identified the details for us: “I’m the Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised” by Johnny Paycheck.
Would everyone in Pella know what we had been listening to? Would we be run out of town? Would our van even be allowed into the city limits?
I drove through Pella while Chris directed me towards Happy Joe’s, a pizza parlor where we had lunch. The building was once a Super Value grocery store where Chris worked while he was in college. Now it was a pizza parlor. The boys were happy to be there, and miraculously we ate without incident.
“This is where the checkout used to be,” Chris explained enthusiastically. “And back by the games? That was once the dairy section.”
I thought I heard Henry sing, “Nobody cares, nobody cares . . . “ After we finished lunch, the boys played games for a few minutes. Isaac loved being there. We redeemed a few tickets for a small prize. It was an easy choice: a plastic egg that contained a slimy substance that stuck on walls.
What happens when you eat yeast and shoe polish?
Every morning you rise and shine.
As we left there, Henry explained that he had seen a bag of Funyuns, the onion-flavored corn snack. Until then, he had not believed they existed. Who knew we needed to travel to Pella so he could have this revelation?
We parked the van near Surbeck, the house where Chris and his friends used to live. The boys insisted on staying in the van while we took a picture. Even before we reached the entrance, we heard college guys screaming. Were they watching a basketball game? If not, I didn’t want to know what was happening. Was this Animal House, Pella style?
“Do you need to be let in?” asked a young female college student when she opened the door. It was 2:00 p.m. and she was wearing pajama bottoms and holding a microwavable meal.
“No,” I answered. “We’re just old people taking pictures.”
“I used to live here twenty years ago,” Chris said. “Was the lounge ever repaired?”
The ride home seemed to take forever. We were all tired, windblown, and in a sugar coma. I imagined the trip to Pella would be magical, but I was a little disappointed.
I tried to convince Isaac that we needed to listen to my iPod Shuffle, but he wouldn’t allow it. I had to laugh when I saw a diamond-shaped road sign on a gravel road that said “Rock Ends.” I thought to myself how appropriate it was for our family’s music selection – rock ended a long time ago. Now we were stuck with country.
Occasionally there are songs that Shazam doesn’t identify. It doesn’t happen often, but it did on the way home. I guess I’ll never know the song title for sure, but if I had to guess based on the lyrics, I’d say “Mama Get the Hammer There's A Fly On Papa's Head.”
“Noah, do you think this singer sounds out of tune?” I asked. He's my son with perfect pitch.
“I’m just muting the sound from my ears right now,” he said. He wasn’t laughing.
The van was silent except for the country music. We heard Blake Shelton sing, “My eyes are the only thing I don’t wanna take off of you.” I knew that song would never be played in Pella’s Jaarsma Bakery. In fact, it was probably banned in the entire city.
The last thirty minutes of the drive home were excruciating. One song was so awful that I had to pull out my phone (the battery was nearly dead) so the Shazam app could work its magic.
“You’re not going to believe this,” I screamed from the back seat. “The song is “Somebody Slap Me” by John Anderson, the same guy I saw on a billboard earlier today! He’s going to be in Iowa soon!” I laughed so hard I cried.
“Noah, do you want to go to the concert with me?” I joked.
“Somebody slap me,” he said. I could almost hear him rolling his eyes.
That was the joke the rest of the way home. When we finally pulled into our garage, Isaac said the words loud and clear. “Hy-Vee!” After the long Pella detour, he was ready to get back to his Saturday routine.
I was still unloading and tidying the van when Isaac went inside the house and carried out the shopping list and a pile of recyclable grocery bags. We hadn’t been home longer than thirty seconds, and he was ready to go again.
“Chris, are you guys going right now?” I asked. “Don’t you want to come inside for a little bit?” I felt exhausted from the long trip.
Isaac opened the front passenger door, sat down, and put the keys in the ignition. He turned them just enough to hear the radio. I could have sworn I heard “Shotgun Rider” by Tim McGraw on 98.5 FM.
“Somebody slap me,” Chris said with a laugh.