2014 Iowa – Day 6 – Muscatine to Kalona: The interrogation

Saturday May 24, 2014, 39 miles (62 km) – Total so far: 312 miles (503 km)

The tall, thin woman at the library circulation desk in Kalona gives me a disapproving glance. She has on a grey blouse which matches her short, stylish, grey and white hair. Slim, angular reading glasses perch on the very end of her long nose. The deep maroon lipstick emphasises her pursed and pouted lips. However, that expression may just be required to keep her reading glasses from slipping off the end of her nose. She looks just like a librarian stereotype. Remove her from the desk, stick her anywhere, and that severe, bookish, educated look would immediately let anyone identify her occupation.

I approach the desk and ask, “May I use a computer, please”?

Silence. Squinty stare.

I try again, “I have some maps on a USB stick that I’d like to print.”

Her eyes narrow as her lips purse even tighter. She says, “You don’t have a library card”?

“No. I live overseas. I am on a long-distance bicycle tour and I’m wanting to print out some maps of my upcoming route.”

She looks at me with suspicion. She looks at a short, plump woman sitting at a computer behind the circulation desk. She considers. Something. Then she asks the other woman, “do we even have any computers available?”

Good god, all three of us can see the two rows of computers and that at least three are available. I’m riding a $2200 bike with at least $500 worth of gear. I’m wearing mostly clean shorts, a clean cycling jersey and I had a shower this morning. I have a PhD and two passports, but I’m so far out of your tiny world of existence, I’ll just let you think I’m a vagrant here to hack your computers or download kiddie porn. Sheesh.

The two women confer for some time in low voices. They finally decide I can use a computer but then wonder how they’ll let me on without a library card. I don’t know why this is so hard. I’ve used public library computers all over the US, in small towns and big cities, and never had a problem and never encountered anyone that was unfriendly.

The tall woman turns back to me and asks, in a tone of condemnation, “Do you even HAVE a driver’s licence”?

“Yes,” I say, as I dig in my backpack and produce my Australian driver’s licence. At least that supports my story.

She looks at it, hands it to the other lady, who looks at it and says, “Maybe we should photocopy it.”

I’m not very excited about that, but I don’t protest. I need maps. This morning I was able to look up the route I wanted to use on Google since I had wifi at a motel. After figuring out a way through Muscatine to hook up to the county road, it was an easy route. It was just a straight shot on one county road for 40 miles to this town where I plan to sit (make that lay) out the holiday weekend and all of its traffic. But I don’t think I’ll have wifi in the near future to figure out a route each day. Besides, I always like to have a map on-hand so I can pick and choose a route as I go, based on road condition, traffic and wind.

The woman takes my I.D. to the photocopier. If my identity is ever hacked, remind me it was those ladies at the library in tiny Kalona, Iowa 🙂 Then they inform me, “it will be .25 cents a page to print”. That seems a bit steep, but I don’t care. Finally, they give me a computer number to use and instructions on how to print.

15 minutes later I’ve zoomed in and printed off sections of the Iowa bike map that will get me to Des Moines. Surely I’ll be able to find a state map there. I return to the circulation desk to pay for my printing. I hand over my pages (see, I really was printing maps!) so they can count them and charge me appropriately. I even have exact change. Who knows how difficult making change might have been.

It’s such a shame that they were so nasty. The library is a new facility and had an open and spacious feel. There was a lot of natural light shining in on the reading tables. In a community where there are Mennonites serving fried chicken in the restaurant attached to the supermarket, and horse-drawn buggies with bearded Amish men regularly clip-clopping down all the streets in the largest Amish settlement west of the Mississippi, you’d think they’d be a bit more accepting of someone just a little bit different.

So that is the story of my interrogation at a small-town library in east-central Iowa.

Kalona is Iowa’s quilt capital. The streets have inlaid bricks that look like particular quilt designs. You can get a map for a self-guided tour. The United States’ largest spool cabinet collection is also here. Plus, the town is the center of the largest Amish settlement west of the Mississippi River.

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