Task for the day -- call up a city map for Ottumwa, Iowa. "Legend has it that Ottumwa was originally laid out by two drunken Indians"... Cedar Rapids is hard to get around in, too, with things sitting diagonally and roads interrupted, but the all-time Iowa champion in my opinion is Ottumwa.
Today, a neighbor and I went to the Social Security office in the one big town in southern Iowa, Ottumwa. Ottumwa is a river town, situated on the Des Moines River, which is creating havoc at points north, so I called 511 for the road hot line update to be sure I could drive from here to there with all the flooding.
Since neither of us know our way around the area, I left an extra 30 minutes to find the place. Getting to Ottumwa went smoothly -- thanks to the rain, the road crews were NOT OUT, so no long waits for pilot cars... But even so, it soon became apparent that I MIGHT have underestimated my time on task needed to complete the job.
I'd gotten written directions from Mapquest the night before, and wanted to look at the actual map, but the internet has been off line, slow, or goofy ever since the end of May, when I could no longer count on going into school and using the fiber optics system (faster and more reliable as a rule...) Big chunks of the map never did load, even after emptying the memory cache, holding down the shift key to make it redo from the start, even after allowing an hour and fifteen minutes to finish... so I could not visualize where to drive to, although that is a skill I generally have.
Right from the start, we were shot down. Highway 63's route through town had been changed, and we couldn't get it untangled. I finally just picked a river bridge and drove into town.
It was definitely NOT business as usual in downtown Ottumwa. Trucks hauling rubble and sand were zooming up and back, ignoring the one way signs. The route I'd planned to use was barricaded, with patrolmen and highway workers at every access point. As we went past the patrol car with its warning lights flashing, C. remarked on how good-looking the officer was.
I tried to get there on my own, adapting the directions, but we could not even find the first listed street name! Eventually, we found one name on the list at one point, and drove down it for a bit, but did not pass anyplace named the street which was supposed to contain the building.
C. suggested going the other direction, but since that was away from city center, I incorrectly assumed it would be wrong...
With just 10 minutes left on the clock, I drove back to the river to ask directions of the patrolman or one of the workers.
C. volunteered to talk to the tall, slender, handsome officer we'd passed coming in for me, flirtily batting her eyes, but the one-way streets foxed us. We finally wound up a block away.
A burly, gray haired man city worker was guarding that entrance.
I asked, "Are you from OTTUMWA?"
"Yup. Lived here all my life."
When he'd read the Social Security paper, with the address and my directions I handed him, he announced with a twinkle in his eye, "These are screwy."
"I noticed. How do I REALLY get there?"
He quickly gave me concise directions consisting of only three turns from where we'd entered the downtown area, not the 11 shown in the on-line directions. "Just turn around right here," he said, indicating the street, which was too narrow. There was a 1" curb, so he said, "You can use the sidewalk, too."
Since the patrol officer was in sight, I asked, "I won't get a ticket for making a Uee, will I?"
We arrived the requested five minutes early, just as instructed on the paper. I watched the heavy-set gal get out of the car that had pulled in right before us approach the front door and tug, but since it was the first appointment of the day, the front door was still locked.
I sat in the car, watching the rain roll down the windshield. The other lady sheltered under the overhang on the far side of the metal detector. When the uniformed guard opened the door, he made her go back out and walk through it. Crazy. She was wearing a skin tight T-shirt and shorts, sandals, had no purse... WHERE did he thing she had a weapon hidden?
I took my purse along, with all the junk from cleaning out my desk at school the day before still in it... I didn't set off the detector, but when I heard him rattle off the list of what was inadmissible before admitting the gal ahead of me, I got a sinking feeling.
"We're tougher than the airlines. We protect our people."
"Nobody can 'go postal' here!"
He laughed. "Or anything else," he added as he escorted her to the door, opened it graciously, and took her to the right counter inside.
When he returned, he was courteous, but did not skip a single word of his directions, just as if I had not been standing right there to hear what he'd said before. "Do you have any fingernail files, lighters, scissors," or several other items I can't remember now. "I'll have to search your purse," he added apologetically.
Knowing I had at least a fingernail file that had been in my center desk drawer, I told him that I had all the stuff from cleaning out my desk, as I set my "suitcase" on his counter and began pulling out handfuls of pens, markers, and pencils. "I know I have a pair of nail clippers, but can't remember if I put the scissors in my purse or the glove compartment."
"If they're the blunt tipped ones, they're okay."
"No, I had fabric sheers that I took in when the school issued ones went bad, and the supply closet was 'out' for the year."
He laughed again, shaking his graying head, and told about going to school with his mother at the end of every year to help her cart her things home.
Not only did I have nail clippers with the thin, pointed, serrated end used for filing, but I had a pair of tweezers still in their cardboard and plastic holder. "That would have to go if it wasn't still in the package," he commented, pointing. "You'll need to take the clippers back to the car."
I eyed the light rain, shrugged, and left. When I got back, he escorted me to the door, opened it in the identical manner to what he'd done for the first gal, as if we were royalty, walked over to a machine with my paper in hand, entered something from it, then handed me a receipt. "Sit there until someone calls for you by name," he smiled, choosing the seat furthest from the air conditioning vent. I was dampish, rather than wet, but I appreciated the gesture just the same.
I wished I'd brought a book, but I'd assumed my neighbor would come in and chat with me, then wait, reading, while I was in the office. However, since the rain had begun again, she waited with her book in the car. Why should she get wet, risk damaging the book, and then have to sit in a chilled room?
The news was good -- I'm a citizen with a white copy birth certificate, not a felon, have no outstanding arrest warrants, had my 2007 tax return with me, and had filled in the application for my social security card replacement,( which had me calling mom for some accurate spellings/names,) which the interviewer then asked me for in the office. I did NOT her tell the story about Mom misspelling her own middle name over the phone to me and having to hunt up HER white copy birth certificate to look at the information when I questioned the spelling... I couldn't help contrasting her briskly efficient style with the elegant courtesy of the doorman.
So in mid July, I get the June benefit, etc.
Almost to the exit, I turned back to ask the doorman if he were from Ottumwa. "Born and bred," he said, standing a bit straighter.
I asked if he knew where I could get tomato plants, and give directions I could follow, telling him about the "screwy" internet directions. When he held out his hand, I handed him the sheet, and he looked them over. "Oh, they've used the ambulance route. If you ever need to go to the hospital, it's just a bit further down on this same road. You're right, they DO have you going in a circle."
He gave me concise directions to FOUR places that might have tomato plants for sale. Before we left town, I'd located all four. The one he recommended the least, since it was furthest away and most expensive was the only one that had the grape tomatoes I really wanted. I was glad the others were totally out, as I was so frustrated not finding what I wanted in a third town, I probably would have bought anything still supporting leaves. He'd correctly suggested that they'd be higher, but for the "right" items, that was worth it.
The reason I started this post was the "screwy directions" comment. As I left, he said, "Legend has it that Ottumwa was originally laid out by two drunken Indians, who managed to meander past every good hunting stand and favorite fishing hole along the way, weaving along every convoluted animal trail they could find in the process."
An interesting man. Compassionate, witty, dedicated... "Yup, that's about right!"