CEDAR FALLS — George and Sandy Glenn have lived in Cedar Falls since 1966. They’ve driven many of the city’s streets over the years, but not every street. While sheltering at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, an old conversation popped up, one the couple have had many times.
“Over the years, we’d be driving and go past a street and wonder, ‘What’s down there?’ or ‘We’ve never been down that street before.’ We decided to drive those streets,” said Sandy, a former member of the Cedar Falls City Council.
They hatched an idea for an adventure that would get them out of the house while following COVID-19 safety guidelines.
They decided to call it their Great Cedar Falls Road Trip.
George, a retired University of Northern Iowa professor of theater history, decided they needed a city map before setting off on the adventure. He found a free one in the Cedar Falls Visitors Center lobby, but the print was too small and it highlighted attractions, not city streets. At Sandy’s behest, he called the city and paid $5 for a plat map.
“It’s big and shows every street in Cedar Falls, including streets that haven’t even been built yet” in areas under development, he told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.
“We marked out in a green magic marker on the map every street we’d driven before, and then off we went. Sandy gave directions while I drove,” George said.
Between April 6 and 17, the Glenns made eight afternoon drives for a total of 226 miles — and they never left the city limits. As they navigated each street, Sandy marked it in yellow on the map.
Their last drive was a 150-yard-long street off Greenhill Road that is under development.
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“I was on the way to the can redemption center on Greenhill and there’s a construction project. I’d never paid much attention before, but this time I saw a street sign. I went home and got Sandy, and we went back and drove down the street and amended our record,” George said.
Their journeys took them through residential and commercial areas and neighborhoods large and small in all socio-economic levels. Their longest drive was 51 miles from their home to explore northeast Cedar Falls “as far as we could go and stay in the city limits,” he explained. “Eighty percent of the new streets we drove weren’t here when we moved to town in ’66.”
Sandy was surprised at the number of cul de sacs and dead-end streets, but she was delighted to see so many people outdoors in their yards “working in the yard, washing cars, cleaning garages, playing with their dogs. There were kids riding bikes. Neighbors were social distancing, but people waved at us. Sometimes we wondered if people noticed how we were driving up one street and down the next and thought about calling the cops,” she said, laughing.
Although they never got out of their car, the Glenns found their Great Cedar Falls Road Trip comforting. For Sandy, it brought back memories of leisurely Sunday afternoon drives and driving around to ooh and aah over Christmas lights during the holidays. George recalled the days of lower gas prices, and he felt lucky to use his gas discount card at a convenience store and fill up his tank for 78 cents a gallon.
The Glenns’ road trip has encouraged their friends to explore their own backyards.
“Just wave when you go by,” George said.