Trust me: the Big Ten road goes on forever

Owl-sightings 1, Neil Young-sightings 0

I’ve put 3,547 highway miles behind me covering road games of the Iowa men’s basketball team this season, with snow, rain, wind, cold, and one flash flood warning.

With many miles to go, here’s what I’ve learned, and what I still haven’t comprehended:

* The league is chock full o’ Bloomingtons.

I’ve spent nights this winter in Bloomington, Ill., Bloomington, Ind., and Burnsville, Minn., which is six miles from Bloomington, Minn.

On I-35 between Iowa to Bloomington, Minn., is exit for Blooming Prairie, Minn.

I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure nothing was blooming in any of those places.

* I drove to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, parked my car at an off-site lot, and flew to Tampa for the Outback Bowl. When I returned to Chicago and got the shuttle back to the parking lot before proceeding to Purdue for a basketball game, they had my car running and warmed up upon my arrival.

Considering it was frigid outside and I was wearing a light jacket because I didn’t want to schlep a winter coat to Florida, I was happily surprised. It’s over a month later and I still remember that good service.

Plus, it may have been the last time I was warm.

* Why didn’t someone strong-arm me into buying stock in Casey’s General Stores long ago?

There’s one in Spencer, Ind., a short drive from Bloomington. I saw it.

There’s one in Watervliet, Mich., the first to open in that state. I stopped there late one night on the way home from East Lansing.


There’s one in Mahomet, Ill. I think I got a glimpse of it. Mahomet is a big place and it’s easy to get disoriented.

* It was the night before the Iowa-Minnesota game three weeks ago, and Neil Young was playing at the Pantages Theatre in downtown Minneapolis.

No user’s manual was required to tell me it’s cold in Minnesota in January. But it was really cold, and this still a few days before the polar vortex fully kicked in and kicked our tails.

The Pantages is a small theater, and I knew my odds of getting a ticket on the street for an amount that wouldn’t hurt me worse than frostbite were slimmer than a snowflake. But I had to take a chance. I’d never seen Neil Young in concert. I still haven’t.

I lasted about three minutes at a time out in that brutal weather before I’d duck into the nearest public building that was open, get a tiny bit thawed, then come back out for about three minutes. I did that a few times, then gave up.

In all that time and probably a lot more, a panhandler stood outside next to the theater and never left his spot. Anytime I’ve heard coaches or players or media talk about toughness in the three weeks since, I’ve just laughed to myself.

* About that flash flood warning ...

It was in Indiana on Feb. 7, the day Iowa played the Hoosiers there. It rained long and hard.

I went into a McDonald’s in Spencer, and a bunch of older people were looking at each others’ flood-related photos and videos on their phones. Coffee and free Wi-Fi. It felt like I had stumbled into the town hall.

Everyone’s digital-savvy now. Well, almost everyone. The maps setting I used on my phone to lead me from Bloomington back to I-74 took me on a crazy 2-lane route. In one unincorporated speck of a town, I passed an owl that was standing in the othger lane.

It’s worth it to pay extra for GPS with owl-warnings.


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* I was trying to find a radio station I could tolerate as I neared Minneapolis-St. Paul last month. I came across a station that called itself “The Patriot.”

For some reason, that reminded me of a line from a song called “Sweetheart Like You” by Minnesota’s own Bob Dylan.

They say that patriotism is the last refuge

To which a scoundrel clings

Steal a little and they throw you in jail

Steal a lot and they make you king

* On the way to and from Indiana on I-74, you pass an exit for Farmer City, Ill.

Farmer City. Which is an oxymoron. Yes, I know. That’s old news.

By the way, Farmer City has a Casey’s, too.

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