Our 2021 Road Trip #8: The Art of the City of Five Seasons

Emperor Augustus bust, Cedar Rapids.

Fires wave behind a bust of the Emperor Augustus, sculpted circa 25 B.C.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is nicknamed “The City of Five Seasons” courtesy of an advertising agency hired to boost their image back in 1968. The fifth season is not a specific calendar range, but rather an ambiguously conceptual phase in which a Cedar Rapidsian ostensibly kicks back and enjoys the other four. That’s not as loose a paraphrase of my sources as you might think. Perhaps one must attain a certain meditative state in order to transcend the space-time continuum and enjoy spring, summer, winter, and fall as a four-way point in time, a singular melange of all their sensations, and Cedar Rapids is the one true nexus of all seasonal ley lines whereupon arcane Iowan magic manifests the sensory cross-section of freezing sunshine, fiery snow, plants blooming bright orange, and year-round pumpkin spice.

Maybe you just have to be Of The Rapids to get it. Or maybe the real fifth season was the friends we made along the way. We forged no new friendships in the big C-R, but we enjoyed perusing their copious art flourishes, from their art museum to the surrounding area.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. We were each raised in a household that couldn’t afford annual out-of-state family vacations. We’re geeks more accustomed to vicarious life through the windows of pop culture than through in-person adventures. Eventually we tired of some of our self-imposed limitations and figured out how to leave the comforts of home for the chance to see creative, exciting, breathtaking, outlandish, and/or bewildering new sights in states beyond our own, from the horizons of nature to the limits of imagination, from history’s greatest hits to humanity’s deepest regrets and the sometimes quotidian, sometimes quirky stopovers in between.

We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.

Technically not even 2020 stopped us. We played by the new rules of the interim normal and wandered Indiana in multiple directions as safely as we could. This year the long-awaited vaccines arrived. For 2021 we agreed we had to go big. Our new primary objective was Yellowstone National Park, 1500 miles from Indy…

Our focus at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art had largely been on the lesser-known works of Grant Wood and the zillions of spoofs of his heartland classic American Gothic. We wandered a few other sections before taking our leave, including the largest collection of ancient Roman art we’ve ever seen in a city with less than one million residents. My son, who hadn’t been with us on our original Gothic encounter and didn’t share our curiosity on that subject, was floored and perhaps a little annoyed that we hadn’t started with the ancients in the first place. In our defense, we had no idea all that sculpture was there.

Nearly every piece in that section was donated to the museum by the same family. They were a rarefied boon to the city, to be sure.

Art in Roman Life, Cedar Rapids.

Five heads among many signifying “Art in Roman Life”.

Alexander the Great sculpture.

Alexander the Great, 200-225 A.D.

Antonine Woman as Venus sculpture.

“Antonine Woman as Venus”, 150-160 A.D.

Zeus sculpture.

Zeus, 100-200 AD. He’s Greek, but I presume there are professional curatorial reasons why this is not Jupiter.

Woman and Boy scupltures.

A woman and a boy (that’s all the labels gave us), 170-210 A.D.

giant Roman horn!

Their whole giant-horn fad ended millennia before avant-garde jazz could make this work.

Octavia cistophorus!

Roman coins on display included this silver cistophorus (Ephesus, 39 B.C.) bearing the face of Octavia, sister of Octavian and Mark Antony’s second wife, one of the first Roman women ever on coinage.

Where Have You Been? It's Almost Dark.

Non-Roman eye-catchers on the way out included “Where Have You Been? It’s Almost Dark” by local man-about-town Richard D. Pinney, sometime after 1975.

Boy and Panther Cub, Malvina Hoffman.

Next to the front door, Malvina Hoffman’s “Boy and Panther Cub”, 1915.

The art museum had more galleries to explore, but one of our travel rules when we’re pressed for time is that we are not required by law to view every single piece in a given museum. If we’d had hours to spend, possibly, but as always we had a long drive ahead of us.

After the one McDonald’s in Illinois, the art museum was the second business we encountered that required all guests to wear masks regardless of vaccination status. Here in the early part of Day Two, with eight more days and six additional states to go, it was also the last such business of our entire vacation.

Meanwhile around town, Cedar Rapids was hopping with citizens enjoying leisurely Saturday morning strolls and touches of art raising quality-of-life standards in assorted nooks and crannies.

Five Seasons bridge!

A sky-bridge confirms I didn’t imagine the “Five Seasons” nickname.

Cedar Rapids pedestrian bridge.

Pedestrian bridge art.

dancer sculpture!

A fleeting sculpture Anne tried to catch as I drove. The morning’s intermittent drizzling obfuscated our windows a bit.

parking garage column art!

Who goes to the trouble of decorating a parking garage? Cedar Rapids does.

veggie sidewalk chalk!

Veggie sidewalk chalk art, unblemished by the elements.

WE ARE CR mural.

Still a work in progress as of June 26th, artist Thomas Clark completed the new “We are CR” anti-racism mural a week or so later.

After one of the best lunches of the week (more on that in a future entry), we tried to leave downtown Cedar Rapids only to have a pesky train pull through the heart of it and come to a dead stop, blocking several city streets. Several improvisational turns later, we made our away around and back to the interstate. The open road and our endless itinerary beckoned us.

Iowa train stopped.

Trains still have their uses, but I reserve the right to shake my fist at them from afar when they make a long drive even longer.

The next several hours of Iowa highway were a crashing bore, the exact opposite of Cedar Rapids, unless you count the storms that dogged us much of the way. We really missed the free Sirius XM that had come with our first rental car. Iowa’s commercial radio options sustained us for a time until the stations faded one by one as we steered farther away from any and all urban areas, into the vast fields where barroom country-rock rules their airwaves unchallenged. We abandoned all that and switched to my son’s digital playlists, which have a few intersections with my own tastes but were 90% new material to me, heavy on the East Asian metal, anime themes and post-2005 punk-pop.

About 200 miles in, I pulled into a gas station outside the town of Early because sometimes you need just a break from the road, especially when it’s raining and dreary. At our age, we also need to check our circulation. Sitting motionlessly for hours feels more detrimental than it used to in our youth.

(TOTAL ROAD TRIP MILEAGE AS OF GAS STOP #3: 618.8)

Two brief sights dotted an otherwise flat landscape as we eventually turned due north toward our next state, a familiar place we’d last seen eleven years ago.

Sergeant Floyd Monument, Sioux City, Iowa.

Scraping the sky in Sioux City, IA, is a monument to Sergeant Charles Floyd, a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition who died on the way and was buried there in 1804. This wasn’t the last Lewis and Clark attraction of our trip.

Iowa carnival!

Surprise roadside carnival. Viva summertime.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my faint signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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