Road Report: Balltown, IA (Mecca of Fried)

view from Balltown, Iowa scenic overlook

The last time I stood here, here were pelicans gliding in the breeze

I could almost live in Balltown. Well, for a couple of weeks, anyway. This is the view from the scenic overlook just past Breitbach’s restaurant, and the photo doesn’t do justice to the sense of being up in the air you get along this ridge a short way from the Mississippi. (That’s the river in the background.) The stretch between here and Sherrill is gorgeous now with flowering trees and such. It’s probably the closest one comes to mountains here in Iowa and feels more like a genteel West Virginia where everyone has jobs and razors.

Breitbach’s is a hoot and a half. There’s a beer garden out back, but inside you’ll find the finest examples of deep-fried pork tenderloin sandwiches in the world. Fried anything, actually. They used to have fried ice cream, but I didn’t see that on the menu this time, possibly because the place burned down twice since I was last there. I can imagine the insurance adjuster saying, “Okay, one more time, but dammit, cut back on the grease traps!” and something had to go. Personally, I may never recover. (We even had onion rings as an appetizer, so you see where this thing went.) They had a buffet tonight, all you can eat for $16.95. I saw one fellow eat three servings of fried something, and I swear his wife had a couple pounds of potato salad piled up on her plate. Dear God in heaven.

It’s so damned verdant in Iowa right now, it’s like being on another planet after Taos. Something gave me an awful headache this afternoon, and I figured that was it, so I told my wife I was allergic to grass. (Hell, just look at it!) She wasn’t buying that, though, and in any case I have to play it cool because in over 30 years of coming to Iowa, I have often been a bad, bad boy: the omnipresent propriety that hugs the very earth like a stifling fog used to give me the willies—to put a cute face on Mr. Ugly—but I’m all better now and love it for the edge it sets up in me once I’m gone.

The fine young men and women stand up tall and straight. Lawns look like bright green felt. The concrete driveways have no grease spots. All the cars are shiny. Judging from the roadsides, the last person to toss a bag of fast food garbage out the window ended up as hog feed years ago. (That would surely be the dark side of this arrangement—although I jest, what did they do with all the beatniks, hmm?) I do appreciate this, absolutely. It’s everything my scared-ass parents wanted us to be but could never conjure up because of how they hurt inside their souls. So I salute you, Iowa, and the deep fat fryers on the ridge in Balltown.

While I’m busting bear balls down in Taos trying to stay alive, I’ll remember what it’s like up here where things make mostly sense, and when I fall into the gorge, I’ll thank my lucky stars I have a grave to fit my rotten, twisted corpse that held a heart deserving of the love that pours out from my Iowa sweetie like an everlasting spring.

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John Hamilton Farr lives at 7,000 feet in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, U.S.A. As New York Times best-selling author James C. Moore tells it, John is “a man attuned to the world who sees it differently than you and I and writes about it with a language and a vision of life that is impossible to ignore.” This JHFARR.COM site is the master writing archive. To email John, please see CONTACT INFO on About page. For a complete list of all John’s writing, photography, NFTs, and social media links, please visit JHFARR.ART  

  • Carolfrombatonrouge May 17, 2013, 11:13 PM

    I love Iowa. That’s where my family is from.
    That’s where the tall corn grows.
    Got to know the song !!

  • Marti Fenton May 18, 2013, 12:06 AM

    Gorgeous photo! I’ve never lived in such a place. Real green grass. The midwest is totally exotic. Someday I’ll get beyond the borders of desert and short grass prairie.

    • JHF May 18, 2013, 9:31 AM

      Never??? Wow. It’s worth the experience. While you’re at it, try the Mid-Atlantic region, like the Eastern Shore of MD. Humidity and honeysuckle, even greener than this photo. When it gets hot—and boy it will—you feel like your skin’s encased in molten wax. As different from the Southwest as Earth from Mars.

  • Ken Webb May 18, 2013, 4:15 AM

    Inside each of us is a landscape of the heart – full of our personal history and idiosyncrasies and not to be confused with the objectively beautiful. I share some of your mixed feelings about the Iowa landscape. It was not only beautiful in that lush green way your picture shows, but every item was in the right place and there was no wastage, no evidence that anybody ever took a day off from making sure things were done just right. Up to a point I admire this, but I can’t avoid saying that after a bit I felt stifled, cooped up, claustrophobic. I longed to see some weeds, some bare earth, some wreckage, even of the human sort. My own landscape of the heart, it seems, includes these notes of human dereliction and failure. Course, if I had grown up in Iowa, I would have seen it all the other way.

    • JHF May 18, 2013, 9:43 AM

      There’s wreckage here, of course (I’m still in Dubuque), but you kinda have to hunt for it in the poor neighborhoods on the “flats” down by the packing plants. And hot summer evenings at the Dairy Queen when people pile into old minivans or ride up on their Harleys in their tank tops with their tattoos flapping in the breeze are kinda wild. There are also farms that look like they fell out of the sky from darkest Kentucky, but this colorful detritus isn’t what most visitors see.

      The old parts of Dubuque are pretty fascinating, actually. Old brick buildings, a whole other variety of abandoned humanity like in any deteriorated urban area. Educationally hopeless, nutritionally doomed, etc. People from another century. On the other hand, when you’re out in the country and drive into almost any little town, the first thing you see is a sign directing you to the LIBRARY… My wife is always pointing this out, and she is right to do so.

  • Tammi Clancy May 18, 2013, 7:13 AM

    We love eating there when we visit my husband’s family in Dubuque! Many memories there! Thank you!

    • JHF May 18, 2013, 9:44 AM

      Good Lord, you’ve been to Breitbach’s?!? Amazing. I’m still full from last night (belch).

  • Beckey Phipps May 18, 2013, 11:42 AM

    Love, love this photo, too. Yeah, my sweetie is from Iowa, and she never takes a day off from doing things right. Inconceivable. It’s genetic. Me, I’m like you, John, ‘cept maybe not so irascible: Air Force brat from Texas, lived in Germany and Japan, claimed Michigan’s lakes and cornfields for long while, moved to Massachusetts to study, stayed for love, have a cabin in very Ver-mont, and vacation in New Mexico, where I can’t help but worship. Straddling all these geographies and realities floods me with sensations and perceptions–I spend my time thinking, wondering, and dreaming. Green is like water, or blood in my veins. High mountain country is air, or spirit. Need both.

    • JHF May 18, 2013, 2:25 PM

      I’m an Air Force brat, too: Texas, MD, Germany, VA, NY, etc. Would love a cabin in Vermont. Even better, a hideout in the San Juan Islands of WA. New Mexico is so damned cool, though. And now I’m ready to commit and buy a house if we can find one.

      Great analogy re blood & air. Haven’t figured out a way to have both green & cool, dry altitude with 320 days/year of SUNSHINE. Maybe when I write The Book. (Life’s not over yet.) My wife made a point of showing me her heel last night: it was, uh, smooth… I’ll bet you know what happens down in Taos after months of 10% humidity. 🙂

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