I picked Will up at his home one summer morning in 1998. That I was thirty minutes early meant nothing, for he had somehow determined that we would never make it to the old farm in Iowa before nightfall. My assurances that midafternoon would be, as it always had been, a time of considerable daylight throughout the Midwest did little to calm him. We should have left at six; better yet, five. I grabbed his travel bag, boots, and briefcase from the driveway, bid a quick farewell to Mary, and we were off.
Time passes quickly when you are "Driving Mr. Willard." We turned our attention first to a studied analysis of how Tom Kelly could better manage the lackluster Twins, then to a long discussion of whether the North or the South had the superior leadership during the Civil War. Soon we were in Iowa, headed south on Interstate 35 past the large sign welcoming us to the Heartland. For over a hundred miles we saw nothing but corn, soybeans, and an occasional metal building in which unseen hogs or turkeys lived out their short lives. We saw not one single person working in any of the fields we passed, nor a single farm animal grazing on what had once been a great prairie of grass. Despondent farmers would soon mount two-hundred-thousand-dollar combines to begin gathering a near-record crop destined for sale at prices that, adjusted for inflation, ranked among the very lowest of the century.
The term heartland seems curious as you drive through these deserted fields. In the town where I live, they have taken to naming new housing developments after what used to be there. Monarch Meadows features unimaginative boxes fashioned from dull vinyl siding, all crowded on a nice little field where real monarch butterflies probably once flitted. On the other side of town, grotesque mini-mansions surrounded by monotonous Chem-Lawns trumpet the fruits of