Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sunday May 19th - Rock Island to Bettendorf

Woke around 6 am – ate a quick breakfast and spend the morning writing.  It was raining when I woke up, so was not in a hurry to head out.  As the 11 am checkout time approached I ate my left over pizza from Pizza & Subs of Rock Island, and finished packing, and the rains stopped.  I got a call from the front desk at 10:55 reminding me it was checkout time and thanked the lady and told I would be right out.  Had everything packed and ready to go by 11:01, turned in my key, and headed back down to the River in downtown Rock Island.   I didn’t have a particular destination in mind for my travels on this day, but had hoped to get some miles in.

After good nights sleep – I think this was the first night of the trip I slept through the night – the area did not seem as bad as it did the night before.  There still were many signs of poverty in the neighborhoods I went through – housing in poor shape, people coming out of the plasma donor center on a Sunday morning, and shops catering to folks without much money – like a used tire dealer, a drive up tobacco shop, etc.  Heading down the slight inclined road, I wondered where most folks in the area worked, if they worked for some of the factories along the river, or what brought the immigrants and people of color to the community.  I also swung through the Rock Island downtown district which was scattering of nightclubs, bars, restaurants, some shops, and other places where folks could spend their money. 

I decided to cross the river via the Rock Island Bridge and after crossing it noticed the gate to the Rock Island Arsenal located below the railroad bridge with a fading “Rock Island Line” still visible on the old steel railroad bridge that ran over the top of the entry road to the gate.  A man on a bike stopped and asked me about my travels.  After talking, I asked him about entry to the Arsenal and he said it was open to anyone, you just needed to provide the security guard with an ID and then you were free to roam.  He said he had not been through it in about a year, but suggested that I check out the cemetery.  I thanked him for his information and decided to detour through the base. 
After showing the guard my driver’s license, which he apparently scanned a copy of with a portable scanner, I asked if I could go anywhere on base.  He told me I could, but that I would have to come back out through the same gate, as the other gates were closed.  As soon as I entered, I stopped to start taking some pictures of some of the military equipment stockpiled in lots next to the road.  There appeared to be a multitude of some kind of generator housings on one side of the road and military trailer with some painted the standard camouflage dark green and others the more common tan camouflage colors.

Then came the huge military industrial complexes where various weapons and accoutrements of war have been built over the years.  The buildings were immense, and seemed to go on, and on for many thousands of feet.  There were many large exhaust stacks, which I assumed must be for some type of foundry operations used to cast some of the large guns that were on display outside of some of the buildings.  There were probably miles of 8’ tall chain link fence topped with rows of barbed wire surrounding the buildings.   It was difficult to image why the buildings needed to be so large, and what weapons of mass destruction had come out of their doors.  I also wondered how many people lost their lives as a result, and how much profits were made from the manufacturing process.
There was also a plethora of various types of support buildings located adjacent to the manufacturing facilities.  The all were built from the same sand stone block construction method, and housed everything from the Edgewood Biological Chemical Building, to various offices run by various Generals, to Human Resources, to Warrior Reintroduction Training Centers. 

Next came an outside display of some of the various artillery that the Arsenal had played a roll in manufacturing through the years.  They were all laid out in a semi-circular formation and included the likes of various weapons made from all the great wars including World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, and even some of the more modern equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The weapons included the likes of some early tanks used in World War II, anti-aircraft “guns”, rocket launchers, howitzers, and the grand experimental atomic cannon designed to fire both convention and nuclear shells up to 18 miles.  Some of the weapons on display were rejects that never made it to production for battle purposes because designers didn’t realize that requiring the operators to leave the armored tank to reload the anti-tank guns might be harmful to their health, or that the tanks were too heavy to be air lifted to the place where the battles were occurring, or that improvements in rocket science would replace the simpler “guns”.      

While walking around the weapons, it was interesting to watch the children playing on and around the weapons.  I recalled doing similar “play” when I was a kid and my family was visiting some military memorial or another where an old tank was display.  I guess getting kids interested in war games at an early age, helps for recruitment purposes later in life.  Unfortunately, these toys are designed to kill people who for some reason or another we don’t like and decide that it is ok to kill them, something that gets glossed over in the placards used to glorify the weapons.   Dark clouds started to fill the sky, and amongst the burst of lighten and thunder, rain began to fall. 

The women and children and fathers abandoned the weapons, and ran for their cars.  I went back to my bike and donned my rain gear and headed to the picnic shelter set up next to the weapon display.  There was also more typical playground equipment for the kids to play on, along with a baseball field.  I ate some lunch and watched the other folks gathered under the shelter.  There were two youngsters, probably a year and a half or so, and other who was probably 3.  As the rains subsided they began walking around in the parking lot, playing in the water puddles, and laughing.  They would jump in the water, reach down and touch it with their hands, let the water dripping off the roof land on their heads, and just enjoy the wetness of it all.  The parents would scold them, and tell them “gross” when they touched the water, or tell them to get out of the puddles when they walked in, but they ignored their parent’s warnings and had some fun.  At one point the grandfather pointed out to them that the grass needs water to grow, and then one of the kids told him that it also needs sunshine, and the grandpa added dirt as a third requirement for growth to occur.  And then the state of joy came to an end when the two kids collided with each other which brought out some cries and tears, and playtime was over.  The parents packed them in their vans, said goodbye to the grandparents, and went on to the next stop.      

With the rains passed, I continued my own tour.  Next to the gun memorial, were some support buildings for military families that lived on the island.  There was a Child Development Center, with a warning sign located in front of it that read “Warning.  Excavation of soil, underground construction, and installation of underground wells restricted.”  I assumed there must have been some type of contamination on the site that was not to be disturbed, in case it might harm the youngsters who spent their days at the Development Center.  This struck me as pretty crazy that we find it acceptable to bring our children, to our complexes where we make weapons to kill people with, but we don’t want any harm to come to them from the wastes that got dumped in the manufacturing process.   

Maybe it isn’t crazy, but simply not thinking, or finding ways to distract ourselves from the insanity of it all that explains why we do the stupid things we do and keep on doing them over and over again.  A good example of the distraction was the golf course that runs along the North side of the island.  It is doubtful if any of the folks out golfing for the day were too concerned with what contaminants lurked beneath their playground, nor where the group of folks wearing matching yellow shirts playing Frisbee Football on the East end of the island. 

I also wondered if all the war veterans and their wife’s who joined them six feet under in the tens of thousands of military graves with matching white tombstones laid out in intricate orderly lines understood the insanity of it all.  I had a feeling that many of the one thousand nine hundred and sixty Confederate Civil War prisoners who had died from disease while interned at the prisoner of war camp located on the island from 1863 to 1865 probably understood the insanity of war.  Unfortunately they didn’t live to warn us.  So instead we raise “Old Glory” on a really high flagpole over all the dead Privates and believe that honors them, and we keep on developing new technologies to kill more of the enemies of their ancestors, for there are profits to make in war.    

And after all that, I needed some distraction myself and rode off and found an old house that used to belong to some Cornel who was stationed on the island some time ago.  A tour of the cottage cost $5 and I wasn’t in the mood to spend more money or take the hour long tour, so chatted briefly with the two ladies who were guiding tours and selling memorabilia at the gift shop.  I asked them if the hot and muggy weather was typical for the middle of May and they said it was not.  They went from winter, to summer, with no real spring.  The upper eighties and high humidly was more typical of their July days.  And this just reminded me how we have messed up the planet, with all the CO2 emissions from all are consumption of the cheap fuel we have been burning to make all the stuff we consume. 

It was time to leave the island, and it was nearly 3 pm.  My plans of getting some mileage in and reaching Iowa, were not going to be met if I stuck around Rock Island Arsenal much longer, so I headed out the gate and crossed the metal truss bridge that carried trains on the upper deck, cars below, and pedestrian and bicyclists off to the walkway on the side.  At the other end of the bridge I entered the State of Iowa via the third of the Quad Cities – Davenport.  I didn’t spend much time there, noticed the gambling boat docked further to the south, and took a picture of the downtown area and an old mansion on the top of a hill.   

And then I was in the fourth of the Quads – Bettendorf – which as a sign pointed out is only 361 miles from St. Paul.  The wind was really getting strong coming off the river and slowing me way down.  And the heat and humidity were definitely on the high ends of the scale.  As I stopped to admire the Interstate 80 Bridge over the Mississippi River, another biker stopped to ask about my journeys and where I might go tonight.  I told him I was thinking about finding out how much a room was at the casino hotel located North of the bridge and asked if he knew how much a room cost.  He wasn’t sure.  So I stopped in and asked.  The Hotel clerk told me if I would go over to the casino and sign of for a membership card, I could get a room for $29 for the night.  I asked if that meant I had to gamble and she said no.  I also asked if it was ok for me to bring my bike to my room, and she told me that what you bring into your room with you is your business.

So I journeyed across the enclosed air conditioned walkway that took me to the gambling “boat” which is actually just a windowless barge moored in the river and made to look like a river boat.  I tried to find the “guest services” window the clerk told me about, and was almost lured in the slot machines by the mind numbing chiming sounds coming out the rows and rows of high tech gambling paraphernalia.  I fought of my urge to gamble, made it to the guest server who simply took my driver’s license and took down my data, and gave me the ticket to a cheap night’s stay at a very nice hotel.  I also found out that the card also gave me $5 off the all you can eat “Grand Buffet” where I went after I went for a jog along the river. 
The restaurant was full of quite a few folks of various ages and ethnicities.  Many of them were obviously obese.  I watched one couple who appeared to be retired, gorge themselves, while the only conversation I heard between them was asking if the latest takings were good or not.  Another table held 3 men who were eating plates and plates loaded with crab legs.  I of coarse felt obliged to join in the gluttony and started off with a salad, followed by an assortment of cooked vegetables, followed by some pizza, followed by some shrimp, followed by cheesecake and blueberry pie.  I waddled back to my room and watched the thunderstorm outside my window, feeling that coming to the casino for the night was indeed a wise escape to help me numb out from the day.   Tomorrow would be the day, if the thunderstorms allowed, for some miles to be made.  

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