Tuesday, April 6, 2010


The last time we took time for ourselves was over three years ago. We always made sure Emmy had a sense of vacation but it defined itself as a trip for her, instead of an escape to recapture the meaning of family. During those three years we almost drifted off on three separate boats at times in danger of sinking in some high seas.
This past week we were able to right our boats, tie them together and sail out on a calm sea for a two day vacation to Iowa City. It may seem like a very small victory but to us it was a memory moment we will always carry with us. Who knew Iowa City would hold such a capacity for making magic.
The whole idea for traveling to Iowa began with a random search on the internet for Breyer horses. Emmy has collected and played with these plastic equines since she first saw them stuffed in a trunk in my mother’s basement, mementos of my own childhood. I had collected Hartland horses; the ones modeled after old TV westerns with Roy Rogers, Annie Oakley and Tonto and their saddles, ten-gallon hats and six shooters. My neighborhood friends and I would spend many summer hours in our backyard creating stables and western villages out of found lumber and mowed grass. With Emmy the apple didn’t fall far from the tree with her imaginary play and choice of toys. Breyer horses have been around as long as Hartland but the demise of the western in lieu of the CSI franchises has pretty much put the Hartland brand out of business.
It was late one weekend while all three of us sat with our laptops perched appropriately on our laps that Emmy discovered the Triple B Ranch and Breyer horse store. Her eyes and mouth formed three big “O’s”, as if she was a model for Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”. On her computer were pictures of the largest collection of Breyer horses we had ever seen, case after case of vintage and new horses and accessories, a little girl’s wet dream if little girls can have wet dreams. We morphed into the three researching wizards as Emmy kept her curser on Breyer horses, I moved to maps to see how far away Iowa City was from Madison, and Rick began digging into amenities available in and around the Hawkeye campus. Within minutes we had an itinerary with a modern hotel, a map to the Triple B Ranch and appointments for facials for Rick and Emmy and a massage for me at a spa two blocks away from the hotel.
Rick had to work until six on the Wednesday evening we had booked as our departure time. We had all packed the day before so we would be prepared to leave the minute Rick could walk out the door at the Boston Store. We arrived in Iowa City in a little less time than we had allotted. This was good. The hotel was so not what one would expect in the middle of corn country. It was sleek, fashionable and ultra-cool, concrete floors, sliding sandblasted glass walls on metal rollers, and furniture courtesy of Bo Concepts. When one expects bland plaids on imitation Colonial wing chairs in the land of middle-of-the-road, the Hotel Vitro was a total surprise. We all sunk into our pillow-topped mattresses dreaming of our morning spa splurge and what a splurge it turned out to be, another hidden surprise. We’ve been to A Thousand Waves in Santa Fe, Clay in New York and the Trianon Palace in Versailles. None of these compared to what happened in Zenders on Linn Street in little ol’ Iowa City. Tracy’s hands worked me over for ninety minutes with lavender aroma-therapy and a hot oil treatment that felt like waves of total comfort pouring over my back; no attitude, no punishing pummeling only pure relaxation.
After floating out of Zenders it was into the car and off to the Triple B Ranch, what Triple B stood for we could only imagine. The Triple B Ranch was located in West Branch, Iowa about ten miles east of Iowa City. It was just like Iowa to locate a town called West Branch and then put if east of the city it’s an apparent branch of; West Branch, the birthplace of Herbert Hoover and the current ideology of the Republican party. The Triple B Ranch wasn’t on Main Street or even a side street but out on gravel road that changed to dirt just before you got to the farm. Pat and their fleet of dappled draft horses were there to meet us as we pulled into the ranch consisting of their home, their horse stable which also included two llamas and squeezed between the stable and house the Breyer barn, the first “B” in Triple B. Pat told us to excuse the dust as she pointed out her bandaged hand and told us she had a doctor’s note excusing her from any current cleaning and this included vacuuming. We liked her immediately.
“Anything in the cases along the wall or behind the plastic are part of my daughter’s collection and aren’t for sale. Most of the rest of the stuff is marked but if it has a price written in red it’s on ebay and you’d have to bid on it from there.”
This still left thousand’s of horses for sale. It would take Emmy hours of contemplation to figure out which of these horses were to become part of her collection. Pat guided us through the museum/store turning us on to all sorts of aspects of the Breyer world we weren’t aware of like Breyerfest, a get together of thousands of Breyer devotees in Lexington Kentucky, and how there were a whole slew of artists who repainted and re-sculpted horses to make one-of-a-kind pieces of art. They chop them apart and affixed new heads and tails on torso they weren’t meant for. It would be one of these that would steal Emmy’s heart and make it back to Wisconsin and into her collection. About two hours into the selection process we got to meet Norm, the patriarch of the Triple B Ranch. Norm was a big burly guy so I’m going to suppose him to be the second “B” in the Triple B.
“I see Pat’s still using that doctor’s excuse to keep that vacuum cleaner in hiding.” We liked Norm right away too.
“Aw, you’re just mad I can’t go back to work.”
“Those bodies are all on ice honey, they’ll wait ‘til you get back.” The final “B” cut itself in to the true definition of the Triple B, blood, bodies and butchering. It was Pat’s job to cut apart those donated bodies for the University of Iowa med school. Pat’s job of cutting up cadavers along with vacuuming would have to wait until her cutting hand healed. It put a whole new spin on the Triple B. and the people who carried on in the land of Herbert Hoover.


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