My wife and I depend on luck whenever we embark upon motorcar vacations. We like to "live off the land" using only a credit card and the maps app on my smart phone.
The travel gods were smiling on us during our most recent odyssey. This past winter had persuaded us to head south until we reached a region where folks think that ice fishing involves purchasing ice cubes at the bait shop.
We opted to trade the hurly-burly of the freeway for the slower pace of two-lane roads. The end of our first day found us searching for a place to stay, and my smart phone came up with the White Lions B & B in Winterset, Iowa.
Winterset has more graceful Victorian homes than you can shake a brick at, including the White Lions. I knocked on its door and no one answered, so I poked my head inside and helloed. Nothing. I could hear voices out back, so I followed the sound to find a party on the patio.
I asked some random guy what was going on. He said it was a monthly Chamber mixer and immediately invited me to help myself to a beer and a sandwich. Thanking the fellow, I said I was simply looking for the innkeepers. I was soon introduced to Mark and Kayla Hawkins.
As luck would have it, they had a room available, and the price was right. Although we were so tired by then we would have gladly paid four figures for a cot in a corner. After we lugged in our luggage, Mark and Kayla invited us to join the get-together on the patio for a beer and a sandwich. For free! And our good fortune didn't end there.
While the gathering wound down, we sat and yakked with a small group of die-hards. Wayne, who lives next door to the White Lions, spoke about the history of Winterset. "The Bridges of Madison County" soon came up.
"Bridges," as the locals call it, was shot 20 years ago in and around Winterset. For those unfamiliar with this film, it's an intense love story that involves Clint Eastwood and the covered bridges of Madison County. Meryl Streep also figures in there somewhere.
Wayne shared some memories about the shooting of the movie.
"People always want to know if Clint is like Dirty Harry," said Wayne. "But he's more like Robert Kincaid in 'Bridges.' He's a quiet guy and his directing style is downright casual. Instead of yelling 'Action!' he would simply murmur 'Whenever you're ready.'"
Wayne told us that Winterset's downtown often had to be closed off during filming and that the cops had to keep people - that is, women - from pestering Eastwood.
"I was in the film as Bystander Number 4," said Wayne. "My part got cut, but I was paid $35 for the day and got to sit across from Clint while we ate lunch at the VFW."
"Meryl was a consummate professional," continued Wayne. "There was one scene that took place at Roseman Bridge that had to be shot five times in order to get it from different angles. During each take, Meryl hit her lines perfectly and laughed exactly the same way at exactly the same moment. She was impressive through and through."
Wayne recalled how, before filming began, a woman tasked with finding props for Francesca's house arrived in town.
"She was worried about what it would cost to reproduce all those household items from the '60s. Someone finally told her to just visit our second hand stores. She did and got everything she needed for next to nothing!"
And so went the conversation for a couple of delightful hours. We went to bed thanking the travel gods for this serendipitous encounter.
My wife and I had to see what the big deal was regarding the bridges. We motored around until we found the famed Roseman Bridge, which sits at the end of a lonesome gravel road. The structure is aging but impressive; I hope I look half as good when I'm 130.
As we studied the bridge, a white SUV pulled up. A 60-something couple got out, and we struck up a conversation with them.
Larry and Karen are Michiganders whose hobby is traveling to sites where movies have been shot. Karen asked if we had dined at Northside Caf in Winterset. We had, and found the food excellent.
"Did you see the fourth stool?" she asked. "That's where Clint sat during the movie!"
We had actually sat mere feet away from that particular stool, which had been unoccupied. To think! We missed our chance to plunk our butts onto history!
If that's the worst the travel gods have in store, we'll take it.