US-52 crosses the Mississippi at Sabula, Iowa and Savanna, Illinois. Sabula is Iowa’s only island city, located on an Island in the Mississippi between the two states. We stopped for dinner at the Island City Café, a somewhat-dingy little diner. It was operated by only two people when we arrived: a woman cooking in the back and a younger woman doing everything else.
It took her some time to get to us, though there weren’t many other patrons. As we entered the dining room, an older man greeted the boys with, “Hello there, young fellows.” We sat at a table near the window and watched the dinner “rush” start.
The dining room seemed to be run on a fairly casual basis. As locals entered, they thought nothing of ducking behind the counter to pour themselves a cup of coffee or rummage in the refrigerated case for the pitcher of iced tea. It was just as well, since the waitress seemed to be working—as Corner Gas would have put it—“like a rented donkey.”
It was one of the few places where we didn’t attract stares, despite the fact that we stuck out like a lighthouse on a rocky point. Everyone knew everyone, and we listened to health complaints, the recap of a failed driving test, a story about someone taking out his dentures, and missed connections (“You walked right by me yesterday. I was sitting over there…”). Many people sat at the long table in the middle of the room, different parties right next to each other.
The friendly small-town feeling was reinforced as we left. We were about to back out of the parking lot when an older gentleman who had left ahead of us came to the side of the car and motioned Chris to roll the window down.
The man had noticed our out-of-town plates and asked where we were from. “Terre Haute?” he guessed. We replied that we were from Indianapolis, and he handed us a tourism guide to Galena, Illinois, home of Ulysses Grant. “I can tell you a little about it, if you have a moment,” and continued at our nod.
After he finished telling us some facts about Galena, we thanked him and he encouraged us to visit Galena. “Since you’re traveling, anyway.” We went on our way, smiling to ourselves at this unexpected encounter.
We then left the island and crossed the rest of the Mississippi River on the narrow bridge to enter Illinois.