Sunday, May 24, 2009

Riverside and Hills, Iowa--Switched at Birth?



I finally got to see the Star Trek Movie. I highly recommend it. But as someone who grew up in Iowa, I have to protest its depiction of the Hawkeye State. Iowa is not flat. Central California is flat--at least the part of California used for the Iowa parts of the movie. Apparently there were mountains in Iowa in one of the movie trailers. They seem to have been digitally removed in the final cut. The gaping chasm that the young James T. Kirk nearly falls into is wrong for Iowa as well. Both the mountains and the chasm could be explained by, say, the New Madrid Fault's Big One. But not the flatness.


The real Riverside, Iowa, declared the future birthplace of James T. Kirk, appears to be an oxymoron. There's no riverside. The English River flows nearby, but not in town. It's in a very hilly area. Just down the road, on the banks of the Iowa River, is the town of Hills. Not many hills. I suspect the railroad engineers (not the ones who drove the trains, but those who plotted out the route) switched the names on the map by mistake. The rail line now runs only from Iowa City to Hills, but had once gone through Riverside as far west as Montezuma, Iowa. I have no documentation for it, but it seems the most likely reason that Riverside has no river and Hills has no hills.


Star Trek shows James T. Kirk born not in Riverside, but in space. But then the movie seems to be following the lead of Alfred Bester, whose 1958 short story, "The Men Who Murdered Mohammed," suggested that while it's possible to go back in time to change history, the change would be in an alternate reality. Perhaps that can also explain why Riverside, Iowa looks like central California.
The painting above is Grant Wood's "Stone City, Iowa," 1930 (Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska)

11 comments:

Lisa said...

I had the same reaction to the scene that was supposed to have been in Iowa -- especially when the gigantic canyon came into the picture.

Aside from that, I thought it was excellent. The only Star Trek series I ever watched was the original, so I was delighted that the movie was based on the characters from the original series. I'm not usually a big sci-fi or action movie fan, but I really did like Star Trek.

Peter said...

This is so clever and thorough, Steve -- another delight to read!

But you didn't point out the unlikelihood of the U.S.S. Enterprise being built in Iowa, I noticed. I was a little nonplussed when I saw the famous starship being built in Iowa instead of in my own hometown of Newport News, where both aircraft carriers by that name were built.

gerry rosser said...

I hope I can be forgiven for saying that I was never a fan of Star Trek. The sets, the costumes, the stories, and the ham actors always seemed cheesy to me. "B" television at best. My Hone (a non-lover of scifi) liked the shows for some reason, so I sat through a few.

Speaking of a lack of geographic verisimilitude, there was really awful TV cop show called "Palm Beach" in which they didn't even bother editing out the mountains which came into view in the distance (the Florida Alps, I suspect, or maybe the Florida Corillera). I've spotted this in other shows as we..

Charles Gramlich said...

A flat Iowa with a giant chasm. Hm!

Shauna Roberts said...

I lived in Iowa City for a few years and have been through Riverside. I haven't seen the movie, but I did watch some trailers and was quite surprised by the scenery, which looked nothing like the Iowa I remember.

steve on the slow train said...

Lisa--I basically agree. I think that if they had the canyon, there should have been some mention of the New Madrid Earthquake in, say, the late 21st century. I thought the actors did a brilliant job of recreating the roles. And the detail of having Scotty exiled to a frozen planet for sending Captain Archer's beagle Porthos (from Star Trek: Enterprise) into the ether was a great touch.

Peter: You have a point. As I recall, the Enterprise of "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" was built in space. But a since this is an alternative-reality Star Trek, the movie's producers can get away with a flat Iowa as well as a Riverside, IA construction site. In our world, the Federation wouldn't squander prime farmland, while the Newport News shipyard could always be extended into or under the water.

Gerry: You're forgiven. I wasn't a big fan of Star Trek when it was on the air, but I married a Star Trek fan. I didn't know about the "Florida Alps." But not really surprised.

Charles--"Hm" is right.

Shauna--I've lived in Iowa City, North Liberty, Coralville, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, and Davenport, and I don't remember anything like it either. Maybe around Fort Dodge, with its gypsum quarries?

Olivia said...

That painting is very satisfying in its fulfilled roundness. Only way I can describe it...

Olivia said...

P.S. I have seen the movie and enjoyed it as movies go, but having never been to Iowa I can't really form an opinion of landscapes.

steve on the slow train said...

Olivia--Grant Wood's landscapes do have that roundness, while his people are much more hard-edged. I've always preferred "Stone City" to Wood's iconic "American Gothic."

Sometime in the late 1960s, two Des Moines Register reporters set up RAGBRAI (Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) to prove Iowa wasn't flat. I've never done RAGBRAI, but I've bicycled from Iowa City to Davenport. It isn't flat.

Olivia said...

Oh my goodness, you haven't blogged since moving back with the wife. Well, tis all good - family life prevails.
I haven't been able to blog much lately myself.

steve on the slow train said...

Olivia--My biggest problem is that I haven't really ben able to move back in with Kathleen. I just got back from five days in Indianapolis, with no access to the Internet, and on an 11p-7a shift. Right now I'm on extra board, covering Indy and South Bend, and it's been all Indy and motel life. (Back home for two days, then another week in Naptown.) Once the agent in South Bend retires, I'll really be home. In fact, I'm thinking of taking a page from your book and renaming the blog. I'm tthinking of "Home in the Railroad Earth," taken loosely from Kerouac's poem, "October in the Railroad Earth."