Wire have been one of my favorite bands since around 1980, and their latest album, Change Becomes Us, has been earning heavy spins on household and car stereos hereabouts since its issue last month. It’s one of their finest discs ever, hands down. For longtime Wire fans, this one has been a particular treat, since it returns to song sketches crafted in the aftermath of their 1979 masterpiece, 154, but only issued in fragmentary or raw form on the live Document and Eyewitness, released when the quartet dissolved for the first time as the ’80s dawned.
With a new Wire album out, I loaded up a bunch of their older tracks — including their remarkable 154-era single “Map Ref. 41° N 93° W” — onto the car iPod when Marcia and I drove down to Asheville, North Carolina last month to visit family. “Map Ref” came on somewhere in Tennessee, and Marcia looked at the title on the dashboard display and asked “Is that a real place, and have you looked to see where it is?” As a hardcore map geek, and a 30+ year Wire fan, I was embarrassed to admit that I had not, so I asked her to use her Smart Phone to look it up and see where it was.
Imagine our surprise when Marcia discovered that the point described by those latitude and longitude coordinates was about 100 miles from our home in Des Moines, down near Centerville, Iowa! When we got back here after our holiday, I did a little research and discovered why lyricist Graham Lewis had picked that point: here’s the story.
For those who know me or have been reading my writing for more than the past ten minutes, it should come as no surprise that I immediately resolved to visit this location, since that’s how I roll. A little Google Earth research showed me that it’s actually a bit to the northwest of Centerville, on the opposite side of Lake Rathbun, where Marcia and I had vacationed for a weekend last summer.
It appeared to be in the middle of a pasture, about a mile from U.S. Highway 34. I could see that a tree-lined creek bed ran from the highway nearly to the “Map Ref” coordinates, but unfortunately, where the creek crossed under Highway 34, there appeared to be a large production facility of some sort, likely a pig enclosure based on its size and shape from above. That means people, and people means trouble for the casual trespasser. I could also see a dirt road to the west of the creek that got relatively close to the spot, so hoped I’d be able to sneak down that.
Either way, I wanted to get there, and this weekend seemed the ideal time to do it, as Marcia was away in Portland, Oregon, visiting her sister, and spring had actually finally made its first sustained appearance in Iowa. I decided to mark my visit for posterity’s sake, and originally considered placing a geocache there, with my e-mail address in it, so that if any future Wire geeks arrived on the designated spot, they’d be able to share their accomplishment with me. But then, as I thought about it longer, I decided that directly announcing my trespassing tendencies was probably not the smartest course of action.
So instead, I decided to leave a Pink Flag, in honor of Wire’s seminal debut album, which also serves to this day as their website address.
I left Des Moines around 7:00 Saturday morning, and by 9:00 AM, I’d reached the nearest point on the highway to “Map Ref. 41° N 93° W”, and was disappointed to discover that the dirt road approaching the designated spot was barred by a locked, heavy-duty gate, necessary to keep the cattle behind it from venturing onto the roadway. Much of Iowa is corn, soybean or hog country, but this sector is cattle country, which means there is a lot of hardcore fencing, little of it easily crossed. Shucks.
The land did have a little bit of rise and fall, though, so I was able to pull my car down into a little gully beneath the roadside power line and behind some scrub trees, where I hoped no one from the hog enclosure across the way would notice it during the half hour or so it took me to get to the map reference point and back. I walked southward down the east bank of the tree-lined creek for about half a mile, trying to keep out of the sight lines of anybody in the farmhouse on the hill to the east of me, until I reached a pasture that was surrounded by a barbed-wired topped fence. I skirted the fence east to a point about 150 feet north of “Map Ref. 41° N 93° W”, trying to find a way to get over it, until I noticed what it was there to contain: another couple of dozen cows . . . and a bull who seemed to be watching me on behalf of his farmer owners.
I decided that this mission had gone far enough, and that attempting to climb a barbed-wire fence, place the flag, take photos, and then outrun an enraged territorial bull probably crossed the line from “entertaining adventure” into “reckless stupidity”. So I placed my flag on the north side of the fence, saluted the bull, and considered my work done. I left the flag behind . . . I don’t know how it will fare in the Iowa weather, but maybe some other Wire fan will find it, someday, and know that someone who cared was there. Here’s the photo:
13 thoughts on “Pink Flag at Map Ref 41 N 93 W”
I grew up in Des Moines and took the same trip recently when I was visiting my parents. I brought a turntable and made this video while I was there.
I had the same fear of trespassing so figured the side of the road at 41.0077271 N 92.9924930 W was close enough. The song makes a point of pride for me for being from flyover country haha
Hooray! Glad someone else made the trek . . . and, yeah, definitely close enough to count as THERE. I have to watch the video closely and see if I can spot my own path and end point in it!
Looking at where you were, it would have been easier for me to get to the spot from that side, rather than from the side I came in on. I had presumed the road you were on was essentially just the driveway for the farm house at the end of it, so steered clear of it and decided to follow the creek and tree line from the highway instead. (I had a paper map in hand, no cell phone GIS at the time!) If you are facing the direction I think you are, I passed through the stand of trees at the right coming from US 34. You made the smarter approach. Fun to see it again, thanks for sharing!
What a thrill to hear of your adventure to discover and mark THAT spot in Iowa which I randomly glanced upon in 1978!
Thank you for your documentation and the expansive writings on other Iowian phenomena!
Very best regards,
It’s always wonderful how random choices can come to have special meaning over time . . . thanks for kind feedback!
The thorough detective’s mantra is there are no coincidences!
True true true . . . so when “Senterville” became “Centerville” due to a typographical error in recording the town’s incorporation papers, it was but another small step of random occurrences creating meaning from chaos . . .
“It’s tragic magic, there are no coincidences . . . though sometimes the pattern is more obvious” (Neil Innes, “Keynsham”).
Is that Neil Innes as in The Ruttles, BDDDBand!?
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Indeed . . . . http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vM3EqSf_V_g . . .
I was influenced by the proximity to Centreville… A case of typographical triangulation?
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It’s probably for the best that you didn’t know about Centerville’s Pancake Day, as your interrupted train of thought might have then skewed toward buttery, syrupy roundness, rather than lines of longitude and latitude . . . http://www.centerville-ia.com/pages/PancakeDay/
Having learned how to drive on the back/dirt roads in that part of the country, I admire how well you capture the wanderlust they inspire.
There is nothing quite like it here on the East coast…you never truly get lost driving around upstate NY. Out there, though, it felt like you could drive forever and not see a soul.
It really is different out here, you’re right. I did a ton of dirt road driving this weekend . . . felt good!!!