Hope and Dreamers and tacos at La Juanita’s

BY CHRIS VRBA

Editor

Pocahontas Record-Democrat

Hope and Dreamers has a nice ring to it. It would certainly apply to all the folks who find themselves in The Well wishing for a state title this week — our local Lady ’Stangs among them.

On the way home from Tornado Fieldhouse last Tuesday after seeing the Indian boys’ hopes and dreams dashed in a thrilling comeback that came up one basket short against Alta-Aurelia, I had time to reflect on Hope and Dreamers. 

You see, during halftime I was chatting with Big John of the hometown Times who dropped by to snap some shots because their regular reporter, Jamie Knapp, was up in Spirit Lake covering his son, Michael, a senior starter on a Tornado team filled with Dreamers. Big John was pleased to say life at the Times was returning to its regular whirlwind pace after a tornadic 2017 that saw the Times and Storm Lake shine for a time on the global stage after Art won the Pulitzer. Since then, most of his energies had been shifted to writing what promises to be the definitive tome about its titular town. Big John said they’re waiting to get the edits back, but the book’s due for release this October. Interestingly, Art shares the same publisher as President Obama. Barry’s book, Big John said, will be out a couple weeks earlier, so I suggested they ought to sell them together as the Hope and Dreamers package. Heck, they could even do a joint signing session right there in River City! Er, Storm Lake!

As the halftime clock ticked down and I decamped for the opposite court, I told Big John earlier I had stopped in at La Juanita’s after I’d failed to get the Pho at Lakeshore, which I learned is closed on Tuesdays. As I stood in line waiting for my fried pork and tongue tacos (tasty!), a few PAC kids rolled in also looking for some pregame grub. That came as a pleasant surprise; after all, when I was their age 20 years ago a can of LaChoy was exotic eating, grabbing some Crab Rangoon at Hy-Vee’s Grand Buffet was downright adventurous. We were also the generation that started drowning our pizza in Ranch dressing, so.... 

Not that a handful of kids stopping in for tacos of a level several steps above Taco John’s (closed, incidentally, in Storm Lake) is some sort of watershed moment, but it does give one a bit of Hope; more so seeing the gaggle of G-T/R-A gals in line ahead of me ordering a mountain a burritos on their way to Newell to watch the Mustang boys’ hopes and dreams stay alive for another night at the expense of their beloved Titans. Anyway, that’s not necessarily how it went down for many of the Poky kids I went to school with. We didn’t often go to Storm Lake because it was full of “Spics” and “Chinks” and “you’ll get stabbed in Walmart parking lot” - at least, that’s what we were told by our folks and grandfolks and the other adult folks we looked up to. That’s likely because in lily-white Pocahontas, where the roots of our family trees often dig deep but our branches don’t always span so wide, we didn’t see a lot of folks who didn’t look just like us. In fact, when my bigger town buddies at Iowa State would ask about my hometown they’d never heard of, I’d explain what it was like being in a class of 69 at a place like PAC by saying my best friend was “the black kid” in school. Which wasn’t entirely true — depending on the day, he was only my second or third best friend (sorry, Chris). 

On some level, nothing much’s changed. Michael and that Tornado team filled with Dreamers were heckled heavily by their Spencer peers as part of an impromptu “Patriot Night” in Tiger Town last month. No different than what happened after the football game between the two schools this past fall. No different than the “open mic incident” during warm-ups of a game between Forest City and Eagle Grove earlier this season. No different than this time two winters ago when the Perry basketball team, also filled with Dreamers, were met with “Trump! Trump! Trump!” chants as they chased their hopes and dreams all the way to The Well.

On another level, some things have. This year’s PAC class will be around 69, though it’s now got kids from Palmer and Pomeroy and Laurens and Marathon where mine didn’t. But it’s no longer accurate to use “the black kid” as a descriptor for a best friend - or any friend for that matter. And it’s like that more and more throughout the schools around our area. Especially so as the kids get younger, where the rooms are far more colorful than the lily-white rooms I was educated in. And that’s important, because the only communities in rural Iowa that are seeing their populations grow are those that are colorful. Those communities are full of Hope and Dreamers.

As for those Poky kids who stopped in at La Juanita’s? Well, they ordered tacos with “lettuce and cheese.” If you’re reading this kids, let the cooks make it to the house recipe — and give the red or green sauces on the counter a try. Sometimes progress comes in small steps — and tastier tacos.