I met Blake one Sunday in San Francisco by absolutely pure chance. My friend Caroline and I had made plans to visit Land’s End and decided to take the bus to get there. We rode the bus until the very end of the line and when we got off at the last stop it was only me, Caroline and a stranger who also seemed to not be where he expected. That stranger was Blake and he, too, had taken the wrong bus.
After some initial awkwardness, introductions were made and we set to find Land’s End together. We then proceeded to spend the next 4 hours walking around Sutro Baths, admiring the buffalo at Golden Gate Park, and eating surprisingly good pizza in the Inner Richmond. We've been friends ever since.
Blake describes Shell Rock as tiny and quiet. A collection of blocks amongst a vast spread of fields. The town’s center, Main Street, provides residents with The Cooler, a bar on main street where the adults go talk about their kids. There’s no mall or coffeeshop for teenagers to get together, so they mostly hang out at their friends’ houses and watch TV. Grocery store talk is done at the local gas station, which supplies the small city with much of their basic needs. The Shell Rock river crosses the town’s center and provides residents the opportunity to cool off on summer days.
“ I don't know. Good question. When we moved there (I was 6 years old) I pictured the town built on top of a giant shell; which by the way is not at all how the town is built”
Blake’s house was the very last stop on the school bus route which meant that his house was one of the earliest stops in the morning, 7:30 to be precise. Blake puts it like this, if you miss that bus, there were 10 miles between you and your 8:15 am World History class. He claims to have never missed the bus, yet he still has nightmares from the thought of it.
Summer days in Shell Rock meant hopping on his bike and riding up and down the long grid-like roads that surround the fields where corn and soy-beans are planted. Living in a community like Shell Rock means that most residents are involved one way or another in farming. Blake’s dad works selling the quintessential American tractor, John Deere.
This is the Midwest, it can get to down to -15 degrees. Blake told me he recalls it being so cold that tree branches and twigs were encased in ice but his dad still waking up at 5 am every morning to plow the driveway. In winter something really interesting happens in the sky; they're called sun dogs and they are "like a little rainbow on either side of the sun, kinda low on the sky. It looks pretty cool."
"Going to Kwik Star to get a 32-ounce pop"