She truly enjoyed people.

That was how the obituary read for our good friend Jody, who passed away unexpectedly last week at age 65. We met Jody about a year ago on an Iowa Roadie adventure in the little town of Dows. Although Jody typically tended bar at The River Bar, that night she was seated at the counter, drinking her trademark vodka and cranberry juice, and sharing her famous zucchini salsa and pickled asparagus with fellow bar patrons. Yet to Jody, these were not just customers. They were friends…which meant they were family.

On that first night at The River Bar, Jody welcomed us–total strangers–into her world. Admittedly her world wasn’t flashy. She liked gardening and accompanied her friend Wayne to the National Hamm’s Beer Convention each year. Jody was spunky and sassy, with a spirit rivaled by few. Her bank account may not have been full, but her life was rich with fellowship. So rich, in fact, that Jody’s funeral was standing room only. Every seat was taken, and additional visitors stood along the back wall in a final tribute to their dear friend.

Jody embodied the spirit of the Iowa Roadie’s rules…

  1. Sit at the bar.
  2. Talk to the locals.
  3. Don’t let appearances scare you.

Because when you do those three things, you become a participant and an active player in life.

For you loyal Iowa Roadie readers (or at least the two or three of you that might admit to it), I know this blog is a bit more intense than my usual dive bar antics. I promise that future Iowa Roadie adventures (and there are more coming!) will bounce back with their typical folly and dysfunction. However Jody’s passing was enough to jolt me into one of those “serious pondering” modes where I have “Deep Revelations.” And the Deep Revelations are this…

  1. Sit at the bar.
  2. Talk to the locals.
  3. Don’t let appearances scare you.

Simple and straightforward. Yet how many of us are content to live in our bubble, perhaps turning our attention to our phone rather than to the people around us? Jody focused on people, not things. That is also the purpose of the Iowa Roadie. Our adventures are not meant to be reviews of the places we visit. They are accounts of the people we meet.

Remember Marcia, the 81-year-old lady who single-handedly runs The Pub in Menomonie, Wisconsin? I love that her daughter comments and shares these posts, even though the two of us have never met, and that she has extended an open invitation for our return. I continue to follow Ben from Boone, whose cancer just went into remission. Prayers know no boundaries. Thank you Heidi in Jewell, who was described as “Amish with a side of kinky.” She is the reason my husband I tried foraging for pheasant back mushrooms (much easier to find than morels!). And to everyone we met at The Lucky Donkey…Hee Haw! We will return, so keep some donkey punch ready.

These are just a few of the people we have encountered throughout the course of this past year on our crazy Iowa Roadie roller coaster. The greatest compliment someone paid to us was when we were told, “You have a gift of talking to people.” I don’t know that we are any different than anyone else. In fact, I am an introvert. I prefer to hide in my bubble. But you can’t build relationships if you don’t put yourself out there and reach out to others.

It’s a simple formula…say hello and strike up a conversation. People like to talk about themselves. Ask questions. Listen. Engage with one another. Do not be deceived by appearances. Some of our most special memories are in places that looked pretty questionable, and with people one might otherwise have ignored.

In fact, The River Bar could easily have been overlooked. My husband and I initially came to Dows to visit another bar in town. Yet when we pulled in, we noticed the old school beer sign in the window. When we looked over, the gal outside (now our friend Krystal) waved to us. Did you catch that? WAVED to US, complete strangers! So while The River Bar lacked the flash of its rival, it lured us in with its charm, and kept us there with its hospitality. It was the people that made this place special.

When we attended Jody’s funeral, it was approximately one year after we first met her. Yet she was more than an acquaintance or a bartender to us. She was our Friend. And when we walked into that small town church, and took our seats in the back row, we were greeted by the town mayor and several of Jody’s friends and family. Because they were OUR friends and family, too. We were bonded to these people because of three things…

  1. We sat at the bar.
  2. We talked to the locals.
  3. We did not let appearances scare us.

Jody truly enjoyed people. It is enough to tolerate others sometimes. But she Truly Enjoyed them. That is the life lesson this past year has taught me. It is not about who has the best happy hour specials or who makes the best cheese fries. It’s not about interior renovations or a fancy sign out front. Being the Iowa Roadie has taught me that is all about building relationships. Saying hello and taking a genuine interest in others. Because people are important. People are what make a place special. (Good cheese fries are just a bonus!)

So thank you Jody and all of our other Iowa Roadie friends for making this past year so memorable. Cheers to old memories…and to the many new Iowa Roadie adventures ahead!

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