It’s not where you’re going; it’s the stops you make along the way that count. And when it comes to pulling over, Iowa 80, which proudly declares itself “the World’s Largest Truckstop” isn’t a bad place to start.
But this is not just a place for drivers to refuel, it is also home to the Walcott Truckers Jamboree, where truckers come from far and wide show off their vehicles, listen to music and celebrate life on the road.
1 / 12
“In the middle of nowhere, I had found a real, unique, American lifestyle.”
"The World's Largest Truckstop!"
I saw the sign on the Iowa I-80 as I was driving to photograph another assignment for Reuters, and, instantly, I wanted to pull over. I had seen and photographed other truck stops around the world and I wanted to see exactly how big this one was.
Because I was with a team of journalists focused on another story, I had to continue past the exit to our planned destination.
Still, I decided that, after I was done, I would come back and see what the truck stop had to offer. As it turned out, I got exactly what I had bargained for.
I showed up on what turned out to be the first day of the three-day Iowa-80's annual Truckers' Jamboree. Going strong since 1979, truckers and their families come to the jamboree from near - and sometimes very far - to show off their trucks, listen to live country music, eat barbecue, watch fireworks, and generally have a good time.
From the moment I got there, there was a jubilant atmosphere and everybody was relaxed. I had a feeling that I had hit on what I call a gold mine for pictures - an event where I can jump in and easily relay a story through a set of images.
Here, the story was about the people's faces, what they were wearing, their society and culture. I felt that, in the middle of nowhere, I had found a real, unique, American lifestyle, not just people faking it.
Take one little boy I saw wearing his hair in a mohawk. His mother, father and siblings were all with him. He had earrings and a pony tale, and he was just wondering around looking at the trucks. This boy was real comfortable in his skin. It hit me: he's not a 33-year-old who's trying to pretend to be part of a culture, he IS that culture.
This kid's hair wasn't the only example of this culture I had just encountered. I saw one young man who had purposely torn the sleeves off his shirt, and had a pack of Marlboros wedged in his pocket. Then there was a girl wearing her jeans part inside, part outside her boots. I've covered a lot of rodeos, but I've never seen anybody wearing their jeans like that.
Looking around me, I saw that this was a family affair. There were whole generations present, truckers of the past and in the making, not just men in their thirties or forties. They were all wondering around together, enjoying the atmosphere and admiring the trucks in the Super Truck Beauty Contest.
I met one guy who had driven from Wyoming - well over 700 miles away - to bring his family to the event. He had come to the jamboree before, but wanted to share it with his wife, son and 20-month-year-old daughter.
This was the real deal: a truly American event. People weren't there to show off or communicate a message to the media. At the end of the day, it was all about love, family and trucks.