Methland. The Death and Life of an American Small Town


Nick Reding writes about how meth is destroying Oelwein, Iowa (pop. 6,126) in his upcoming book Methland, available June 9. From the online excerpt.

Summing up the damage done to Oelwein one morning at the Perk, Tim Gilson, the former principal of the nearly bankrupt high school, was almost driven to tears remembering the harsh metrics of the job from which he’d recently resigned in order to finish his Ph.D. in education. “We just didn’t have the money and the staff to help the kids that needed the most of it,” Gilson said, describing the events leading up to asking the police to patrol the halls. “On the one hand, I had an obligation to my teachers, who were frightened of their students. On the other hand, is there anything worse than calling the cops on your own children?” He went on, “We’re in Iowa, for God’s sake. We don’t do that.”

And yet, he did.

As the author points out, you can make meth in your bathtub. That’s what makes it different from other drugs. That, and its innate nastiness. More than any other drug including crack, meth makes you paranoid, unpredictable, subject to irrational mood swings, and potentially violent. And that’s on a good day. Imagine how small town cops might have problems dealing with bars full of cranked-up boozers, much less trying to bust the dealers who are probably armed to the teeth.

I was addicted to meth for a few years in the late 60’s. It’s an evil drug, period, and it messed me up bad. I’ve been clean and sober a long time now. Reading the excerpt to Methland shows me where I could have ended up as well as how too many small towns are being devastated by meth. I look forward to the book.

The Velvet Underground. White Light/ White Heat

White light, White light goin’ messin’ up my brain
White light, Aww white light its gonna drive me insane
White heat, Aww white heat it tickle me down to my toes
White light, Aww white light I said now goodness knows, do it

Yup. You know it’s killing you but keep doing it anyway. That’s what addiction is.


  1. When I was manager of a (now out-of-business corporate) record store in Portland, 90% of my job was battling meth addicted thieves, “tweakers” as we called them. They could run really, really fast, and weren’t afraid to pull a knife on you. On the other hand, I and a few other managers were known to reward the ones we caught with a parking lot kick party. This was necessary though, as I would eventually run into them again downtown late at night when I would walk my ex home from work, and the tweakers had to understand…which lines they couldn’t cross.

  2. I never liked meth. I only did it when there was nothing else available. I gather things have changed since those days (I’m about to celebrate 24 years clean & sober). Back then, it was PCP that made people crazy. I gave that up after one of my friends went zombie and never came back.

    As for “White Light, White Heat,” that was about heroin, wasn’t it? (Wasn’t most of what the VU did about heroin?)

  3. I live in the Oelwein area, and though I have never done meth myself, I have seen what it has done to alot of people in this area. Looking forward to this book.

  4. Reading of ‘Methland’ breaks my heart. I grew up in Oelwein in the 40s, the home of the Colesium, the Big Bands, the Grand and Ritz theaters, a skating rink, two bowling alleys; good times, good people. Sure, it was a ‘blue collar’ railroad town, but it was a great place to grow up. Good schools! Fantastic teachers, neighbors looking out for neighbors. I have bragged on my home town for years to anyone and everyone who would listen!

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