ATALISSA, Iowa --- This farming community is now a bedroom community with an abandoned train depot and a downtown strip that supports a couple of bars, a post office, a grain elevator, a pair of churches and not much else.
Atalissa, population 311, has never been much more than a couple of streets plopped down in the middle of farm country to serve the farmers of Muscatine and Cedar counties.
It made international headlines in 2009 when the state shut down a bunkhouse housing mentally disabled men who worked for a processing plant, Henry's Turkey Service. The closing followed allegations the workers were mistreated and grossly underpaid. The teal schoolhouse where the men lived sits abandoned atop a hill just outside of town.
But after that controversy subsided the town slipped back into relative anonymity.
"I think it might be something unique to this community, but the people who work here aren't the same who live here, and the people who live here go someplace else for work," said Mike Lemkau, who owns County-wide Ag Services Inc., the co-op that operates the town's grain elevator.
Residents head east to Muscatine or west to West Liberty and Iowa City for work in the morning and return at the end of the work day, Lemkau said. Meanwhile, the farmers and farmhands come into town to grab a bite at the Long Branch Saloon or, during harvest, to drop off grain at the elevator before heading back to the fields.
It feels disjointed, and the town itself seems almost like an afterthought.
"It's a quiet town. Nothing too bad happens, and nothing too great happens," said Dan Goodale, a 27-year-old who lives in Atalissa but works at the Menard's store in Muscatine. "Atalissa just is."
Goodale was building a doghouse for his new Plott hound, Guinness, during an odd weekday off from work. He said he doesn't think too much about the upcoming elections because he thinks it will have little effect on his life.
"The last one I really liked was Bill Clinton," Goodale said.
Iowa is considered a toss-up. Polls show President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney in a virtual dead heat for the state's six electoral votes.
Both campaigns have spent millions in advertising in Iowa, have pulled in support from rock stars and well-known politicos and have hosted events in an effort to get their party supporters excited about the election and out to the polls on Nov. 6.
But disaffection runs deep in some places.
"If I decided to vote, I'd probably vote for Obama," said Mike Danielson, who owns a Quad-City landscaping business and was working on his girlfriend's yard in Atalissa. "I don't think I'm going to vote. I think (Obama is) going to win anyway. I don't really follow any of the other candidates."
Same old, same old
Trey Washam is a 37-year-old former ski bum who quotes George Carlin and works as a farm hand on his friend's father's farm in rural Muscatine County.
Of the dozen men eating lunch on a recent afternoon at the Long Branch, Washam was the only one who wanted to share his opinion on politics.
Come Nov. 6, Washam said, he'll likely stay home, even though he says he favors Obama on social issues and Romney on fiscal ones.
"I'm uninsured, and I work in one of the most dangerous jobs there is," Washam said. "I want to hear more from both of them on health care. What I know now is Obama's plan makes it so I have to pay a penalty if I don't have health insurance. Look, if I could afford it, I would, but now I have to pay a fine?"
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which Romney has promised he would repeal if elected, requires that most people carry a health insurance policy. States also are obligated to set up health-care exchanges in which those who don't have policies available to them can purchase them at a discounted rate.
Sandy Rummells, Long Branch's bartender/waitress and a weekend Harley Davidson rider put it succinctly: "Politics is the same old thing. I don't have any interest."
To the polls
Wayne Corriell is a lifelong farmer who is active in county-level Republican politics. He'll vote for Mitt Romney this year and thinks the former Massachusetts governor will do well in Iowa.
At Lemkau's prodding, he decided to wax political about the state of affairs in this neck of the woods while he relaxed in the co-op's office.
"I'm not totally happy with the way things have been going," he said.
He and Lemkau then got into a long, winding conversation on everything from military spending to health care and the local political scene.
Corriell said he's not surprised that people in Atalissa feel like they have no part in the process; heck, a few hours ago, Lemkau said he would "probably" vote this cycle.
"But I ended up saying I would, you remember why?" Lemkau said. "Because if you don't vote, you can't complain."
"And I know you like to do that," Corriell said.