In a Washington Post blog post yesterday, naturally bouncing around Facebook and featured by the Des Moines Register, writer Chris Cillizza notes 12 reasons why “Iowa Rules.”
Well, Chris, I’m happy you enjoy the Hawkeye state. But your list is really why Des Moines is an OK city, as if people from Washington DC can’t imagine life any place smaller in Iowa being worthy of notice. Well, Des Moines, you are pleasant, it’s true. And a Cedar Rapids perspective isn’t exactly typical of Iowa, either—in many places, economically iffy small downs are trying to cling to viability as their populations age and schools slowly close, and in many small school districts, Iowa’s vaunted pride in its educational system languishes in parochial mediocrity.
Still, I find that Iowa is a good place to be, and if a Washington Post blogger can come up with 12 reasons why, surely this Iowan (born in Tennessee, but brought up in Iowa) probably can, too.
My 12 reasons why Iowa rules:
1. It’s not Left Coast or Right Coast. I like visiting states like California or Washington or Florida, but traffic is heavier, people ruder and the pace of life too quick. It’s nice to visit there. And so very nice to return to Iowa.
2. We have four seasons. Yes, yes, many people want to go to the Sonoma dessert or the Gulf Coast and like to live in warm climes without our bitter winters—especially this one, which is a real winter. But, while I prefer the green, warm months, I like the rhythm of change, too. Zone 4 is a nice place to garden in. We have droughts and cold, but we have rain and green, too. And, no, CR, we don’t have five seasons no matter what that giant toilet brush monument is supposed to mean.
3. People are chronically nice. It’s a cliché. But, it’s also true. If you break down at the side of an Iowa road, the old person who stops to help you is far more likely to be me than a psycho kidnapper killer rapist. Not that we don’t have our share of scary or dangerous people, but Iowans as a whole like to help out and are usually willing to do so.
4. We don’t pretend to be trendy or edgy. And we don’t miss it.
5. Politics is fun here. Yeah, I know, there are comments on the WP blog that argue against that being a plus, but I’m a bit of a news junkie and I like being in a place where the political spotlight shines. If you want to president of the hew knighted steaks, not only do you visit Des Moines, but you also visit Cedar Rapids. Iowa is a progressive state that is closely divided between Democrats and Republicans. The outcome of an election here, unless it’s for governor and a sitting governor is running, is not usually a foregone conclusion.
6. It’s got Cedar Rapids in it. Compared to DM, CR is definitely a small town with pretentions. But it’s big enough to have decent restaurants and bike trails and parks, so for an old Midwestern fuddy-duddy like me, it’s enough. Cedar Rapids is near Iowa City, it’s near nice county and state parks—and when you want to see giant topless war monument ladies, well, it’s not far from Des Moines.
7. You can get there from here. If you’re starting a long journey, such as to another hemisphere of the globe, being in Iowa is not a bad deal. Your journey might begin at a small regional airport, such as the Eastern Iowa Airport or Sioux City or even Des Moines. Granted, that may not always mean the least expensive plane tickets in the world, but in terms of travel hassle—the length of lines, the nature of TSA screening—it’s about the best place for a journey to start.
8. Bald eagles and tiger lilies. Granted, lots of places beat Iowa all to heck and back in terms of the grandeur of Mother Nature. Our lakes are small and often muddy, most of our rivers that don’t border the state are overgrown creeks, we have no mountains and a “beach” in Iowa would make a Californian cry for home. But there is a pleasant world out there to roam in still, bluffs along waterways, rolling hills and caves, and, well, nature stuff. As in green stuff. As in nature isn’t wide open and untamed as it is in other places, but it’s right outside your door. The Cedar River usually has plenty of eagles in the spring. In summer, our prairie flowers and native lilies will add their quiet splash of color to a shockingly green landscape. The great outdoors in Iowa aren’t the greatest in the world, but they’re better than you expect if you’re not paying attention. There is some “there” here if you’re willing to walk and look.
9. Sweet corn and fresh tomatoes. It’s only for a month, but there are few fresh food treats available anywhere that can move you more. In more ways than one.
10. The upper reaches of the Mississippi. We have, in Dubuque, the river museum and the Mines of Spain state park. It’s just one of several parks located along the Father of Waters. One of the blogs I follow notes the many eagles that are being seen now in Muscatine—surely the river is the highlight of that town. Iowa river towns can be a bit, well, shabby—some reached their economic peak when Teddy Roosevelt was president—but the river is still breathtaking, and the towns still quirky and interesting. I like the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids, but it doesn’t compare to the Mississippi. And, while I’ve seen Old Man River in Missouri, Louisiana and Minnesota—for some reason, maybe the congregation of river towns, many of the most interesting places along the Mississippi are in Iowa. We have neither the urban vibe of St. Louis nor the touristy kitsch of Hannibal, but we do have lots of more subtle charms along the same river.
11. Ames and Iowa City. Our big state universities almost dominate their respective towns, which, while very different from each other, are both quirky, fun places. The vibe of downtown Iowa City or the vibe of Dogtown may not be the same, but both are worth experiencing.
12. RAGBRAI. OK, on several points, the Post and I agree, and this is one. I am sure there are bike rides with more scenery, but the unique combination of crowds, silly teams, beer, small-town hospitality and Iowa summer heat make this an experience that stands out.
There you have it. Of course, you can make a list of why any place “rules.” When I lived there, many aspects of Missouri appealed to me, such as its deeper sense of history or the interesting way in which it was the fault line where the Midwest and the South run into each other. I have a daughter and some other relatives who live in Omaha, and, while that’s practically Iowa, I’m sure is has unique charms of its own. I would also like to see England again, where my oldest daughter lives.
And so part of what I like about Iowa is just that it’s familiar. But every place is familiar to somebody. I guess it’s OK to me that some people roam the world and leave a place to find themselves or find happiness. Just so long as you also recall that happiness can most be attained by appreciating wherever you are—contentment might be easier to locate in a cool place like Iowa, but it’s least difficult to locate anywhere if you can get comfortable in your own skin, wherever that skin happens to be.