Assuming all goes well with final house sale closing tomorrow morning, tonight will be our last night as full-time residents of Des Moines, Iowa. We will be in temporary housing in Chicago until September 15, when we will move into our fabulous new apartment in 340 on the Park in Chicago. Marcia started her new job a couple of weeks ago, and I will be starting mine in late August after a trip to Savannah, Georgia to visit my mother and scout some wintertime properties. (I’m waiting to announce my new gig here until its been officially and formally announced in public by my new employer — but that should be soon, if you’re curious).
I’ve spent about as long in Des Moines as I spent at the Naval Academy, and about twice as long as I spent in Idaho, and I view those three life experiences in the same light: none of them were final destinations, and they weren’t necessarily where I wanted to be at the time, but they were important steps forward toward bigger and better things. Annapolis led to an amazing career at Naval Reactors and to meeting Marcia. Idaho led to Albany, where we happily lived for nearly two decades and raised our only child, and I learned how to be a strong nonprofit executive. Des Moines gave Katelin a great start to her own nascent career and is now leading Marcia and I to Chicago, and we are both very excited about the personal and professional opportunities and experiences ahead of us there.
As I relax and reflect on my last full day as an Iowa resident, I would like to share the following lists of some things I will miss when I leave, and some things I will not miss when I leave. Maybe these will be illustrative and helpful for future transplants to Des Moines. I certainly would have liked to have known about some of them four years ago.
Some Things I Won’t Miss When I Leave Iowa:
- The Iowa Caucuses: I’ve recently written at length about this here. At bottom line: I think Iowa’s “First in Nation” status is bad for America, and I do not like watching political candidates behaving badly in my backyard for media attention. Related: State Governor should not be a “for life” position. Enough on both fronts.
- Restaurants Being Closed on Sunday: While there are a (very) few eateries that buck this trend, dining out options on Sunday in Des Moines are generally limited to brunches patronized by hungover twenty-somethings. Related: The state of dining in Des Moines is pretty haphazard, even on days other than Sunday. Caveat Emptor.
- Big Agriculture: The romantic myth of the family farm is a core part of the cultural narrative in Iowa, but the reality is that most of the State’s big farms are just as much corporate conglomerates as anything else traded on Wall Street. I like to eat, but I don’t like having my electoral interests dominated by agricultural concerns, and I don’t like living in a State that slops hard at the trough of Federal farm subsidies, while begrudging its own more vulnerable citizens the safety net and healthcare support to which they’re entitled. Also, having driven through all 99 of Iowa’s counties, I’ll be okay never seeing a corn field again. Or smelling another industrial hog confinement.
- Fascination With Shiny New Things: There are some amazing cultural and historic treasures in Iowa, and it has been dismaying to watch them struggle for resources while half-baked, non-charitable enterprises masquerading as nonprofits hoover up funding because they’re new, shiny, and targetted toward the young professional demographic that local media love and/or managed by the otherwise inexperienced scions of a few privileged Iowa families. Even in the short four years that I’ve been here, I’ve watched several of these shiny new things develop rust and fall apart, wasting funds that could have been better deployed elsewhere. A little more discretion, discipline and taking the long view from funders and the media alike would make a big difference here.
- Living in the Wrong American Nation: Marcia grew up in Minnesota, and we quite like it there, so it seemed that Iowa — its immediate neighbor to the South — would be culturally similar enough that it would be an easy transition to live here. But it wasn’t, in more ways than I can cite in a short list like this. A couple of years ago, our sense that Iowa was somehow fundamentally different from Minnesota and Upstate New York (our home for the prior twenty years) was made more clear for us when we read an article on the Eleven Cultural Nations in America today. Iowa is culturally part of The Midlands, and Minnesota and New York are part of Yankeedom. And there’s a much bigger difference there than you might think, trust me. Fortunately, Chicago is also part of Yankeedom. Welcome home.
Some Things I Will Miss When I Leave Iowa:
- Katelin: Our daughter has found a great job, a great apartment, and a great boyfriend in Des Moines, and she really has proven the rubric that Iowa’s Capital City is a great place for young professionals to begin their careers. So she’ll be staying here for now as we move on. Fortunately, it’s a short flight or easy drive between our two cities, but we won’t be able to take our lunchtime walks together as frequently as we have for the past couple of years. She is keeping Rosie and The Bumble for us, and I think she considers this a fair trade.
- The Salisbury House Library: I have enjoyed my job at Salisbury House, though I have been frustrated by the lack of robust, long-term community support it receives, in large part because of the “Shiny New Things” phenomena noted above. I’m proud that I balanced the long-broken operating budget and helped preserve the House’s future, but it deserves more than just hanging on by the skin of the staff’s collective teeth. While I appreciate all of the House’s elements (architecture, gardens and forests, furnishings, fine art, etc.), I feel most fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with the Weeks Family’s library and rare documents collections for the past three and half years. I’m not sure that I will ever again have the chance to be so close to so many important cultural treasures, most especially the James Joyce collections that I love so much. What a gift to have held his papers in my own two hands.
- Des Moines Farmers Market: I’m sure we will find a farmers market that we like in Chicago, but the May to October market in downtown Des Moines is really something special, one of the places where the real remnants of the small family farms still hold court and offer their wares. Even when we didn’t really need anything, it was always nice to put on our Naval Academy, UAlbany or Minnesota team colors (to combat the overwhelming number of Cyclone and Hawkeye shirts on display) and go walk slowly around the market, having something fresh for breakfast, people watching, and picking up a couple of jars of Juan O’Sullivan’s exceptionally delicious salsa, which I often incorporated into a variety of tasty home-cooked dishes, along with tasty seasonings from Allspice.
- 4300 Ashby Avenue: We had a great house on a great street in a great neighborhood in Des Moines. Easy access to both of our offices, a couple of restaurants we liked within walking distance (one of them even open on Sundays!), and a very nice sense of community among a group of neighbors who take great pride in living on “America’s Prettiest Christmas Block.” While my own Christmas decorations would be rated “adequate to credible” at best, it was nice to be part of something that the community valued and celebrated. Plus, our house was built like a freakin’ brick bomb shelter, so it felt solid, rooted, and substantial. I hope the new owners enjoy it as much as we did.