Ioway Out

I snapped the photo above sitting at my working desk, looking west out of our apartment over the Des Moines River at the downtown city skyline. In a few hours, if I happen to look up at the right moment, I’ll get to see my last sunset as a resident of Iowa. Our movers arrive at 8 AM tomorrow, and once they’re gone and we’ve done our final cleanup, we’re hitting the road. We should be in Kansas by tomorrow’s sunset.

I doubt that I’ll get a nice scene like that for our final Iowa sunset, given that this is what things look like outside right now, with a view slightly to the left/south of the sunset one:

Ennnnhhhh, dreary. Although I guess that beats what I saw yesterday morning when I looked out the north window of my office:

We almost made it out of town before that stuff started flying, and we’re supposed to have rain and driving wind tomorrow when the movers are here, but I guess it’s good that we didn’t get a combo platter of all that plus some ice and hail, since that’s all within the realm of normal here in late October. There’s a lot of reasons that we’re happy to be leaving Iowa and headed to Arizona, and that dire weather deal is high on the list. I’m ready to be warmer, and spend more time under sunny skies, than has been the case for most of our time in Iowa. Or Chicago. Or Upstate New York. Or Idaho. It’s been a long, long time, actually, since we’ve lived in place that isn’t normally the butt of weather jokes. Three decades, more or less. How times flies when you’re cold and wet.

In the past, I’ve written posts about things I’ll miss, and things I will not miss when we’ve moved from place to place. I was considering doing that this time, too, but honestly, I’m just tired of thinking about it. Suffice to say the “will not miss” list is a good deal longer and more meaningful than the “will miss” one. Couple that with pandemic ennui and the underlying sense of anxiety that our pending election breeds, and it’s hard to want to spend much time right now beefing about things in Iowa that we’ll be leaving behind. We’re making our case with our feet and our funds, at bottom line, and they’re carrying us elsewhere, fast, where we can invest in a new situation, happily. Enough said.

If all goes as planned, we’ll roll into Sedona, Arizona on Sunday afternoon. We already have house-hunting appointments set up for Monday morning. Very excited! I’m sure we’ll stop for walks along the way, and I’m sure I’ll take pictures when we do, so feel free to follow along here as I update our latest adventures in the days, weeks and months ahead. Are we there yet?

Most Played Songs of 2020 (Transition Edition)

I have as a matter of long habit done a variety of “year-end” lists and articles in various areas of interest (to me), including a list of the Most Played Songs around the Smith household, as calculated by the iTunes account where I synch all of our iPods. I’ve been doing this since 2007, when we got our first family iPod, a Mother’s Day gift for Marcia, at her request. Today, we still have eight iPods in use in various locations (car, living room, bedroom, gym, etc.), and I’ve been scavenging online to build  a little trove of models I like (old Shuffles and Nanos, mainly) to keep my current listening paradigm going as long as it can. Not a fan of change for change’s sake, no sir, don’t like it.

As noted in yesterday’s report, I will be packing up my desktop working computer in the next couple of days, and it will be in storage until late December, if not longer. It occurred to me that once my computer gets packed, that’s it for any updates to those devices and play count numbers for 2020, so it seemed prudent to go ahead and prepare a post with the Most Played Songs list to date for the year. It still represents about 11 months worth of data, as is turns out, since I reset 2019’s play counts and lists around Thanksgiving-time, as we wanted/needed a new mix of music for our holiday travels. So not too much of a short-year, really, and the top of the pile is not likely to change that much anyway this late in the cycle, even if I did keep the computer up and running through our move to Arizona.

As has been a recurring theme for me over a lifetime of listening, I do again recognize that I’m once again fighting a rear guard battle with my iPods, with playback technology making another of its seismic shifts from a purchased media file model to streaming services, delivered over various smart devices, and designed so that we never actually own anything musical anymore, but just rent it. (That link in the prior sentence goes into more detail about why I don’t like that, if interested). That said, Marcia needed to get a Spotify account for her yoga instructor class last fall, and we have been using that account and a BlueTooth speaker exclusively while we’re in hotels and rental properties on our travels this year, and that has worked out fine, as much as I hate to admit it. And as much as it bothers me that the play counts for those songs so played aren’t readily aggregated into my master list. Oh, the humanity! The horror! The Horror!!

I noted in conversation recently that Marcia was moving me into a new listening paradigm going into this multi-phase family relocation, as she has done before, buying me my first CD player after I resisted them for years, and bringing the first iPod into our household. She disagreed with that assessment, seeing me as still too resistant and reliant on my old approaches, knowing that if left to my own devices, I’d just snuggle up and stubbornly not budge from my comfort zone, no sir, not gonna. We agreed that I may be charitably characterized as “new paradigm adjacent” instead. I guess that’s progress, of a sort. In any event, it’s conceivable that next year’s Most Played Songs list will be created based entirely on Spotify numbers. We shall see.

One other note I usually make with this annual article: since we synch all of our many fiddly widgets to one computer and one master iTunes account, the Most Played Songs list represents the aggregated play counts from all of our iPods. This means that the Most Played Songs of the year are often unexpected, since they represent the heart of a musical Venn Diagram where our family’s tastes most closely overlap, even though each of us individually may like and listen to very different things. I spin a lot of Napalm Death every year, for example, but they very, very rarely show up on these lists, since they’re never played when Marcia and Katelin are around. The grindcore is for me-time only. And I usually don’t listen to music alone.

My computer tells me that I currently have 15,804 songs on my hard drive. In 2020, we played 4,120 of them at least once. Of those active songs this year, here are the 40 that received the most spins around our household, with the #1 most played spot going to a trenchant cut by Snog main-man David Thrussell’s Crisis Actor side project. (Watch out for Snog to feature highly when I do my “Albums of the Year” list for 2020 in a month or so, as his latest LP is a masterpiece). You can create a Spotify playlist of the songs below (because I know that you all just love creating Spotify playlists, just to spite me)(Spitify, it should be called!), and that will give you a sense of what it might sound like to spend time around our spaces. It covers a lot of stylistic ground, which I like. Maybe the list will inspire you to further check into some of these excellent artists’ catalogs. They’re all great, guaranteed!

  1. “Bringer of War” by Crisis Actor
  2. “Bebey” by Theophilus London
  3. “Stop This World” by Mose Allison
  4. “Hann Gat Ekki Setið Kyrr” by Karl Olgeirsson (feat. Rakel Sigurðardóttir)
  5. “Agony Box” by Shriekback
  6. “Electronic Eye” by Crisis Actor
  7. “Where Are We Now?” by David Bowie
  8. “Leon” by Theophilus London (feat. Kristian Hamilton)
  9. “Ball and Chain” by The Who
  10. “Marchin'” by Theophilus London
  11. “One of These Days” by Mose Allison
  12. “Street Song” by The Who
  13. “Jesus Just Left Chicago” by ZZ Top
  14. “WAVIP” by The Coup (feat. Das Racist and Killer Mike)
  15. “We Lost Sight” by dälek
  16. “Anitra’s Basement Tapes” by The Coup (feat. Tune-Yards and Jolie Holland)
  17. “Bad Worn Thing” by Wire
  18. “Orange Man Bad” by Crisis Actor
  19. “Boys Keep Swinging” by David Bowie
  20. “Your Capricious Soul” by Michael Stipe
  21. “Quiet Dog” by Mos Def
  22. “Bollo Rex” by Shriekback
  23. “Pretty” by Theophilus London (feat. Ian Isiah)
  24. “Waters Flowin'” by Uriah Heep
  25. “Melt the Guns” by XTC
  26. “Rosalie” by Yusef Lateef
  27. “Tush” by ZZ Top
  28. “Towncar” by BEEF
  29. “Cheap Sunglasses” by ZZ Top
  30. “Another Song About the Moon” by Buggy Jive
  31. “The Mighty Burner” by Charles Earland
  32. “Goin’ to the Meetin'” by Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis
  33. “Afterglow” by Genesis
  34. “Lord Do It” by Rev. James Cleveland
  35. “Adamine” by Mowgan (feat. Solo Sanou)
  36. “Cuba” by Theophilus London
  37. “Mary Don’t You Weep” by The Caravans
  38. “Corrupt (Knuckle Up)” by dälek
  39. “Follow You Follow Me” by Genesis
  40. “Gånglek från Älvdalen” by Jan Johansson

Final iPod Synch Party in Iowa. Fiddly widgets FTW!

With Which I Am Well Pleased V (Miles Out)

A week from today, Marcia and I should be waking up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, one day away from the start of our shared lives’ next chapter in Northern Arizona. We’re leaving Iowa on Thursday, and spending a couple of nights at opposite corners of Kansas (Atchison and Dodge City) on our way to the Southwest, so there’s some work, time and miles to get us to where we’re going, but we’re pleased to be so close, having looked forward to the move for so long.

We’ll be living in an AirBnb in Sedona until at least mid-December, while we hunt for the ideal house, so I will be packing up the home computer where I do the vast majority of my online and real-world work, and putting it into storage for a few months. I will have a laptop with me, so will be able to continue posting and participating in online activities, though it’s always less appealing to me to do so that way than it is to have my nice, big, high-resolution screen, full-sized keyboard, and ample stereo system in front of me while I clatter away. All good and worth it on a macro basis, though. I’ll trade that short-term working inconvenience for the longer-term expected pleasures of warmer weather in a culture more attuned to my own, any and every day.

We’ll also be packing up the television upon which we watch all of our movies, and the iTunes account I use to manage my music will disappear for awhile as well. So it seems a good point to pause today and add an entry to my “With Which I Am Well Pleased” series, offering an assortment of 15 items in various categories for your consideration, since they’ve been rocking my own socially-distant world in recent weeks. If these aren’t enough recommendations to move you fully, or if you’re so thoroughly moved that you need more, more, more, then there are also four earlier installments in this COVID-era collection, here, here, here and here. Knock yourselves out! And note that the next time you see a post with this series title, it’ll be coming to you from a land without endless corn and soybean fields, too many hogs and Covidiots, and a never-ending gnawing cold autumn wind. Pleased!!

FILMS

BOOKS

MUSIC

OTHER

New Thule roof box on new Mazda car.

Monkey Bread from Scenic Route Bakery.

Done My Part

Marcia and I ordered our absentee ballots as soon as we were able, received them in reasonably prompt fashion after they were mailed out, filled them in, and hand-carried them to our county auditor’s office last Friday. We received the postcard confirmations posted above today, but had already checked on the status of our ballots online, so knew they had been processed. We want to make sure our votes are counted, for sure.

There’s just so very much at stake this year. It makes my heart hurt and my head throb and my soul shudder when I consider it too hard, too long. Please LORD, Buddha, FSM, Allah, Cthulhu, Shiva, Ahura Mazda, Zeus, Karora, and all of your other unseen and unseeable allies, let this horrific era of grift, crime and hatred end soon. And without bloodshed. Amen.

I hope you’ve either done your part in the process already, or have an active plan for doing so — even as I recognize that your paths might be blocked or hidden by people whose primary approach to their own empowerment is through disenfranchising and discouraging others from freely and fairly participating in the electoral process. It’ll be worth the fight if enough of us turn out to overwhelm the cheating and chicanery. Get it done, as soon and as safely as you can, please please please!

(Note: You can click on the image above for information on the voting paths available to you in your own place and State, if you need such a resource).

Driftless

At about 8:15 AM this morning, Marcia and I drove across the US-20 bridge from Jo Daviess County, Illinois, into Dubuque, Iowa. This marked our final re-entry burn into Iowa, after more trips out of and back into the Hawkeye State since 2011 than we could begin to count. We then worked our way down to Interstate-80 in Iowa City, and drove west to Des Moines, the last time we’ll drive that highway as well, again having done so more times than we could count, or enjoy.

We had spent the long weekend in the Driftless Area, situated around the point where Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois meet along the mighty Mississippi River. The name doesn’t mean that the area, its inhabitants, and us while we were there existed in a state with neither aim nor direction, but rather refers to the fact that the region is free of glacial drift, and seems not to have been covered by the Pleistocene ice. It’s geologically unique in the Upper Midwest accordingly, and is a spectacularly beautiful part of the country. We’ve traveled through it a bit over the years, and it seemed an apt place to make our final Iowa road trip, at the peak of autumn color, of which we don’t expect to see much once we drive off to Arizona next week.

We stayed in Galena, Illinois, a lovely little tourist town with some deep history of national import, most especially having been Ulysses S. Grant’s home through his post-Civil War career. We also drove up to Effigy Mounds National Monument, which is one of the most historically and visually stunning locales in all of Iowa. While there, we hiked up to the famed Hanging Rock (no picnic, alas) to bask in the extraordinary views of the Mississippi River valley in its gaudy autumnal attire. Very nice, all around. Recommended if you find yourself in that out of the way part of the country.

I snapped away as I always do, so if you’d like to see some of the color and scenes, click the happy couple selfie below (taken at Hanging Rock) to see the full photo album. The next one I post will likely look much, much different!

Bike Off, Iowa

My 2020 cycling season got off to a bum start when my beloved Felt Z100 bike was stolen from our apartment’s garage, where it had been locked and chained, but not beyond the capabilities of a good bolt cutter, apparently. USAA took good care of me, as they do, and I was able to acquire a new bike, Trusty Steed Mach V. He’s a Masi. Here’s what he looked like at his very first rest stop in April, 27 miles into our first ride together:

Yesterday, I did a 78 mile ride (my longest of the season), and on the day’s final pit stop, Trusty Steed looked like this:

My cycling computer tells me that I spent 75 hours and 18 minutes in the saddle over the course of 2020 to date, covering 1,018 miles. Not my heaviest mileage experience over a summer season, but not bad, all things considered, and under the weird circumstances in which we find ourselves in 2020. Normally I’d get a lot of road time in while Marcia was golfing or at yoga or otherwise engaged, but those seasons never reached a point where they felt COVID-safe for her, so we spent much more time walking together as a healthy, companionable approach instead. We’ve walked about 2,150 miles in 2020 thus far, and will probably do even more of that once we get to Arizona. No complaints there. It’s become a great part of our daily rituals.

Those cycling numbers, though, are actually going to hold up and go on the record books for the year as a whole, as I’ll be packing up Trusty Steed into his shipping box this week for storage while we house-hunt in Arizona. I doubt that I will have the bike back before the end of December, meaning that I’ve ridden my last ride of the year, and my last ride in Iowa, nearly nine years after my first one. I note that 405 of my 2020 riding miles (84 more than my original six-ride goal) were done as part of my Tour des Trees Rollin’ in Place fundraiser, which raised $2,365 for TREE Fund, my former employer. I reached my personal goal, but TREE Fund is still about $22,000 under its aggregate organizational goal for all of its volunteer fundraisers. The campaign runs through November 15, so you can still help out TREE Fund with a tax-deductible donation, even if my own physical contribution to the event is over. Click my final ride report summary image below if you’d like to do so:

I also have to note that I’m frankly not sorry to have ridden my last ride in Iowa. I’ve had a “pending post” for months titled “Iowa Cyclists: Can We Talk?” that I’ve never quite got around to finishing, but it seems apt to summarize the points I’d wanted to make there as I say farewell to corn field country.

At bottom line: Central Iowa has a terrible cycling culture. Not every rider is awful, mind, and off the cuff, I could cite half a dozen truly inspiring and great cyclists of my acquaintance, mostly from our time together on various Tours des Trees over the years. They are strong on their wheels, sure, but equally strong on safely embodying and living the rules of the road that should make riding a most healthy and enjoyable experience, but are so thinly understood and enacted hereabouts that I often feel safer and more comfortable riding on country roads in high speed automobile traffic than I do on the maze of regional trails with other people on their bikes.

My key beefs on this front would include:

  • The ridiculous ubiquity of bike boom-boxes. So incredibly annoying. And so unsafe, since being able to hear is a key part of riding safely and signalling to others to help them do the same. While not as obviously annoying, the number of folks cycling and walking with ear-buds in on trails is just as unsafe, as I’ve had numerous cases of calling out “coming up on your left” as I prepare to pass someone, only to have them not hear me and obliviously drift into my line.
  • Alcohol culture. Most of the trails around Des Moines have favorite cycling bars where casual cyclists can wobble outbound for 10 miles or less, get shit-faced and loud, and then really wobble back to town, putting anybody near them at risk, as they also put themselves in harm’s way. Day-time drinking is a thing here, and it doesn’t mix well with cycling, at all. But it’s standard practice for many of the people you find on two wheels hereabouts.
  • Monopolizing the trails. Yes, cycling can be a very companionable, social activity, but when a group of cyclists (often stoked up on beer and with their boomboxes blasting) feel like they need to ride three, four or five abreast so they can chit-chat more readily, the opportunities for disaster are high. And it’s incredibly irritating when a mob like that is coming your way and refusing to yield or shift, because they’re having fun and talking and you lonely person on your own clearly need to get out of their entitled way.
  • Trying to play Greg LeMond on the trails. For better or worse, all of the trails around here are mixed-use, so there are lots of walkers, strollers, dogs, geese, and God knows what else on them. Roaring along at 20+ miles per hour and expecting people and animals to quickly get out of your way is another recipe for disaster. If you want to be a serious hardcore road cyclist, get out on the roads. If you want to ride the trails, slow down, and share them respectfully.

I’ve been an active, engaged cyclist for my entire life, literally, and I was taught how to ride safely very early on, and I take that social contract seriously. So it’s an informed opinion that things in Central Iowa are inordinately, uniquely bad on the fronts mentioned above, among others. Why is this the case? I blame RAGBRAI, which is the annual rolling party that serves primarily to raise money for the State’s right-wing Gannett-owned newspaper, and to goose the Iowa tourism industry.

Seven days of riding, from the Missouri River to the Mississippi. Thousands of participants every year, along a different route each time. Seemed like something I’d really want to do when I first moved here, but having witnessed a  Des Moines over-night stop in 2012, and how the riders were riding and behaving, I realized that, nuh uh, not my thing, nope. There are, of course, a lot of great, safe cyclists who participate in RAGBRAI. But there are likely many more local people who sign up for RAGBRAI as their first experience of long-distance and/or group cycling, where they learn to ride in big, wobbly, loud, drunken packs. Year after year. Which may (?) be fine during RAGBRAI itself, when “everyone is doing it,” but is most decidedly not fine for the rest of the cycling season.

And lest you just think I’m being an opinionated crank with an axe to grind here, Iowa at large and Des Moines in particular routinely place among the nation’s worst states and cities in terms of cycling safety. Here’s one of numerous articles on that front. I’m not the only one who feels this way. Thankfully, I only had one significant cycling accident during my time here, caused by construction debris left in the road near our first house in Beaverdale. After I hit the pavement and was laying in the road bleeding, a guy at a patio bar on the adjacent corner shouted “Hey! Hey! HEY!” at me, then when I finally looked his way, he raised his beer toward me and told me it looked like I needed a drink, while his buddies laughed. Didn’t bother to ask if I was okay. Just equated cycling and drinking, because Iowa.

Good riddance on that front, though I’ll miss the friends here who ride right and respect the sport and the people who participate in it or use the trails that support it. Here’s hoping I find both a great cycling community in Arizona, and a culture that keeps us all reasonable safe and able to enjoy the sights and sounds and scenes without them being overwhelmed by some shitty Ted Nugent song cranking from the wobbly bike a quarter-mile up the road that you don’t want to get close enough to for a safe pass . . .