This post is a shout-out for my Iowa relatives, and for Amy’s siblings and their Aunt Joyce and Uncle Ray, all of whom are Iowans.
The London Guardian has a series called “Best Towns and Small Cities in the United States”. I find it fascinating to see what places the Brits think excel as places for young and old to call home. Included in the series so far are Eugene, Chapel Hill, Ithaca, Portland, Ventura, Missoula. Yesterday’s story was about Des Moines Iowa.
My father’s family is from the southeast corner of the state, just along the Missouri border. My Aunt Pauline lived just over the state line, in Downing, Missouri. We don’t have any immediate relatives in Des Moines as far as I know. although perhaps a few distant cousins.
But according to the Guardian, Des Moines — once a sleepy bastion of banking and insurance back office operations, home of sports bars and ranch dressing and neighborhood joints serving American mass produced beer– has come alive. This small-ish midwestern city, smack in the center of the state, now has craft beers, farm-to-table restaurants, trendy indoor music venues year round and large outdoor festivals in summer, cool but affordable neighborhoods, a coffee shop culture, and an overall low cost of living. Young people are staying, a change from the past.
I had a taste of Des Moines as a remade city a few years ago, when I was staying in a downtown hotel for a family event. Amy and her brother were running a race, and we came to cheer them on. Not wanting hotel restaurant food, I walked a few blocks to a seafood place that touted its selection of fresh oysters.
Did I say that Des Moines is in the center of the state, far from anyplace fresh oysters might originate? The oyster expert behind the seafood bar and I struck up a conversation. She’d trained with one of the major chefs and graduated from a good culinary program, and Des Moines was where she was offered a job. Initially skeptical, she accepted, and was thriving.
They oysters were fresh and delicious and excellently prepared and served.
Clearly a city the size of Des Moines doesn’t have the array of options that a city like Seattle does. The trade-off, besides our more temperate weather, is cost of living. And truth to tell, now that I’ve lived here in Seattle awhile, I’ve narrowed down to my favorite places and cultural activities. There’s a ton here to do, much of it low cost — library lecture series, REI outdoor adventure classes — and no one can take in more than a taste.
I note that a number of the small cities on the Guardian list are in cold places, which would preclude my interest. But I get the appeal. There’s a lot to be had in a place like Des Moines and a mid-range salary goes a long way if you don’t mind bundling up for the cold.