I like to use humor when talking about Iowa. I-O-W-A. It’s the acronym for Idiots Out Wandering Around. The best thing to come out of Iowa is Interstate 35. Iowa is always too hot or too cold or too muggy. And there are certainly a lot of dead deer on the roadsides and dead bugs on my windshield whenever I am there. I even laughed at the most recent Rose Bowl game when someone held up a sign that said “Hawkeye Is The Least Favorite Avenger” in a game where the Hawkeyes were trounced by Stanford.
But the truth is I AM a native of the Hawkeye State. Born in Des Moines. A few years in Waterloo. A lot of years in Grundy Center, where I graduated high school. A couple of years in Marshalltown for my Associate of Arts degree. A few more at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls obtaining a Bachelor’s degree.
I lived in Iowa the first 23 years (exactly one half) of my life.
My family still lives in Iowa. My father and one sister in have homes in Grundy Center. My only brother and his family reside in Dike. My youngest sister and her family live in Hudson.
Even as I have moved on to Kansas City and now Las Vegas, Iowa will always be home.
I spent a few days in Iowa last week. It was a chance to see friends and family, and attend the graduation of my niece Brynn, who was one of the three valedictorians at Dike-New Hartford High School for 2016.
Those days reaffirmed to me the fabulousness that is Iowa.
With my 22-month old son Jace in tow, we enjoyed staying in a hotel not far from the Des Moines International airport. When Jace needed something that I failed to pack, he got in the stroller and we walked the 1 1/2 blocks to an older model Hy-Vee Food Store. Before we even left the hotel parking lot, the hotel’s valet driver commented, “You guys look like you are out enjoying the day.” He told us to “be safe” on our walk. Iowans are exceedingly nice people.
Although Hy-Vee has updated their stores throughout Iowa and Kansas City, this one was straight out of the 1970s. It had an old school meat counter, retro freezer doors in the frozen food aisles and angular aisles by the pharmacy. It was super cool.
At the hotel the young woman who cleaned the rooms chatted up Jace as we walked by every single day. She could not have been more pleasant working a thankless and demanding job.
At dinner, perfect strangers would say hello to Jace and ask him for high fives.
We spent a day with friends and a day with family, traveling from Des Moines to Grundy Center to Dike back to Grundy Center and back to Des Moines in one day.
On our final day we were scheduled to fly back to Las Vegas at 11:30AM. After dropping off the rental car, I had to walk across two streets with my suitcase, a stroller/car seat in a travel bag, a backpack and most importantly, Jace. My son was walking somewhat beside me, though he was drinking from his sippy cup and surveying the surroundings. Even at Jace’s pace, we made it across the first street easily as there was no traffic. The second street, however, was the one with all the passenger drop-offs and pick-ups. As we approached it a security guard in a safety vest saw us and quickly walked into the street. I don’t even think it was his station. There was no reason for a security guard to even be there. But he was there, holding up traffic so we could safely get into the airport.
What should have been a quick and painless flight home failed to materialize. Our plane had a mechanical problem that Southwest Airlines could not quickly fix. After boarding us and de-boarding us, the decided to fly an empty plane from Chicago to Des Moines to pick us up and take us to Las Vegas. The flight would be delayed 4 1/2 hours. We made the most of the time by visiting the gift shops, getting some lunch and Jace taking a nap in my lap in the gate area.
As it was getting closer to time to board, Jace and I sat on a bench and ate mini-muffins while waiting for the plane. During this time, four different complete strangers came up to us to commend Jace on how well-behaved he had been during the long delay. Jace never cried all day. He didn’t throw a fit. He didn’t even scream. He just hung out with his Daddy and waited for the next adventure to start.
It was nice of so many Iowans to notice us.
We don’t get back much to Iowa anymore. This trip was the second time in two years. For a single father of a toddler the trip is a daunting task. But it is nice to know when we go back we can always get a refresher on the greatness of Iowa.
And I can still make jokes. You know what University of Northern Iowa fans and University of Iowa fans have in common? None of them went to the Iowa.
There it was on my Facebook feed yesterday, the 30 safest cities in Iowa from safewise.com. And firmly locked into the no. 2 spot overall, my hometown of Grundy Center. And I was proud of my hometown.
Although I have spent the last half of my life in Kansas City and Las Vegas, I spent the first 23 years a small-town Iowan. I grew up in a town were people rarely locked their houses and left their keys in the ignition when their car was parked on the driveway. Grundy Center in the 1980s had one elementary school, one middle school and a combined junior high and high school. The uniforms the varsity teams wore were new every two years, the two year old version went to the JV, and the four-year old version to the junior high teams. We were all Spartans.
We were the county seat, and the only town in the whole county that had stoplights. We had two of them. We also had a movie theatre, the county courthouse and a Pizza Hut that used to be a general store.
In a town of less than 3,000 people everyone called me Al, not Chad, because my Dad (Alfred, but usually called Al) had been a star athlete as a Spartan 30 years earlier and everyone knew him.
Grundy Center has changed little in the 27 years since I graduated from high school. Farming is still the dominant occupation, though I’m not sure if the farmland is the most valuable per acre in the world like it was three decades ago. The streets are still uniquely-named in simple numerical or alphabetical order, save for a few of the newer developments. I actually grew up on I Avenue, between 11th and 12 Street. My house had doors with skeleton key locks.
It’s a town so small my house was two blocks from the elementary school, three from the middle school, four from the high school and four the other direction to the swimming pool. We walked or rode bicycles everywhere.
There have been a few changes. The baseball diamond where I spent so many summer days and nights is now developed with a few houses. That was a little disappointing, as my family has planted some tree at the diamond in honor of my deceased mother. But I hear the new complex is great. Grundy Center still refuses or hasn’t been invited to consolidate with another small school district.So the Spartans now play schedules of alphabet soup: AGWSR (Ackley-Geneva-Wellsburg-Steamboat Rock), Dike-New Hartford, BCLUW (Beamon-Conrad-Liscomb-Union-Whitten) and Gladbrook-Reinbeck.
My son, Jace, will never have the same experiences of neighborhood kick the can, messing around in barns full of hay or playing sports for an entire community, not just a school. He’s a Vegas kid where one school district has almost 50 high schools.
Kids don’t play outside in Vegas like they do in the Midwest for lack of grass and the oppressive desert heat. We definitely lock our doors and cars, and protect our possessions like anyone else who lives in a city.
Jace will have his share of big-city experiences that a small-town kid rarely sees. But I wouldn’t trade my small-town experience for anything. I am proud to be from Grundy Center, Iowa.
The other night I was doing some research on unique business cards. I was looking for something to showcase my business skills and send people to my website.
I came across a unique business card for Jon Acuff. Mr. Acuff is an author I discovered in the past couple of months and a speaker I have watched in the Financial Peace University series presented by Dave Ramsey.
Here is his business card. It’s unique, in part, because his wife reminded him, “We don’t do boring.”
Looking at his business card and reading his wife’s comment reminded me of a conversation I had with a couple of friends at a casino bar two years ago. I told them that the appeal of Las Vegas to me was that you could be from anywhere and be anything. In this town, nobody really cares if you are different.
I am proudly a black sheep.
I have been the black sheep for as long as I can remember. I remember an arts and crafts project way back in kindergarten or first grade. We were all supposed to pick out a egg from a container. They were going to be hard-boiled and we were going to paint or draw on them. Too the shock of my classmates, I picked out a brown egg. I had never seen a brown egg before. I thought it was unique and different.
I am adopted. From a small town (population 2,700) in Eastern Iowa it is a rarity to be adopted. Whenever it would come in up in a conversation with my friends and classmates I would always get looks like I was an alien. I was the only person anybody knew who had been adopted. I never thought it was different.
When I was a teenager I decided one day to walk from my house to my grandmother’s house for no particular reason. Like Forrest Gump and his running I just started walking. Eleven miles from my house to my grandmother’s house two towns over. I didn’t take any water with me. I didn’t think about how far eleven miles was. I just put on some tennis shoes and walked all the way there.
When all my classmates went off to Iowa State, Iowa, Northern Iowa, Drake or some other four-year school in Iowa I chose to attend Marshalltown Community College. It was smaller, it was more affordable and I had opportunities to play baseball and be on the school paper as a freshman.
After two years at Marshalltown CC and three more at Northern Iowa (I was not the most dedicated student) I moved to Kansas City. Iowans take vacations to Kansas City. They don’t typically move there.
My entire family still lives in Iowa. My father and one sister live in the same hometown in which I grew up. My other sister and my brother live in towns not more than 30 minutes away from my hometown. They are happy there. I am happy for them.
I live in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, Nevada. Iowans don’t live in Las Vegas. They might visit Las Vegas once in a lifetime.
I’m 44, and have never been married. One of the reasons I have had so many failed relationships has to do with how many women I’ve dated who just wanted to have a job, a family and go through a mundane life. I tell them I want to be a professional poker player. I tell them let’s rent a jeep and drive all the way to the Florida Keys with the top off. I say lets travel to Macau, Boracay and Spain. And their eyes almost pop out of their heads. They say they want normal. Then I find out later that those normal relationships they wanted instead of being with me failed. Because normal is boring.
I definitely don’t do boring and am certainly embracing my black sheep-ness.
It’s funny to me that the phrase black sheep is an idiom used to describe someone who won’t comply with the group or with society as a whole.
Name me one person who has ever achieved greatest by complying with a group? Different is memorable. Different sets trends. Different is the focus of inventors, architects, scientists and business leaders.