Why I Live in Iowa (part 2)

Okay, I’m going to take another shot at writing about “why I live in Iowa.”

Iowa doesn’t always get a lot of respect in the national media. We’re not the setting for a lot of movies and TV shows. Iowa doesn’t have a dominant image that immediately comes to mind for most Americans who aren’t already familiar with the Midwest – some of my college friends from the East Coast didn’t even know where Iowa was. (“It’s near Chicago, right?”)

Iowa is a small, predominantly rural state. The largest city (Des Moines) has around 200,000 people (although I think our “Metro Statistical Area” population is around 500,000, but I’m not sure if that really counts).

So why do I live here?

I live in Iowa because life is easy here.

If you live in Iowa, you don’t have to put up with all the hassles and traffic and inconveniences that you have to deal with in a larger city. You can afford a nice house in a good neighborhood without having to commute an hour each way and live like a work-a-holic. And there still are plenty of things to do. Back before we had a baby, my wife and I used to do all sorts of things – go to concerts, plays, bars, great restaurants. JustĀ  because Des Moines is a small city doesn’t mean it’s boring and devoid of culture – far from it.

I like living in Iowa because of the friendly, community-oriented culture. It sounds simple, but it’s true – people are just really “nice” here. I think it goes back in some ways to Iowa’s history as a farm state – at one point in time, most people in Iowa lived on farms, in a community of equals. They weren’t really competing “against” each other, they were all selling their products to the market – so if one family had a good year, everyone had a good year. I’ve always felt a quiet sense of stability and abundance in Iowa – of course, there is poverty here, just like anywhere, but Iowa has always seemed to have a larger middle class than a lot of other parts of the country.

People in Iowa tend to be unpretentious and egalitarian. I don’t see nearly the kind of social pressure to go to the “right” school, the “right” country club, etc. that you always hear about in the big cities. There just isn’t that kind of extreme gap between the richest and the rest of us – and people aren’t as concerned about clawing their way up the social ladder. You can graduate from public high school and go to a state university and go on to have a good life.

Iowa is a great place for families. I remember one of my friends that I met in Japan telling me about his experience living in San Diego. He said, “San Diego is an adult playground. But I would NEVER raise a child there.” I don’t mean to pick on San Diego, but it’s a good contrast – Iowa would probably never be described as an adult playground. But it’s a generally clean, safe, stable, wholesome place for kids to grow up. (And if you live in Iowa, you don’t have to spend so much time commuting and scrambling to pay the mortgage, so you can actually spend time with your kids.)

The older I get, the more I realize that what I really want out of life is control over my time. I want to spend lots and lots of time with my wife and our child, with my family and our friends. I don’t want “work/life balance” or “quality time,” I want “quantity time.” And I can get it in Iowa – Iowa gives you time.

More than anything else, that’s why I live in Iowa.

Why I Live in Iowa

Well first of all, I don’t live here because of the weather.

Ah, the weather in Iowa. I saw something once that described Iowa’s weather as “four glorious seasons,” and while it’s true they can be glorious, mid-March pretty much obliterates all of the accumulated glory.

The middle of March in Iowa is one of the dreariest, grayest, wettest, slushiest experiences imaginable. Winter hasn’t let up yet, there usually are still one or two heavy snowfalls left to go, and the ground is covered with filthy slush and muck, sand and salt, all the grime of the winter-long attempts to keep the roads passable.

March in Iowa is the time of year when I curse my Scandinavian ancestry, and wish my ancient relatives from Sweden and Norway hadn’t found the weather in this part of North America to be quite so comforting and hospitable.

March in Iowa makes me wish I had been raised in a warmer, sunnier culture and clime, one of those countries where everyone is seemingly born knowing how to salsa dance, instead of my Scandinavian roots, with our dour work ethic and our pragmatism and our reticence, and my enduring inability to dance until I’ve had at least four drinks.

So I don’t live in Iowa because of the weather. Although this summer has been one of the coolest, driest, most delicious summers of my life, and autumn is lovely as well, and spring is incredibly exciting every year – I always forget how good it feels to be able to walk around outside without a jacket – and frankly, there are a lot of things about winter that I enjoy as well – I like the coziness of winter, I like snuggling up with my wife in front of the TV, I like ice skating, I like eating chili and popcorn and oven baked sweet potatoes, and I love the lack of yard work, the lack of insects, and the general lack of pressure to do anything at all – it’s like having three months of permission to not leave the house unless you really need to; you don’t have to feel guilty about not being physically active and involved with the world, you can just write it off by saying, “Hey, it’s winter.”

Come to think of it, maybe I actually do live in Iowa because of the weather.