Monday, December 17, 2012

You Really Ought to Give Iowa a Try

"Science Friday" Recommendations

I went off to college in Iowa—a far cry from my native Virginia—with an equal lack of justification and enthusiasm for such a big, peculiar move. Why Iowa? bemused East Coasters would ask me. I’d shrug in response. “To do something different!” I’d cheerfully proffer, but inside, I was asking myself the same question. 

My first few months there, I was not impressed. The airport was, quite literally, in a cornfield. The nearest mall was a half hour’s drive away. And speaking of driving, it was sixteen hours to my home. If you had asked me on September 1st if I would be coming back next semester, I would have laughed in your face. 

But something happened. Gradually, I fell in love with Iowa, an affection that not only persists but has led to me—now living in Manhattan, ironically about as far removed as you can get—making more than one heated dinner-party defense of the state. DON’T crack any corn jokes around me unless you’re FROM there. I will TAKE YOU DOWN. 

I could throw facts at you—like, Iowa has the highest literacy rate in the U.S.; it has the third largest wind power economy (if, like me, you have family concerned with being green), after Texas and California (two states which otherwise dwarf Iowa in both size and population); it ranks first in pork, corn, egg, and ethanol production and second in soybean and red meat—but really, who cares. Instead, here are some facts you can do something with. 


If the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (
RAGBRAI) is good enough for Lance Armstrong, it’s good enough for you. Iowa’s not as flat as you think it is, so start training now for the 472-mile race, which takes place in July. 

Iowa State Fair is internationally acclaimed and draws more than a million people every August. A 150-year-plus tradition, it was the inspiration for State Fair and hosts blue ribbon competitions, exhibitions, grandstands, food, entertainment, camping, and—the BUTTER COW. 

Hike, fish, camp, and grill out in the breathtaking 
Palisades-Kepler State Park or go canoeing on beautiful Lake MaCbride; catch an up-and-coming playwright’s work at Iowa City’s Riverside Theatre or visit the world’s largest collection of the works of Iowa native Grant Wood at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. 


My college town is host to the 
Lincoln Café, a restaurant with a world-class chef and national buzz (it’s been written up in everything from O Magazine to the NYTimes). Don’t pass up the dinner specials—smoked elk/grilled guinea hen/Alaskan halibut are some samples from a menu that changes weekly; but come back at lunchtime for the spicy chicken sandwich or the mushroom puree soup. BYO, or stop by the Lincoln’s newly opening wine bar a couple doors down. 

Think Iowa’s solely comprised of pork-lovers? Try Iowa City’s all-organic, vegan restaurant 
The Red Avocado or head downtown to vegetarian Masala. 

If you’re cooking at home, the 
New Pioneer co-op, also in Iowa City, will spoil you for Whole Foods, or pick up cheese, sausage, and beer in the historic Amana Colonies. 

And last but not least, I have tried every burrito New York has to offer: Chipotle, Blockheads, Rachel’s, Uncle Moe’s, Mezcal’s, Burritoville, Arriba Arriba, you name it. I’ve given up in disgust, not having found anything to match the deliciousness of 
Panchero’s. I used to joke about having visiting friends bring me a Panchero’s burrito in a Thermos on the plane. 

I’m not joking anymore. 


Thinking of filming a movie? Consider Iowa. No permits. No location fees on state property. Tax incentives. 
Check it out. 


In the end, though I’ll probably never move back there, I can’t help missing Iowa: the legendary, genuine friendliness of everyone you meet; the clean, quiet beauty of your surroundings; the sheer spatial luxury of what it’s like to be in a state whose total population is one-fourth of New York City’s. Living there for four years gave me insight into another way of life—one that might not be for everyone, but is unforgettable to experience. 

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