Just get ‘em here
Oct 28, 2009
By Shoshana Hebshi
Photo © 2009 Stan Brewer
By Shoshana Hebshi
It’s been three years and four months since we moved to Des Moines from California, and I keep thinking that the culture shock has waned. But, this last weekend I went back to San Francisco for a friend’s wedding, and again I was able to identify a large number of key differences between my old life and my new life in Iowa.
I don’t want to get into the nitty gritty, because that’s not as important as one comment my friend made while we were visiting. I asked her, for the umpteenth time, to pay us a visit in Iowa. She and her family take vacations in Minneapolis once or twice a year to see family there, and so a quick jaunt down to Des Moines would not be too difficult. Except for the fact that “it’s Iowa,” she told me.
“But we’re there,” I said.
“Still, it’s Iowa,” my friend retorted.
I started to list off the things that were fun to do in the summer in Des Moines, like the Downtown Farmer’s Markets, free concerts in parks, weekend festivals and going to the pool. But then I realized that there would be no convincing her of the merits of Des Moines.
It had been made an indelible image in her mind that Iowa was never worth a visit. Even if her friends had moved there. And even if there were interesting things to do, like going to the Iowa State Fair.
And then, this realization linked in with a breakout session I was in during a conference in Ames last week that discussed the “brain drain” of young, professional Iowans. While the session moderator had little to offer in remedies to cure the outflow of educated, upwardly mobile college grads to other states, it had me thinking of the deep public image problem Iowa has with much of the country—perhaps of the world. Why are people so resigned to leaving or never coming to Iowa?
I’m not sure that even the best public relations campaign would alleviate the problem. But, you never know.
I know there are those Iowans who love it here and will never leave. They cite the safe, clean towns and cities, the affordable cost of living and the pleasant nature of the locals. Some even don’t mind the weather. But, to an outsider, Iowa is the antithesis of progress.
Iowa represents Middle America in a sense that makes it less adventurous a place for a young ‘in to explore. You don’t see many daring 18-year-olds taking a bus from Sioux City to Iowa City to “make it big.” No, they go to Chicago, New York or L.A. They may even go to the Twin Cities.
My point here is not to deflate anyone’s conception of Iowa. Iowa is what it is: honest, reliable and without much of the pomp and glitz saved for American cities flanked by an ocean. Many people in Iowa are quite happy here, despite the weather.
And so it dawned on me that perhaps, more people could be happy here, too, as long as they got over the notion that Iowa is akin to Siberia (which I hear actually has some pretty interesting, beautiful and historic spots if you can get through all the mosquitoes).
So, here’s my idea for a public relations campaign. It’s at the grass roots level, which is popular these days, and it involves all of you. I call it “Bring Them Here.”
Bring your friends living in Denver. Tell them that even though there aren’t steep mountains to ski down, there are rumblings of a rutabaga-curling contest coming to town.
Bring your friends from New York, and take them to the new organic restaurant in downtown Des Moines. They’ll be so impressed with the fact that a place in Iowa has organic food they will automatically think it’s not so bad after all.
Bring your friends from Los Angeles and Seattle and Boston, and mention to them that your three-bedroom, two-bath house cost less than their down payment on their tiny condo. See what their reaction is.
And I will continue to encourage my friends in San Francisco to visit us in Des Moines and tour the farmer’s market, come to the international food festival, see some live music and pay just $5 for a cocktail, and notice how when you walk down the street in my neighborhood you aren’t worried about getting mugged.
If we do this, then one by one, family by family, we can bust open the myths and misconceptions about Iowa and educate the broader world that being in the middle of the country doesn’t mean a place is automatically bereft of all the good things in life.
Shoshana Hebshi is a freelance writer and editor living in Des Moines. She graduated this summer with a master’s in journalism from Iowa State. Read more at http://shebshi.wordpress.com