Iowa City is one of my deepest passions. I loved it from the moment I laid eyes on it, but it’s complicated. Like most mature relationships between complex individuals, it’s complicated, but it’s never boring.
IC takes my breath away—from all its angles in any season.
It’s not only stunningly beautiful, but also incredibly smart and well-read. A UNESCO City of Literature—it was the third City of Lit to be named and so far, the only one in the western hemisphere.
So many other cities in Iowa try to be like IC, but they fall short. There’s an ambivalent cool factor here that just can’t be imitated. Become too aware of your cool—and you’ve lost it. You might as well be from Ames or Sioux City.
In addition to its beauty and its smarts, it has a down-to-earth quality that is surprising in a town where president wanna-bes gather and Pulitzer winners hang out.
All this doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes have the urge to run away, to walk unfamiliar streets among complete strangers. To luxuriate in other towns—that maybe have rivers larger than ours (not that size really matters) or to see a mountain or two or even, (gasp) an ocean. Sometimes, I even have a craving for a smaller town—following my romantic notions of rural living.
So I take a road trip and I visit another town or two. Maybe I even spend some money—eat in a diner or shop in one of those stores on main street that has a bell on the door that rings as the customers enter and leave.
But I always come back. Happier to be here than I was happy away. Happy to be in my beautiful, smart, well-read, cool, modest town that welcomes me—and everyone else who loves it—with a wink and a Mona Lisa smile. I look around and I still can’t put my finger on why I love it so, it’s complicated—or maybe it’s simple—either way, that’s ok. IC just does its thing—while its admirers smile and sigh and delight in its presence.
It’s beautiful to me from all its angles–coming into town on Dubuque Street—a vista that used to be lit by Hancher Auditorium—or driving along Church Street in the fall as the yellow leaves from the locust trees rain down onto the street. These views still take my breath away.
Sure, it has its quirks—maybe more quirks than other towns of its size. We have a population of people who deeply care about issues—but it often seems that there’s not a critical mass that cares about any single issue. We so frequently assume that we’re the leaders in the state on ‘cool’ that sometimes we forget to lead the way in doing interesting or progressive things. For us, it’s sometimes just the reputation—we don’t actually have to do anything–