Travelblog: Iowa State
A trip to Iowa is a trip outside the box. Missouri and Kansas and Nebraska, places we’ve gone forever on the Big 12/Big Eight circuit, seem a little different than Oklahoma, but also seem a little the same. Texas seems a lot the same.
But Iowa? Iowa feels completely different. Iowa feels like a different part of the country, perhaps because it is. Feels like the Upper Midwest. Feels like the Big Ten.
I always enjoy going to Iowa. And this time, I went with three novices. Writers Jason Kersey (JK McKay) and Stephanie Kuzydym (Nancy Sue) and videographer Damon Fontenot (Johnny Damon) were all making their Ames debut.
Here’s what we found.
DOWNTOWN DES MOINES
We landed in Des Moines around 4 p.m., and with the sun setting earlier than what we get in Oklahoma, our exploration time was limited. But we made the most of it.
We drove past the magnificent Iowa capitol building. Constructed between 1871 and 1886, it is the nation’s only five-domed capitol. It sits on a large hill east of downtown, with monuments and statues surrounding. The architecture is fabulous, Renaissance style, they say. A few years ago, I ranked all the state capitol buildings I’d seen, and I ranked Des Moines No. 1. Here’s what I said about it then: “Golden dome, with a belvedere and a golden lantern on top. Plus a bonus – four smaller golden lanterns are attached to copper-covered domes at every corner of the building. Those domes are decorated with vertical lines of intermittent gold.”
Just down from the capitol is Principal Park, home of the Pacific Coast League’s Iowa Cubs. Decent-looking stadium, nothing as grand as The Brick, but nice, sitting hard by the Des Moines River.
The park was built in 1992, on the site of the old Sec Taylor Stadium. JK and Nancy Sue jumped out to shoot a photo, because we have working for us the world’s biggest I-Cub fan. Todd Schoenthaler, the pride of Maquoketa, Iowa, is a huge Iowa Hawkeye and Chicago Cub fan, so he takes in the Iowa Cubs whenever they come to OKC. JK emailed Todd a photo of Principal Park, and we figured Todd had consumed a beer or 20 at the Des Moines ballpark. We were right.
Next to the ballpark is an old shack with the sign proclaiming Fort Des Moines, which was founded in 1846. The shack is actually the Barney Sakulin cabin, whch was transplanted from Washington County, Iowa, to commemorate Fort Des Moines and the birth of the city.
Downtown Des Moines is hopping, for a city no bigger than it is – about 200,000 city population, about 570,000 metro.
Back in 2008, I spent five days in Des Moines for an NCAA women’s regional. We stayed downtown, and I really enjoyed it.
Remember the Seinfeld episode when they just walk around a massive New Jersey parking garage, looking for their car? Well, I’ve done that a dozen times.
But I had a new experience Friday at the Will Rogers parking garage. A sign at the entrance proclaimed no spaces except on the roof. Which never has made sense to me. There’s no way every space is filled, because people are constantly coming and going. Oklahoma City is not a one-way airport. People fly in as much as they fly out. And even if you accept the all-full message, you’ve got to drive past all the spaces to get to the roof anyway.
So we start meandering on our odyssey, go up a couple of levels, and I make the observation that this garage is actually well-designed, because you never get the feeling that you’re rising. It’s a very gradual ascent. JK McKay agreed with me.
About two minutes later, Nancy Sue let us know that there was a reason it seemed to level. We were going around in circles. We had passed the same group of cars three times.
DELTA, DELTA, DELTA, CAN I HELP YA, HELP YA, HELP YA
We flew Delta to Des Moines. Here’s my theory on airlines.
Time was, Southwest was fabulous and all the others stunk. Nowadays, Southwest is moderately bearable and all the others stink.
But the connections to Des Moines are limited on Southwest, and I found a good deal on Delta flights, so away we went, with a connection through Minneapolis.
I know, it sounds silly, flying to Minnesota, but look at it this way. It’s about 250 miles from Des Moines to Minneapolis. We don’t think anything of flying 220 miles south to Dallas, then zipping to whichever port. So why is it different flying over Des Moines to get to Minneapolis?
It was a fine connection. But the traditional airlines – Delta, United, American – are a little too steeped in tradition for my taste. Going to Minneapolis, our flight attendant wore a skirt and high heels. What is this? 1964? Southwest has it right on flight attendant wardrobe. Comfortable and practical is the way to go.
Flying anything other than Southwest thrusts you into a class system. No first class on Southwest. But Delta still has first class. This was a different kind of first class. We flew smaller planes than what I’m used to on Southwest. The first class on our Des Moines to Minneapolis leg Sunday morning was about four or five rows deep, but only three seats wide. Two on one side of the aisle, one solitary seat on the other. And on the Minneapolis to OKC leg, first class was the front row.
The head room was limited. The first flight, I couldn’t stand up straight without banging my head. I’m 6-foot-2, so this must have been a six-foot ceiling. The next flight, the ceiling was about 6-4. But that sure makes it awfully tight, in feeling and in practicality.
On the short flight from Minneapolis to Des Moines, the flight attendant didn’t bother taking drink orders. She just walked the aisle with cups and a huge bottle of water, pouring anyone a drink that wanted one. Seemed Spartan until Sunday morning, when on the Des Moines-to-Minneapolis flight, we didn’t even get that.
But Delta did Johnny Damon a solid. He left a pocket camera on the first plane Friday. Someone found it, turned it in and they paged him at the gate in Minneapolis. Presto, he had his camera back. That’s good customer service.
SEINFELD EPISODE II
Speaking of first class, remember the Seinfeld episode where Jerry gets to sit in first class, where he is wined and dined and treated like royalty? Sits next to a model and is lavished with comfort. Meanwhile, Elaine is back in coach, in a tight middle seat, with little comfort. Doesn’t even get a meal that is served to everyone else.
Elaine sneaks into first class, finds an empty seat, sits down to find wondrous comfort and is promptly tossed out. Forced to go back to coach.
Well, I was trying to type on one of Delta’s small planes Sunday morning and just found it too confining. So I zipped up to the front row, into an empty seat, and only then did I realize it was first class. I sat there about three minutes, then returned to my seat.
I can protest with the best of them, but I also don’t like to take things I didn’t earn. Everybody else on the plane paid for coach, too. No reason I should get in a lush seat. But one more reason I prefer the egalitarian culture of Southwest.
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