Life in Iowa (and the midwest)

November 21, 2009

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A substantial portion of the readers from The Soap Boxers are from the midwest, but we also have other people spread out over quite a geographic area – not just in the United States and Canada, but spread out across Europe and Asia as well (with the occasional visitor from Australia or New Zealand spread it).  Today’s article is mostly geared toward the out of area readers.


When I say that I’m from Iowa, you might immediately jump to the conclusion that I grew up on a pig farm.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

It was a dairy farm.

While it’s true that a considerable portion of Iowa’s economy is tied to the agriculture industry, it is far from the only industry in the state.  My own “day job” is working in the information technology area of one of the most recognizable companies in the country.  Quite a few Fortune 500 companies have a presence in Iowa, and there are plenty of white collar jobs in the state.

Cost of Living

One of the best things about the midwest is a substantially lower cost of living than on the coasts.  I live in a city that is more expensive than most in the state, but it’s laughably less expensive than New York, San Francisco, Seattle, or even the larger metro areas within the midwest.  On the rare occasion that I watch a real estate show that watches people buy homes in other cities, I have to laugh.  People are paying multiples of what my house costs and getting a fraction of the space.

Caveat: salaries in cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Seattle can often by higher than those in the midwest.

Weather / Traffic

The midwest is blessed/cursed by the existence of seasons.  We don’t have the consistently frigid temperatures of Point Barrow or the baking heat of Death Valley, but it does get over 100 degrees in the summer and wind chills can dip to fifty degrees below zero in the winer (although that is fairly rare).  During the course of the year, we’ll get rain, snow, sleet, hail, freezing rain, fog, and even something fun called “wintry mix”.

One quirky thing that we do in Iowa answer the question of “How far is it to point X” in miles!  Why don’t we give the answer in minutes?  Well, because there’s a pretty standard conversion factor that everyone knows.  1 mile = 1 minute.  I work in one of the larger cities in the state, and a “major” traffic delay means 15-30 minutes.  A few years ago, I was delayed for nearly an hour!  For someone in NYC, this might not sound like much of a delay, but it’s historic around here 🙂


Considering that Iowa has the first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucuses, you may jump to the conclusion that Iowans are, by nature, very political people.  This really isn’t the case, though.  The registered voters in the state are split pretty evenly between Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters.  The Democrats have done well in recent elections, but any given election can turned based on how the substantial block of unaffiliated voters swing.

The big political news this year was the state supreme court legalizing gay marriage.  Iowa has never been known as an activist state, so this came as a surprise to many.  Opponents of gay marriage are proposing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.  However, it’s difficult to even get such a measure on the ballot.  Such a measure must pass in the state house and senate in TWO consecutive state assemblies (an assembly lasts two years) before going in front of the voters.  With the Democrats in control of the state legislature, there is not chance of this occurring any time soon.  The next chance the Republicans would have to gain control would be in the 2011-2012 general assembly, meaning that it will be 2013, at the very earliest, before this measure could go in front of voters (since it must pass in TWO assemblies) – where it would face an uncertain fate.

What to Do – Sports

Iowa has no top-level professional sports teams.  However, we are within an easy day’s drive of Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Kansas City, and Milwaukee (or a more aggressive day’s drive to quite a few other cities).  So sports fans in Iowa aren’t completely shut out.  A nice bonus to this is that you don’t feel compelled to lock in to one particular sports team.  The fan base within the state is fractured.  The Cubs have a plurality among baseball fans, but there’s also a strong contingent of Cardinals and White Sox fans.  The Vikings probably have the most football fans right now, but this tends to flip-flop between the Vikings, Bears, and Packers depending on who is doing the best on the field.

The biggest sporting events in the state, however, are the college sports.  Iowa is the only state that has a team in both the Big 12 (Iowa State) and Big 10 conferences.  This leads not only to debates about which team is better, but also which conference is better.  (Iowa State and the Big 12 are better, of course).

If you’re a fan of college wrestling, Iowa is a great state for you.  Wrestling legends Dan Gable and Cael Sanderson wrestled for Iowa State, with Iowa native Gable later switching sides and turning the Iowa wrestling program into a juggernaut.  During the season, quite a few wrestling matches are televised on the state’s PBS station.

There are also quite a few race tracks in the state, ranging from go-kart tracks in the smaller towns all the way up the the Iowa Speedway in Newton, which features NASCAR Nationwide and truck racing, as well as an IRL race.

There are five affiliated minor league baseball teams (headlined by the AAA Iowa Cubs) as well as an independent league team in the state.  There is also the Field of Dreams movie site in Dyersville (a hop-skip-and-a-jump from my hometown).  It has been twenty years since the movie came out, but the field still attracts visitors.  Admission is free.  They do accept donations and will happily sell you merchandise.

What to Do – Non-Sports

OK, I realized that not everyone is a sports fan.  What is there for the non-sports fan to do?  Well, of course there is access to activities in the larger metro areas mentioned earlier, but what is there to do within Iowa itself?

Hebert Hoover Presidential Library – It might surprised you to know that Iowa is home to a presidential library.  The library and music of native Herbert Hoover can be found in West Branch.

Cable Cars – Cable cars aren’t just for San Francisco.  You can recreate the experience in Dubuque, riding up the side of a hill in a cable car.  I was there when I was a kid, and it was pretty cool.

Burial MoundsEffigy Mounds National Monument features more than 200 Native American burial mounds, including 31 that were formed into the shapes of animal.

The Bridges of Madison Country – Yep, Iowa is the home of the covered bridges of movie fame.

Rivers – Iowa is bordered by the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.  This provides great access for fisherman (and fisherwomen), and has also resulted in interesting topography for hikers.  Personally, I like the bluffs along the Mississippi.

The Basilica of State Francis Xavier – Don’t think there’s gothic architecture in Iowa?  Check out the Basilica and you won’t be disappointed.

RAGBRAI – Every year, thousands of people participate in this ride across this state.  It’s half exercise and half party.  Well, maybe that’s not the exact percentage 🙂  They change the route every year (but it’s always west to east)

I’ve just scratched the surface … swing by and visit Iowa some time.

One Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Evan Kline
    Nov 21, 2009 @ 12:48:43

    Interesting stuff. One of the paralegals that works in our office is originally from Davenport, and her family is still back there. Whenever she heads back for a visit, we tease her about heading home to milk the cows and the like, even though we know that isn’t the case. If I feigned ignorance about Iowa before, I surely will have to do so now.


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