I’ve got a problem with hashtags.
In particular, this one: #thisiswhyimovedto[_____]
I usually see them on a Facebook or Instagram post from a friend who doesn’t live in Iowa anymore, and usually alongside a photograph: two feet and a cold drink, with a sandy beach and beautiful ocean in the background. Or a beautiful sunset with a majestic view of the mountains. Or swimsuits and sun during a month of the year that us Midwesterners are still wearing parkas.
In place of the [___], the author inserts the city or state they moved to: California. Florida. Boulder. Somewhere other than Iowa.
So why does this particular hashtag rile me up?
Iowa is known for a few things: corn, pigs, and (unfortunately) Steve King.
It isn’t known for its stellar weather. For about three months out of the year, it’s really wonderful here. For another three months, it’s just tolerable—either scorching hot, or chilly but not freezing. The other six months it’s downright awful.
From November to the end of April, we become hermits. Our skin turns pale while everything outside turns brown. The sky is overcast so much of the time that those rare days when blue shines through are almost startling. When there’s snow cover, the slate-gray sky becomes indistinguishable from the earth.
The view pales in comparison to the Rockies or the Appalachians. There are no snow-capped mountains. We’re land-locked, which means no white-sand beaches, no crashing ocean waves. Iowa is flat as a pancake for the most part, with the occasional rolling hill.
Iowa has zero professional sports teams. We’re not a tourist destination. No one plans Iowa vacations (unless they’re baseball die-hards heading to Field of Dreams). Our primary exports are corn, tractors, pork, and college graduates.
For all intents and purposes, nobody should ever willingly live in this place, right?
But here’s the thing: Iowa’s shitty weather, boring landscape, and lack of attractions are not why I stay.
I stay for the people.
I stay for the selfless, kind, and humble Iowans who make life here every day more pleasant. Like the 50-something gentleman who was restocking shelves at our local Fareway yesterday. Squeak walked up to the man, reached into the box next to him, and pulled out a container of white powdered donuts. Then he walked away with them. The gentleman turned, laughed at the little swiper, and then said to me, “Is he with you? Would you like those? Just take them. For free.” Then he walked over to the checkout line to make sure we didn’t get charged for the donuts. Squeak was on cloud nine—pretty sure that nice man made his whole weekend.
I stay for the two women who saw me struggling to change a flat tire in the dark and cold Radisson parking lot last month. Though they probably had somewhere to be, they stopped and helped me get the jack in the right place and arm-wrestle the lug nuts. One even took on the job of jumping on the tire wrench, since I was wearing heeled boots that made the task impossible.
Living here, you never run out of these kinds of stories. When a neighbor suffered chest pains this week, two other neighbors stepped up to gather his children from daycare and feed them dinner, allowing his wife to be by his side at the hospital. The local photographer who volunteers her time to take pictures of kids with Santa, and later spends an entire day culling over 2,000 photos which she’ll give away for free.
These kind of people are one reason I stay.
I stay for my people.
I don’t pretend that Iowa has the market cornered on good humans. There are generous folk in all 50 states.
The reason I stay in Iowa is because my people are in Iowa. My mother, and my father. Two of my three sisters. My three amazing, beautiful, and talented nephews and my sweet niece. My grandmother.
And the amazing group of people who make such an impact on me, yet aren’t bound to me by blood. My friends. The friends from our neighborhood, friends from volleyball, friends from my old gym, friends from my new gym, friends from work, friends made through mutual friends, friends made because our kids are in daycare or school together….
So many people, making my life here rich and fulfilling and something I would never give up for a sandy beach or a mountain view.
I stay for quality of life.
You can define “quality of life” pretty broadly, but in this case, I’m talking about money. Your dollars go much farther in the Midwest than the coast.
We bought our house, a three-bedroom ranch, brand new for less than $200k. At the same time we were house-hunting, my husband’s friend and his wife were doing the same thing… in Los Angeles. They ended up with a two-bedroom home without central air for $600k.
We aren’t wealthy. My husband’s a stand-up comedian, for pete’s sake. If you knew how little they make for the average comedy club gig, you’d buy a lot more of their T-shirts and CDs after the show, I promise you. But we have a nice home, with a good-sized yard, and I have a relatively short and stress-free commute to work.
Last night I went to dinner with three of my closest girlfriends. We arrived at a new restaurant in town, a 12th-floor restaurant atop a brand-new hotel, and learned there was a 90-minute wait for a table. We were secretly happy—more time to enjoy good food and great conversation. The bar was full, so we stepped onto the glass-enclosed outdoor patio to wait.
It was 31ºF outside, but the restaurant had set up radiant tabletop heaters. We took in the phenomenal view that surrounded us on three sides while sipping wine with our mittens on. The city positively glittered beneath us. I paused to reflect on how lucky I was to be here at this very minute, with these wonderful people. The view before us would rival any other, but it was the people that made the moment so magical.
When my children put on a dance performance with their four cousins at my mother’s house over Christmas, I’ll remember: this is why I stay. When a friend has surgery and her loved ones rally to feed her family for two straight weeks, I’ll remember: this is why I stay.
I’m making a concerted effort to counter these #thisiswhyimoved Facebook posts. Whenever something happens that could only happen here, I’ll tag it with #thisiswhyistay. I hope my friends and family in Iowa, and any other “flyover state,” will join me.
A message for the former Iowans
To my friends who have departed Iowa and left the Midwest behind: it’s okay to enjoy the perks of where you live now. Your beach photo was truly beautiful. But let’s not kid each other: I know you spent two hours going two miles on the 101 the following day, trying to get to work.
Let me be clear: none of us are here in Iowa for the weather or the view.
We’re here for the people. The people are why we stay.
You’re always welcome to come back and be one of them. 🙂
P.S.—The image above is of the High Trestle Bridge outside Madrid, Iowa. If you haven’t ridden the High Trestle Trail, put it on your list, and plan to trek across the High Trestle Bridge at dusk or in the dark. This bridge-turned-art-installation is a beautiful sight, and the sky-high view of the Des Moines River valley is amazing. So I guess I retract my earlier statement about Iowa having boring views, LOL!