Friday, August 12, 2005

Small town Iowa

We drove down to Washington, IA tonight to see my in-laws and to sign some paperwork pertaining to our house here. While we were driving down here, I was wondering why rural eastern Iowa doesn't seem as Texas Chainsaw Massacre as rural western Iowa. I mean, they're the same state, not all that different of demographics (although the eastern half of Iowa does seem to be a little bit more urban--well as urban as you can get and still be Iowan) and peppered with the same type of small towns that pretty much make up the whole of western Iowa. And I think that the biggest reason it's not all Leatherface scary is that it's not flat. It's that simple.

Driving through towns like What Cheer, West Chester and Sigourney made me realize how happy I was to leave small town Iowa. It's not like I sit around in Ames and pine for the days of living in Washington (although I do miss the Chinese restaurant here) replete with its local politics of name, rank and how many relatives you have buried in the local cemetery. You can live in a small town for 60 years and still be a stranger to most and "that new guy" to pretty much everyone. There was a time when Heidi and I thought that we were small town people, having been raised in small towns. But it seems that any more, the liberal/progressive politics that we feel so strongly and living in small towns are pretty much mutually exclusive. And let's face it, rural Iowa is pretty conservative and that's not likely to change. We can talk all about how Iowa's a swing state, but the fact is that if you look in places like Story County where Ames is--Story County went pretty solidly for Kerry, if you look at the results from the individual precincts, it was mostly just Ames (the "city area") that voted Kerry, the rest went pretty much solidly Bush. I remember reading something around the time of the election that even Illinois, which is pretty darn blue and almost a sure bet in the Democratic column, would pretty much undoubtedly be a red state if it weren't for Chicago.

So rural Iowa = red. But, unfortunately, rural Iowa also = dead and dying. It's everywhere you look when you drive through small towns. We've abandoned our small towns for suburbs to big cities--and our big cities have become donuts. I shudder when I think about living in a small town again. It frightens me how insulated they are and how much they can cut themselves off from the outside world. It makes me so glad that I left the one we lived in, no matter how much it might cost me in terms of dollars. It was worth every last penny.

But still, it's sad to see small towns shriveling up and blowing away in the wind.

1 comment:

Sudiegirl said...

Hey...I saw that you wrote about my hometown of Washington, IA...and you are right about the Chinese restaurant blowing others around out of the WATER! You do know that it used to be a drugstore, right? :0)

(Oh, god, do I sound like a townie or what?)

Anyway, I agreed with a lot of things you wrote...esp. about the difference between the eastern and western halves of the state. My ex is from Perry (1/2 hr west of Des Moines), and going past Perry gets pretty desolate until you hit the NE border.

I'm torn about the whole "small town atmosphere" thing, though...when you're a "lifer" like me and people know you because they know your mom, dad, sister, second cousin, grandma, or whoever, and can just come up to you in the grocery store and say any damn thing they want to, it really honks me off. I had a lawyer hire me on the sole qualification that he did my grandparents' taxes. Then he fired me. Now he's in a nursing home and thinks he's Napoleon or something (not a great loss...he was a crappy lawyer).

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed your stay, and have some crab rangoon for me!