Saturday, December 08, 2007

Q: When is it over?

A: January 4

Lately Des Moines, IA has been getting a lot of attention. You’d have to be brain dead to not see that city is in the news just about everyday. Rudy’s in Des Moines, Hillary’s in Des Moines, Oprah is in Des Moines, the Dodds have moved to Des Moines. Des Moines, Des Moines, Des Moines.

I lived in Des Moines IA from 1998 to around 2002. One time in 2000 I even got to see Al Gore giving a stump speech on the side of Ingersoll Ave, standing on a jury rigged stage.

So, I like to think that I know a thing or two about the place.

Des Moines is a great place to raise kids. It’s safe, cheap and clean. Overall, the people are friendly and helpful. The library system is first rate and the Downtown Y has an amazing Executive Club. The city is tolerant. It has synagogues and a gay bar, maybe two. You can get a very decent cup of coffee in an independent café. A few years back Starbucks moved in. But, Zanzibar seems to be holding its own, regardless. And, there is more than one “art” movie house. The city has a lot going for it.

That’s the good news.

On the other hand, it is very cold in the winter. There is not a lot of diversity in terms of how to make a living. It's pretty much insurance and financial services. You can work for The Principal, Wells Fargo, CitiGroup, ING, etc. These are big companies that have HR departments that really matter. It’s hard making a buck if you are a dancer or play reggae music as a way of life. Believe me I know; I tried to get over playing reggae music in Des Moines. I ended up contract coding at Wells Fargo to feed the kids. (I should have known better.)

As I said, the place is cheap. A starting brass player for the Des Moines Symphony Orchestra will make about $5,000 a season. The minimum for a player in the Chicago Symphony is $104,000. Serious players do not stay in Des Moines, unless you're part of Slipknot.

Educationally the place values test scores more than creativity. The fact is not lost on me that one of the standard tests for educational achievement used nationally is the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. If I had to sum up going to school in Des Moines, I could imagine a t-shirt that says, “I am from Iowa. I test well.”

In Des Moines, those that get ahead follow the rules. But, this can be said of any place.

This is the first presidential election in a long, long time where the candidacy for for both parties is on the line. Sort of funny in way: On January 3th, 2008 a few thousand people will get together for the Iowa Caucuses and make some decisions that will dramatically shade the course of American politics for a long time to come.

Sort of puts Des Moines in the center of things. Breakfast joints that usually serve deep fried hash browns to truck drivers, secretaries and hung over college students from DMACC and Drake have become newsworthy.

But as we know from the story of Cinderella, the clock does indeed strike midnight.

On January 4th it will be all over. NBC, CBS, PBS, FOX News, The NY Times, Hillary, Barack, Mitt and Rudy will pack up their tents and leave town. The party will be over figuratively and literally. Left behind in their wake will be a very small, industrious city that has a pretty stagnant population of about 200,000, (620,00 metro) with a part time, figurehead mayor who is paid $31,500 a year (the city manager really calls the shots), where the per capita income is about $20K and making a living is a very, very, very hard activity for most people.

Des Moines will still be a great place to raise kids and still a place that is trying very hard to become better. All it really needs is for Oprah to pay attention when Barack is not in town.