Monday, November 4, 2013

Starting Anew in Des Moines

The streets of downtown are dead, completely deserted. The most activity is going on just outside our hotel, as the valets bring around cars for guests who have just checked out. My boyfriend and I put our headphones in and begin our jog through downtown Des Moines and over to the river, where we hope to get a better feel for the city where Steve's sister has decided to live. Once we locate the river walk, we make our way south for about a mile before we reach the point where the water forks. We are forced to head down the other part of the fork, but the path ends shortly after that, and we must turn around. The lack of runner-friendly areas certainly hurt my impression of the city, and I started to wonder if Amy would be happy here.

The trip began early Saturday morning. Steve, his brother Randy, and I woke before sunrise and piled into the car and then headed out to Crystal Lake. Once there, we helped Amy and Steve's mom pack all of her furniture, clothes and boxes into three cars. It's amazing how much stuff one person can accumulate. By about 9am, we were on the road heading west to Des Moines.

Now, you may be asking why Amy was making the move to Iowa. Well, her boyfriend got a job there, and since she was only working a part time job and couldn't find anything full time in Chicago, she decided it was better to be with him in Des Moines. It's a pretty big decision, and a major change for her. She's been living at home the last year and a half, a place where she's comfortable and has a good support system. So this was certainly life changing.

It takes about five hours to get to Des Moines, but we managed to stay entertained (thanks to Ted Radio Hour, one of our favorite podcasts; and some retro music that took us back to the glory days of high school). The scenery also made the drive much more enjoyable. I am a city girl, through and through, but I can certainly appreciate the beauty of the country. The fall colors are so vibrant, with the trees sprawling for miles and miles. There were times where I got lost in the mixture of golds, reds and oranges. I love fall.

Before long, we reached our destination and made our way to Amy's new apartment. Her boyfriend, Zach, lives right down the road from Drake University in an old cow milking barn that had been converted into rustic-style lofts. It was actually really cool, I liked it a lot. The only problem is that his place is one room, so if she wants some privacy, that will be hard to come by. She'll need to figure out a way to separate the room, it'll be an escape for both of them.

We moved everything in pretty quickly, and then headed downtown to the Marriott where we were staying. I was excited to see what the city was like, but I quickly learned that it wasn't all that exciting, at least on the weekend. We were clearly in the business/financial district, so most places were closed and the streets were relatively empty.

After we freshened up a bit, we walked down Grand Avenue and crossed the river into historic East Village. Finally, we saw a crowd of people in front of the restaurant Amy and Zach recommended for dinner. Apparently, Zombie Burger is the place to be on Saturday nights, because we waited over an hour for a table. Luckily, they had some delicious (and strong) beers on tap, so we enjoyed a drink while we waited.

When we were finally seated over an hour later, I was about to faint from hunger--or maybe it was that 12% ABV I had. Either way, I prayed that this place was worth the wait. And it definitely is. The menu  is filled with some very unique burgers, with names like East Village of the Damned, 28 Days Later, The Walking Ched, Undead Elvis and Envy Corpse, to name a few. I went for the Fulci (brie cheese, prosciutto, caramelized + raw onion and truffle mayo), Steve and his brother went for The Walking Ched (breaded + deep fried macaroni + cheese bun, bacon, cheddar cheese, caramelized + raw onion, macaroni + cheese, mayo), Amy picked the Raygun (monterey jack, fried jalapeƱos, caramelized onion, bacon, guacamole, chipotle mayo) and Steve's mom got the Undead Elvis (peanut butter, fried bananas, bacon, American cheese, egg, mayo). And if you think it sounds crazy, it looked even crazier.

After we raised our chance of heart attack, Amy and Zach took us to a great bar just outside of downtown, called El Bait Shop. Housed in what looked like an old trailer/cabin from the outside, the bar had walls covered in different beer taps, road signs, images of famous guests, retro posters and much more. The beer menu was just as varied. I decided to try an Iowa beer called Twisted Vine Honey Harvest. We sipped our beers and chatted for a while, but soon the food and the alcohol hit us all and we decided to call it a night. On the way back to the hotel, we walked the Des Moines skywalk, a maze of indoor bridges connecting all the buildings in downtown, especially helpful in cold weather months.

The next morning, Steve and I woke up early for our run. After running for only a couple miles and finding ourselves at a dead end, we made the best of it and headed back, but took a slightly different path. We made our way over the river and back into East Village, where the capital building and many other major political structures stand. It was here where my image of the city shifted. In the morning sun, the majestic buildings shined among the changing colors of the trees. As we jogged around, we discovered some beautiful public art structures and found an impressive view of downtown. I had to admit, it didn't look so bad. 

I will admit I had preconceived notions of Des Moines, of Iowa as a whole. I believed there was just cornfields and some small towns, and that's about it. I'm not completely wrong, I've driven through it many times and there is a lot of corn. But I was pleasantly surprised at Des Moines. There's more there than I expected, and, apparently, it was ranked a top city to live in because of its economic growth potential. I'm not saying I would move there myself, but for two young people in their twenties just starting out in their professional careers, it definitely has potential.

We ran back to the hotel, packed everything up and made our way over to Amy and Zach's neighborhood for a farewell brunch at Drake Diner. There aren't many brunch places in Des Moines, so, naturally, the wait was pretty long. But living in Chicago, I'm accustomed to long brunch lines. When we finally sat down, we quickly ordered and scarfed down our food. And then it was time to say goodbye.

Amy and her mom cried as they hugged each other, and I could feel tears brimming as I remembered saying goodbye to my mom nearly 10 years ago. It wasn't as emotional, but it was tough leaving a person who was always there for me, who was a strong support system for the first 18 years of my life. But you have to let go, because every parent wants their child to be independent, to live on their own and support themselves. 

We waved our final goodbyes, hopped in the car and prepared for the long drive back to Chicago. And as we merged onto the highway, I looked back one more time and said a little prayer for Amy and Zach, wishing them all the best as they embarked on a new journey in their new home.

1 comment:

  1. There's a LOT more to the city and 'burbs than you saw. Give your sis some time and she'll figure out just how much really is going on.