Monday, July 13, 2009

A Stop In Iowa City

After yesterday's family function, I headed out to Iowa City to stay for a day or so. It is the home of the University of Iowa and I must say it is about the most beautiful campus I've ever seen! I'm biased some as I went to school there, but built into the banks of the Iowa River, it really is scenic. And not only is it scenic, it is integrated perfectly into the downtown commercial district, so classical stone institutional classroom buildings are across the street from bars, restaurants, bookstores and art galleries. Of the half dozen university towns I've spent time in, it is by far my favorite!

The Iowa River splits the university - athletics, medical and nursing schools on the west side, and most everything else on the east. The crest of the east bank of the Iowa is dominated by the Pentacrest - the original 5 buildings of the University, with the Old Capitol Building at their center. Old Cap served as the territorial capital and the State Capital for the first decade until the legislature voted to move it to the more central Des Moines. The building then became the first permanent University building back in 1857. It was used for classes for over a century and used for offices since. Unfortunately, during external renovations in 2001, an open flame torch accidentally set the wooden dome on fire and the dome was destroyed. Rebuilt and recovered with gold leaf, the building was reopened in 2006 and currently serves as a museum. The Pentacrest is a natural meeting and demonstration location - I remember well my first semester at Iowa when presidential candidate George McGovern made an appearance just before the '72 election. With the expanses of green trees and lawn, I think this Arizonan took more pictures of it today than in the previous 35 years!

I'm staying (as with most overnight stays at UI) at the hotel located at the Student Union. Called the Iowa House, it is a perfect location to stay - very reasonable walks to athletic events, food and functions in Iowa City without using the car. I've not moved the van since parking it in the ramp 24 hours ago! Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, today starts incoming freshman orientation, and I was lucky to snag a room for tonight. Everyone and their family is walking around campus today, and there were literally dozens of guided tours in small groups wandering around in the morning.

There are a few pilgrimages I make nearly every trip I go to Iowa City, though it has been nearly 3 years since staying overnight. I usually look up my friend Ann - I think the only connection to my student days 30-some years ago. She was actually my supervisor for a semester when I drove for the Cambus bus system after I graduated and wasn't working towards a degree. Miraculously, we've stayed in touch over the decades - she works at the UI Library and we get together to chat over lunch as I pass through. I knew her small son those decades ago, and now Ann shows pictures of her grandchildren. Today we were joined by my nephew Jeff and his sister Sarah, both living in the area, who joined us for lunch.

Another trip I must make every time is a visit to Prairie Lights Bookstore. Located a block from the Physics building, where I took most of my classes, it is perhaps the best independently owned bookstore in the Midwest. While smaller than your typical Borders or Barnes and Noble megastore, it is amazing at the selection of books you WANT to read, and it is a rare trip I can get out the door without spending $100. The staff is great too - I went in once with a book I'd heard about on a long-ago NPR segment, but had forgotten the title, and they were able to connect my verbal book description to the book without title or author. Now THAT is knowing your product! The store also promotes authors by hosting readings and festivals. One of the employees saw one of my book selections and asked if I knew the authors were going to be in the store Saturday! It really is one of the true destination attractions in Eastern Iowa!

Another pilgrimage I made was to my favorite bar/restaurant from 35 years ago - The Sanctuary. Located a few blocks from the center of the business district, it was known for it's cheesy pizza back then - I wasn't so much of a beer drinker back then (don't forget the drinking age was 18 then!). I had stopped in 3 years ago with Melinda, and did a solo trip today, getting a small Sanctuary Special Pizza (most all of the top 6 or 7 ingredients) and a pint of Dead Guy Ale from Oregon's Rogue Brewery - a great combo! Not only was the food good, but they had some great music in the background (a little jazzy for my 70s taste, but Tony Bennett seemed perfect this trip). Also, the waitress had a copy of the Sunday New York Times travel section for me to peruse while my food was being prepared - now THAT is full service!

Hitting the road in the morning towards Dallas - first west to Des Moines, then south to Kansas City, Wichita, and Oklahoma City. Hoping to get to the latter before stopping for the day...

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