Iowa City 2014

Iowa City is always an interesting trip. As I posted to Facebook: Jon disappeared down the rabbit hole during a psychedelic concert, my car needed a bath this morning, and we all watched someone lose his shorts over a slice of pizza … yep, just a typical weekend.

Thursday night had me a bit worried. My cat-sitter, Christina, was supposed to show up after work, so it was a bit surprising when she wasn’t waiting for us when we got home. Oh, well, she had probably stopped for dinner. But then I tried to call her, and she her phone was disconnected, which was weird, but Wade said she changes her phone number often. Then I sent her a text through Facebook, and I didn’t get ahold of her, even weirder yet. This person is normally very reliable. Wade said “don’t worry about it. I’ll just stay home this weekend.” While that could be a possibility, I did not like that idea one bit, because I was excited to spend time in Iowa City with Wade, and our friends were all very excited to see Wade.

In the meantime, my friend Phyllis had sent me an e-mail stating “Are we still meeting for lunch tomorrow?” It was the first time I had gotten a response from her about this trip since I had to move my course, but since Wade was now coming with me, we had to hit the bank in the AM, and he drives to Iowa City slower than I do, lunch was not really feasible. I called Phyllis and set up a coffee date.

There was still no sign of, or word from, Christina. I started to worry that something bad had happened. At 9:45, I sent our friend Nikki a message that I wasn’t sure whether or not Wade was coming.

Finally, at 10 p.m., we got a phone call. She asked when we were leaving, and we said “as soon as we can get out of here in the morning.” Christina responded “I’ll be there in 5 minutes.” She was fine – I had a wrong number for her, and she had been sleeping off a major sinus infection, which is why she forgot, but she was fine, which made me happy.

Friday morning, Wade and I dropped by the bank at 8:30 a.m., then ran through both the coffee shop and the gas station for liquid fuel, and we were on our way. We made it to Iowa City around 1 p.m. or so and walked around for a while. There was a place I went to last year that focused on pork, specifically organic specialty pork, and I thought Wade would enjoy that for lunch. All they had for me was a salad, but I could ask for it without bacon and it would be fine. We walked all over downtown and could not find it. Finally Wade said “Do you think it was right there?” He pointed across the street to an empty façade. Yes, it had been right there. Rats. So, we walked back to Micky’s Irish pub. We looked at the menu, and I looked at my husband, and I said “do you think it is too early to drink a beer?” Which I immediately followed with “OK, that was a stupid statement.”

The restaurant offered a beer from a brewery in the town where I grew up called Peacetree Brewing. Peacetree was started by the sister of a guy a graduated with. I was never very fond of Nigel, he was always rather arrogant, and the last I heard of him (other than he’s involved with this brewery which is apparently turning over a lot of money) is that when he was at Iowa State, he got involved with a fraternity, until he pissed off his fraternity brothers, who then stripped him naked and saran-wrapped him to a flag pole.

The beer wasn’t that great, but I am also not big on beer. The food, however, was wonderful. We got an appetizer of housemade soft pretzels with housemade cheese dip, not a Velveeta-sort of dip, but more like cottage cheese blended with finely shredded cheddar cheese and a little mustard. I also ate this amazing spinach salad with tomatoes and avocado, which also included a lovely bed of quinoa with corn and cilantro in it.

Following lunch, we spent time wandering Iowa City, enjoying the vibes. On the way in to the town, I noticed these “Herky the Hawkeye” statues. As we started walking, we noticed that these were all over the town. It’s a “J Doe” project, except with the school mascot, who I have always envisioned as a male bird, but these statues were rather busty. The ones promoting green living also looked more like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than Hawkeyes.
Along with the “Herky” public art, they also have pianos placed sporadically throughout downtown that people can sit at and play whenever desired.

We were supposed to meet Phyllis at Java House for coffee. When I talked to her Thursday night and proposed the Java House, she said “which Java House?” I said “there’s more than one?” Apparently that little local joint, the project of some graduate student in the 1990s, has exploded all over Iowa City. “I said ‘uh, the original Java House?’ ” and so we arranged to meet there. Unfortunately, Phyllis got a flat tire, so I did not get to see her. Well, some things just are not met to be.

After Java House, we visited the Haunted Bookshop, which was in a different location this year. That’s interesting, because a) When I went there last year, I thought I remembered it being in a different location, and b) more importantly, do the ghosts travel with the bookstore? Wade and I found these cute little literary finger puppets that we’re going to give my father for Christmas. Yes, I know Soul Desires has some of these, but the Haunted had a lot more of them. We thought my father could have a good time explaining psychology to his grandchildren by having arguments between Freud, Jung and Nietzsche. Since I was in a haunted bookshop, I made sure to purchase Du Maurier, but I also purchased a small book on journalism and a vegan microwave cookbook.

We met up with our friend Jon Simpson, but unfortunately Amanda had to stay home with the kids. Nikki Philbrick came a few minutes later. Jon really wanted falafel, but Wade wanted Pagliai’s Pizza, so we wandered across the street to the pizza joint, where we scarfed down sodas and two large pizzas. Andrew Philbrick came along right as the first pizza hit the table.

Nikki went back to work after we ate dinner, but the boys and I went to Market Basket on the Ped Mall. Market Basket is sort of a local Wholefoods, but it also has an eat-at deli and patio, so we sat on the patio and listened to the free Friday night community concert, some sort of classic-rock band. I looked at Andrew and said “isn’t this the same band that was playing last year?” He said he thought it was, but oh well. I drank a glass of white and we met Jon’s friend Katherine, a fellow history graduate student. This woman was so liberal and so ragingly feminist that I was taken aback a couple of times, and that takes a lot. I was also reminded of the hierarchy at the University of Iowa – as indicated when it was mentioned a couple of times “Ugh! We only have a couple more weeks, and then the UNDERGRADUATES come back.” (Insert mock fainting scene here.)

While we were there, Jon at one point told Katherine, “there goes Dean Berkowitz” and she rolled her eyes. I heard Berkowitz and said “wait – do you mean Dan Berkowitz of the School of Journalism?” Well, yes, it is the same man, but he’s now dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

We ran after Berkowitz and I said hello. He seemed taken aback and rather standoffish, but that’s kind of who he is, I think he just has become more so.

From Market Basket, we traveled to the Mill, where I decided against drinking the “Hemingway” in favor of the “Fitzgerald.” We drank and played a long, long game of “Nickelodeon”-themed UNO. Around midnight, we parted ways with Jon and Katherine and went back to Nikki and Andrew’s house outside of Iowa City.
Saturday morning, I was so anticipating my day that I watched the sun rise from the window above the bed in which we slept. Nikki set the coffee pot to brew at 6:15 a.m., and we got ready for the day. She and I drank a couple cups of coffee together, then she drove me downtown (she had to go work, again. She is a scheduler/manager for the Iowa City School Bus system, and right now she’s working 60-hour weeks.)
The workshop part of it went well. It felt somewhat “old cap” this year. We started out with breakfast (I ate a wonderful chocolate-filled croissant) and orientation at The Old Capitol, then moved to Schaeffer Hall for the classes. That was another one of Katherine’s beefs – “That Writing Festival is taking over our building!” Schaeffer Hall is mostly the history department, and the history grad students would like for it to not be filled with Writing Festival students.
Classes let out at 4 p.m., and I walked over to Prairie Lights to feel the love and purchase a stack of books. I came away with a signed copy of the instructor’s book and the 2013 Mann Booker Prize winner “the Luminaries,” both of which are written by UI graduates; and a copy of the Orphan Master’s son.
The crew met me there at 5 p.m. or so, and after I purchased my books, we wandered around debating supper for a short while. We stood outside a small, lime-green-painted eatery chatting, and Nikki and Andrew’s good friend Brian Vlasek (who is also a friend of Wade and I’s) came around. As we stood chatting, a guy shot out of the pizza place like a flash of lightning, ran down the stairs and across the street to the green space in front of Van Allen Hall. A man walked out to the landing of the pizza place seconds later and shook his head.
As he crossed the street, I noticed that the man’s shorts were hanging WAY too low. Then he crossed the walkway and jumped over the chain between poles, meant to keep people off the grass. He cleared the low chain, but his shorts fell down to his ankles, causing him to trip and tumble (effectively mooning us all) before he got up and ran away again. The six of us laughed and laughed.
“What happened?” we asked.
“The guy stole a slice,” the worker said. “It happens like three or four times every Saturday. I keep asking the boss if we should do something about this, but he keeps telling me no. The boss says ‘either they really need it, or Karma!’s going to come back and bite them in the ass.’ ”
Welcome to the essence of Iowa City.
As we learned in talking to this shop employee, the owner doesn’t care about losing a few slices of pizza on the weekends because his main business is selling pizza at festivals, like Bonnaroo.
After talking to the shop employee for a few moments, Brian needed to leave, and we decided to eat at this upscale burger joint Nikki recommended. The food was very good – I ate a black bean burger with avocado, a slice of cheese and salsa, and the burger was house-made. It was truly a black-bean patty, no other vegetables were with it. The housemade fries were also excellent, but there was so much food that I ate half of it, and took the other half back downtown to give to one of the hungry/homeless.
Once we finished supper, we traveled back downtown to Gabe’s bar. Gabe’s is where Wade and I used to go to see Uncle John’s Band, a Grateful Dead cover band that has since become the widely-known Dark Star Orchestra. Earlier that day, I noticed a band called “Winterland” was set to play Gabe’s that night, and I said “Oh, honey, we need to go to that.” We hung out in the beer garden for a while, the guys sucking down beer while Nikki and I drank sodas; and we laughed and chatted. At one point, Nikki and I hiked over to a coffee shop for a couple of iced drinks and brought them back to the bar.
Once 9 p.m. hit, the doors opened in the upstairs concert area. The guys were choosing a table at the back of the bar when we realized Nikki was not with us. She was sitting in the best spot in the room, a large table on a raised platform with two older gentlemen waving us over.
One of the gentlemen, Chris Johnson, was the keyboardist. He’s an ophthalmology professor during the day, but “back in the day” he was in a band that opened for the Grateful Dead itself. This was his debut concert with Winterland. The other man was their mutual friend Jim, who was a recently-retired professor of physics and an old-school Deadhead. They were both really cool cats.
We went back to this large spot and spent the concert there. They started out slow, but by the end of set one, they played an amazing “Scarlet Begonias.”
Nikki and I left at intermission because I had papers to read and she had more work to do. Apparently I missed the best of the concert. The opened with “Eyes of the World” rolled through a whole bunch of great songs, and ended with a killer “Casey Jones.” Oh, well. Jon and Wade haven’t been able to hang out in a long time, Andrew was happy to be with them, and Jim became a fast friend. They drank and laughed and had fun.
At one point, Jon bought the guys a round of beers. Wade quit drinking by this point. He set the drinks down, slid back into the booth, and the next thing Wade saw was Jon’s feet kick the bottom of the table and dump all the beer, mostly onto Wade. Jon was gone.
“What the hell happened?” Wade asked, trying to wipe off some beer from his shirt.
The platform where we sat was a large table with three booths. The first booth was along the wall, the second booth was along the little chunk of wall at the top of the stairs, the third booth backed out the dance floor. Also on the third booth were a couple of 2 x 4 boards nailed from the little chunk of wall to the railing for the two stairs you got up to access the platform.
When Jon went to sit down after distributing the beers, he miscalculated the space and fell through the hole where the two booths did not touch.
Jon reappeared a moment later. “Dudes, sorry about that. Is everyone OK?”
“Yeah, Jon, but I got SOAKED!” Wade said. “and I’m supposed to be driving.”
The concert ended, and the crew went back to Andrew and Nikki’s. On the way back, one of the guys called from the backseat, “Hey, Wade, can you pull over?”
Well, Wade wasn’t in a position to pull over, so that guy rolled down the window. He missed the inside of the car, but the outside was coated.
Sunday, we again had coffee with Nikki, and then Wade and I went out for breakfast, then I went to class while Wade went back to Nikki and Andrew’s. Wade met me at 4:30 or so at the public library, and we headed back for Glenwood. In Des Moines, Wade started asking about dinner.
“I do not need dinner, I’m still full from lunch.” I said. I had a vegetarian bagel sandwich, and for the first time in my life, I ordered something sans avocado.
“We should eat something. It’s not good to skip dinner,” Wade said.
“I agree. Whatever you want.” I said. I thought something like McDonald’s would suffice, but Wade wanted to go to Bennigan’s, where we had never eaten, but it’s “Butters’ favorite restaurant.”
Sadly, the menu did not feature the South Park character’s favorite appetizer of mozzarella sticks. “What are you going to get to drink?” Wade asked.
“I think I’ll just have water. I’ve had enough coffee and alcohol this weekend.”
“You sure?”
The waitress came over. “Are you guys ready to order?” She asked.
“Yes, I’ll take the soup and salad combo.” I said.
“OK, can I get you anything to drink?”
“I’ll take an Irish coffee.”
“OK, what about you, sir?” …
An hour and a half later, we were back on the road, and three and a half hours later, we arrived back in the Omaha area.


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