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Iowa’s Cool – Except When It’s Hot

The run-up to the Iowa caucuses is when all the presidential candidates remind us how cool they think Iowa is. (At least they say Iowa is cool, but we can’t be sure that the latter signifies the former.) Bernie Sanders said so four or five times on Thursday at a rally in Central Park in Grinnell. To justify the title of this essay, let me note that he also commented on the heat (it was 90 F) in the context of advocating for universal health care, suspecting that some of his audience were going to suffer heat strokes. Martin O’Malley said so a few times last Sunday, and although I didn’t see Hillary Clinton or the Republican presidential hopefuls at the Iowa State Fair in August I would bet they all said so, too.

Most Iowans I know agree, except for those who don’t. Generally, I find that people everywhere tend to be chauvinistic about their home turf, especially when it’s being criticized, but some talk that way at other times. Iowa-born author Bill Bryson (I recommend his hilarious memoir, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid), interviewed for the August 30th issue of Talk magazine, was asked, “What do you think of the fact that your home state has such an important role in our presidential politics?” He replied, “I’m obviously biased here, but I’ve always thought that the Midwest is the most sane and sensible part of the country. And the closer you get to Iowa, the more it becomes that way. I really do sincerely feel that there’s a bedrock decency there. It’s the state’s finest quality.”

I had my own Iowa’s cool experience a couple of weeks ago. I was driving through New Sharon, a small town twenty miles south of Grinnell, about six in the afternoon and saw a small produce truck parked on the side of the road with a tarp set up off the rear end under which a colorful assortment of freshly picked vegetables was for sale. No one was around.

Produce truck parked in New Sharon, IA

On a white board was written, “Self-Serve. Leave money here. If you don’t have right change come as close as you can or pay some time else. Thank you.” My faith in humanity temporarily restored, I paid for some tomatoes and potatoes and drove further to a parcel of land in Mahaska County owned by a group of ten Grinnell families, including mine, to ramble through the prairie - one authentic Iowa moment followed by another.

Baskets of vegetables with a sign explaining their self-service honor system