Nov 16, 2007

About Growing Up in Des Moines


It only seems to me reasonable that I write something about growing up in Des Moines Iowa - seeing as I already have said a bunch of stuff about Bill Bryson's growing up there ... I grew up there too. I wasn't born there, I never lived there as an adult, but I did grow up there. The last time I lived there was a month in the summer of 1969, while organizing my own personal exodus from the US to Europe ... after that I never lived in the US at all, let alone DM.

Des Moines is not what people normally call an exciting or interesting place. In fact, as I recall, almost everyone I've ever heard say anything about it, has emphasized the opposite: Des Moines is a boring and uninteresting place. I've even heard: «an excellent place to have come from

I suppose the reason people say that has a lot to do with how Iowa itself fits into the jigsaw puzzle that is the US: Iowa is sort of in the middle of everything: In the middle of the North American continent, and in the middle of statistical rankings about almost everything: 33rd of 51 in population; 29th of 51 in gross domestic product ; 22nd of 51 in crime; 19th of 51 in natural tooth loss; and so forth.

It's hard to find things in which Iowa really excels ... in which Iowa ranks at the top – or for that matter - in which Iowa bottoms out and comes in last. I could find only two or three after a dozen Google searches and an hour's poking at my calculator. On the positive side, Iowa tops out when it comes to number of hogs, and is clearly in the top ten when it comes to cattle and chickens, too. Iowa bottoms out miserably when it comes to population growth - between 1970 and 2000 only D.C. had a lower growth rate.

On the inverse side of the medal: whereas Iowa was the 8th safest state to live in in 2004, and ranked a moderate 22nd on total crime rate, it ranked right at the top when it came to forced rape, and number 10 in violent crime in general. Iowa also ranks high (5th) when it come to high school education, but low when it comes to graduate degrees (44th).

This might give you an image of Iowans as high school educated farmer-rapists that can't make babies in the normal way so they breed pigs instead ... but that would be the wrong impression. Iowans are just average Americans – with all the positive and all the negative that entails.

I adhere to the view that Des Moines was indeed a good place to come from, and not only in the sense that it was a good place to get away from. Des Moines was also an interesting place to have come from ... I grew up there and developed both an intense curiosity and interest in the world, and the longer I interact with the rest of the world, the more conscious I become that growing up in number 24 was an excellent training ground for that interaction.

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