Summer Tripping the Midwest

I’ll keep this short and sweet. I need to travel.

As part of my summer vacation, I made a fairly last minute trip to the Midwest. I have a flight to Chicago arriving on 7/10 and leaving 7/28. I also have a rental car reservation. That’s it. Maybe I’ll go somewhere new, maybe not, maybe I’ll meet friends, maybe I’ll make new ones. Maybe I’ll….see a tornado. Really, who knows? I do know there will be a lot of driving, a lot of culture, maybe a sporting event or two, and a lot of beer. There always is. So it begins…

I am finally getting past that slow start I always have when vacation blogging. I’m slow to start,  it works for a few days, then I decide I’d rather be exploring that sitting at my computer. I hope you understand. I may post every couple days rather than each day. In fact, it is now the start of Day 4. Here are some highlights so far.

July 9th.

Late night flight – 11pm. I thought I was going to miss my flight, because I was on a date and got to the airport really late. Actually, I was more sure I was too late for them to check my baggage (free baggage with the Delta Skymiles AMEX), but apparently not. Then I got to use my Global Entry status for the first time, entirely skipping the long security line, walking up to my own private line, dropping my intact carry-on on the conveyor belt, and walking through the metal detector. No removing/taking off anything in my bag or on me. Within 10 minutes of entering the terminal, I was at the gate. Surprisingly, I slept for much of the four-hour flight, and arrived in Detroit. Nice airport, but I still have not officially been to Michigan. That will come in about a week when I am in the state, doing something outside the airport. Those are my rules. The short flight from Detroit to Chicago left late because after we had boarded, O’Hare changed our flight plan three times (apparently). We were only 20-30 minutes late, so no big deal. I had upgraded my seat to Comfort+ class, so I had a huge, comfortable seat with all the leg room I could want, and no one next to me. I spent the flight chatting with the person two seats over, a Chicagoan who now lives in southern CA. She gave me some Chicago tips.

July 10th.

Off the plane, retrieved my baggage, went to Starbucks, and now to get my rental car. Little known secret: Airports add a large tax and fees for car rentals. Example:  A 7-day rental from O’Hare Budget Car Rental is approximately $400. If you take a taxi about ten minutes away into the adjacent neighborhood and go to a local Budget, the same rental is $130. You can guess which I chose. My plane neighbor suggested I go to the hotel shuttle area and see if I could hop on a shuttle to a hotel close to the car rental. An ingenious idea! I did and waited about 20 minutes but the shuttle dropoff area seemed pretty disorganized and I didn’t see a shuttle for the hotel I was looking for. Back up to the taxi queue where a very nice gentleman took me to the rental location for about $22. Still worth it. Time to get out of Chicago (I’ll be back in a week) and head to Des Moines, Iowa.

After an hour or more, I approached Quad Cities, which spans both sides of the state line which divides the Mississippi River. I pulled into a riverfront park area and sat for a while – watching the birds, hearing the sounds, exploring the marsh, enjoying nature.Mississippi River

For Tornadoes? For Floods?

For Tornadoes? For Floods?

After crossing into Iowa (one more state checked off the list!), I took a detour through Davenport. First impression: this is EXACTLY how I picture quintessential Midwest living. I can’t even describe it; I just felt it. Pretty much the only grocery store chain in this area is called Hy-Vee and it’s really nice. It’s not Whole Foods quality; it’s mainstream, but it felt like a really, really nice Haggen or Fred Meyer. They have attached liquor stores, and honestly, I came here because there is a brewery in Iowa (Toppling Goliath) which is highly respected, but which I have never tried. Their website said this particular Hy-Vee carries their products. I didn’t see them, but this store did have a particular beer that everyone raves about online, and it apparently had just arrived. I bought several. Time to clear out luggage space. Or buy another piece of luggage.

Anyway, I drove leisurely and I’m not sure why the drive took so long, but looking back, I didn’t get to Des Moines until 10pm. That was just in time because it’s the weekend, DSM is a big city, and I wanted to make sure local music is a part of my trip. There is a music festival happening in DSM this weekend, the 80/35 festival (named for the interstates which go through the city), and I arrived just in time for a free afterparty at a concert space/dance club/bar called Wooly’s. Some members of the band St. Lucia were DJ-ing a dance set. So that lasted from 10:30pm to…1:30am. Dancing, meeting people, drinking. Then ending up next door at an arcade bar (like Ground Kontrol in PDX) called Up/Down.St. Lucia DJ set

July 11th.

Des Moines, IA. Lots of neutral colors.

Des Moines, IA. Lots of neutral colors.

Street ArtI slept in a bit late, obviously, then headed to downtown DSM for the famous farmers’ market. I arrived just as it was closing but still got to wander a bit, explore the area with my camera, and get pizza at a place which some new dance friends highly recommended. Fong’s Pizza was more like a tiki bar, seemed a little bit divey…maybe kitschy is a better word. They were packed, though, with people ordering drinks and pizza. I ordered their specialty, Crab Rangoon pizza. I wouldn’t say it was amazing – honestly, the standard for pizza must be lower here if this pizza is so incredible in reputation…but it was good. Next stop: El Bait Shop, one of the best beer bars in the country. I chatted with one of the staff for a while, discussing beers, obviously. I tried a lot of beers I’ve only heard of. My favorites were Founders (MI) Rubaeus Nitro, which tasted like liquid candy, and Prairie Ales Brett C.

After this I wandered (walked, didn’t drive!) with my camera and ended up at the 80/35 festival, where two of the three stages were free. So, that was a fun time checking it out for a little while. The festival seemed very small, though. Maybe a Midwest thing? Maybe an Iowa thing?Hometown Pride.



Iowa, outside city limits.

Iowa, outside city limits.

When I was done with DSM, which I actually really enjoyed much  more than I expected, I headed a couple hours west to Omaha, Nebraska. One more state off my list. A late dinner complete with Saturday night people-watching completed the night.

July 12th.

I didn’t really seem much of Omaha last night and it doesn’t seem like the type of place that will keep me entertained for a long while, so I chose a morning of checking out the Old Market area before heading south. First, though, Warren Buffet’s house – in an obviously affluent part of town, but without any gates, security, fences, cameras, warnings, etc.

Buffett's House.

Buffett’s House.

The Old Market area most likely is where the old market used to be…I don’t really know. It’s a several-block area of shops and restaurants, and is composed of old brick buildings and cobblestone streets. I looked in a few shops, got coffee, and while sitting the the coffeeshop connected with the two sitting at the next table over. I quickly found one was from Chicago and one was from Kansas City, so I ended up with a list of what to do in KC – which BBQ joints, which breweries, which coffee shops. Same thing for Chicago, and in return, I provided ideas and thoughts on Portland and the west coast. So far, my experience is everyone has heard good things about Portland and wants to go there, or is at least intrigued by the idea. The weather is always one of the first things which comes up. Then I point out Portland gets far less rain than the Midwest. It’s just grey more often and doesn’t get big lightning storms. I appreciate that people here are asking intelligent questions about Portland, about the Gorge, peoples’ attitudes, etc.

After parting ways for lunch, I headed to a local brewery – not really impressed – and then as I was walking back to my car, passed the same two ladies as before, dining at another place. So we chatted some more. Then it was time to drive to KC, but just before getting on the freeway I was the ConAgra headquarters (barf!) and then a beautiful little sculpture garden next to the old city hall.

Omaha. Somewhere in middle America.

Omaha. Somewhere in middle America.

South about two hours is Kansas City, MO, and I arrived around dinner time. First stop, the top BBQ spot that Sharie suggested. It’s called Q39 and was abuzz with people dining at large tables and other sitting and standing around the bar waiting for a table. I sat at the bar and ordered so that they wouldn’t have to use a full dinner table for a single person. I got the brisket and burnt ends platter since those are my two favorite cuts of BBQ. The portion was tiny for the price, in my opinion, but it was delicious! It came with apple coleslaw, cassoulet, and cornbread.Yum!

Beyond description.

Beyond description.

While I was sitting there I was scrolling through KC travel sites on my phone and say some public area which included some giant shuttlecocks. I asked the bartender where it was and he directed my to the art museum blocks away. On my way there I drove down what is obviously the fancy shopping boulevard, The Plaza. I’ll have to go back tomorrow. Just past the Plaza is a large art museum which a beautiful sculpture garden. Actually, it was more like sculptures all throughout the grounds, not just a ‘sculpture garden.’ It was almost sunset so I looked around taking photos. Several groups were hanging out of the green, eating picnics, drinking wine, chatting…

The grounds, looking south from the museum.

The grounds, looking south from the museum.


Ferment. Roxy Paine, 2011


Glass Labyrinth. Robert Morris, 2014.

The museum grounds is one big badminton court.

The museum grounds is one big badminton court.

Sunset was at 8:30, and as I was about to leave I found the massive shuttlecock (for Badminton) and there were two girls relaxing next to it. I asked to make sure they wouldn’t mind if they ended up in any photos, and they offered to move but I said it wasn’t necessary. So I took some photos and finally asked them what the incessant hideous, indescribable noise was coming from all the trees. They said it was Cicadas and one showed me a picture of her phone. I’ve read about them. I hate the clicking sound they make! Anyway, my asking what the sound was led to them asking where I was from, which led to them saying that if I stayed until it got dark, I would be able to see lightning bugs all around. This is true! Lightning bugs are so cool, but I have only seen them once before, in Arkansas. They don’t make it west over the Rockies. So, I sat down in the grass. The ensuing conversation included learning how the tornado warning system works, things to do in Missouri, vacation spots, hearing that Portland sounds like a cool place to visit and live, weather in the Midwest, local colleges, general current events, housing prices (one of them pays $600 for an apartment right on the plaza, and the median home price is KC is $130,000!), and occasionally being interrupting by beetles and bugs landing on us. At about 10:30, we simultaneously realized we were all parked in a “No Parking after 10pm” area. Thankfully, our cars were still there. That could have been bad.

And now it is July 13th. More to follow.

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