I’ve never taken a trip over fall break before. Being from Liberty, I’ve never even gone home because I was home. But after spending the last year at Oxford, where a trip to London or even the European continent was a few hours away, the last couple of months here at William Jewell College have made me restless. Unable to take a $15 bus to Paris for the weekend – my first choice – I settled for a close second: a short jaunt up to the University of Iowa to visit two friends I made at Oxford last year and one Jewell friend now starting a Ph.D. there.
I drove up to Iowa City on Thursday. The drive is about 4 ½ hours, so I stopped in Des Moines on the way to have some coffee and a pastry at Scenic Route Bakery and walk around the downtown area. I pressed on the two hours more to Iowa City, with plenty of peanut M&Ms as fuel, arriving in time to have dinner with friends at Bluebird Diner, which I quite liked. Afterwards, one of my friends who studies English – an Iowa specialty – took me to a reading at the famed Writers’ Workshop. Cody-Rose Clevidence, a poet, and Alexia Arthurs, a prose writer, both read selections from their work. While I cannot claim to get or even appreciate experimental poetry, the consensus of the crowd made me understand that this was good stuff.
I stayed on my friend’s futon for the weekend which was surprisingly comfortable, though I can’t compare it to anything because I’ve never been on a futon before. The next morning, because my English major friend had class – Iowa doesn’t have fall break – my economics friend and I met up for breakfast, pumpkin waffles, and to go have coffee and study.
We went to Prairie Lights, the Iowa City version of City Lights, the famous San-Francisco indie bookstore and beat hangout. Prairie Lights as a bookstore and a café is great. They have a fantastic selection of new, old and independent books, and the café has good light and a pleasant atmosphere. After working for a while, I went to the Iowa City Public Library for a program from the International Writers Program called “Language at the Fault Lines.” At this panel, four different writers from four different non-English speaking countries read short prepared papers about their experience with translation and writing cross-linguistically and culturally.
The panel was excellent and I came away with lots to think about. That afternoon, I took my two friends to the local HyVee. Neither of them has a car, because parking in downtown Iowa City can be hellish – as I learned – and the city is fairly walkable. HyVee, however, is a good 35 minute walk, so being the good friend and HyVee aficionado that I am, I offered to take them.
Upon returning, my English major friend and I went to another author reading at Prairie Lights. Susan Steinberg, author of “Machine” and other books, read and answered questions for about an hour, after which there was a wine and cheese reception. Expecting the cubed cheese omnipresent at Jewell functions, the cheese lover in me was ecstatic when I saw the board of assorted cheeses. After the reading and some great Japanese food, my friend, a few of their friends and I embarked on a bar crawl of the writers’ bars in Iowa City. After hitting four or so bars which famous writers from the workshop were known to frequent –we even saw Susan Steinberg at George’s, the oldest of the bars – we called it a night.
Saturday morning was low key – we had some great brunch and did some studying. Fall break didn’t mean there weren’t assignments due. Later that night I met up with my Jewell friend; we had falafel and saw the Downtown Abbey movie. After that, we went to Joe’s, the most central and maybe largest bar in downtown Iowa City. Being gameday, Joe’s was wild, and almost all of the majority blond, corn-fed Iowa fans were decked out in Iowa gear. After a few drinks, we wanted to dance so we headed to a club. After a few – read: many – more drinks, we danced for a few hours, talked with a few random people and then called it a night.
I didn’t do much Sunday morning, and I headed back to Liberty around 10 in the morning, breaking up the drive by stopping in Des Moines again.
Overall, my time in Iowa City was excellent. Although I’m glad I go to a small school, the college town feel is great. It’s cool to be surrounded by so many students with so many restaurants, bars, bookstores and cafes in a walkable area. While we may not live in that town, Iowa City is only a 4 ½ hour drive from Jewell, so if you know anyone at the University of Iowa, I highly recommend the trip.