Where no man has gone before…” (Not space, but Des Moines.)
It’s not Star Trek.
It’s the final frontier.
It’s Des Moines.
Even though it was MY birthday, my cousin Megan didn’t want to spend a “girls’ day” biking around “Dead” Moines, her hometown. She wanted to drive to a mall in Omaha, shop for designer stuff on sale, and then take me to “Star Trek Beyond.”
Are you a Star Trek fan? Me, not so much. I loved Patrick Stewart in Star Trek: The Next Generation, but never watched the other series. If Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Kristin Wiig starred as Spock, Captain Kirk, and whoever, I would see it. (Surely Ghostbusters was not the final female frontier!)
But Meg has a serious thing for Star Trek.
After a stint in the psych ward (stoned and unruly in public), she said the only thing that made her feel human was watching Star Trek in the common room. “All the freaks knew everything about Star Trek, and I wanted to fit in.”
By fitting in, does she mean dressing up like a female Vulcan at Worldcon? She does. Does she write her own folk songs about the Enterprise? She does.
“I really think Melissa McCarthy could play Spock,” I said.
“Well, if we’re not going to Star Trek…” She glared.
“We’ll bike from Adel to Des Moines. That’s not too far.”
There is a huge radius of trails branching from various small towns in central Iowa to Des Moines, the capital of Iowa. The Raccoon River Trail runs all the way from Jefferson to Waukee, and then magically continues under the name Clive Greenbelt Trail, and, after changing names a few times, takes you to downtown Des Moines.
We started in Adel, 27 miles away.
As Megan walked her bike up the hill that essentially extends all the way from Adel to Waukee, she said, “This is a bad idea.”
Every time we passed a pub–there are pubs on the trail–she said, “Can’t we stop ?”
I really didn’t want to drink because my secret plan was to spend time inspecting the Iowa Collection at the Des Moines Public Library as well as trying to find the mural of Chris Soules from The Bachelor making out with Witney, the fiancée he broke up with shortly after the show’s end.
“We’ll stop for coffee soon.”
What could be better than coffee and a snack at Ritual Cafe, two blocks from the Des Moines Public Library. Meg vetoed it after she saw the word “vegetarian” on the chalk board out front. She didn’t want “something vegan dropped in the drink.” Solution: Starbucks, right next to the Des Moines Public Library.
SECOND STOP, THE IOWA COLLECTION AT THE DES MOINES PUBLIC LIBRARY.
Such a cool collection, guys! Shelves and shelves of fiction and nonfiction books by Iowa writers. Why oh why can’t one check them out? One must read them while squirming in the most uncomfortable “comfortable” chairs ever purchased by a parsimonious librarian.
HERE ARE SOME OF THE BOOKS:
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and novelist Susan Glaspell (1876-1948) was born and raised in Davenport, Iowa, but after a stint at the Des Moines Register escaped to Provincetown, MA, where she founded the Provincetown Players. Her short story, “A Jury of Her Peers,” about a battered woman, has been widely anthologized and is also the title of Elaine Showalter’s book about American women writers. Glaspell wrote many plays and novels, including Fidelity and Brook Evans, both published by Persephone.
Ruth Suckow (1892-1960), a minister’s daughter, is known for her charming novels about the lives of people in church-centered small towns in Iowa. Her best-known novel is The Folks, but my favorite is New Hope, a fictional account of life in Hawarden, her hometown. By the way, you can visit her birthplace, a small pretty house in Hawarden, now a museum.
Who knew Wallace Stegner, the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning American novelist, short story writer, environmentalist, and historian, was from Lake Mills, Iowa? Not I. He is best known for nature writing and novels about the West. My favorite of his novels is Crossing to Safety.
Nancy Drew fans, look at these! Mildred A. Wirt, born in Ladora, Iowa, was the original Carol Keene, author of the Nancy Drew books, the Dana Girls, and others for the Stratemeyer Syndicate. She also wrote many books under her own name, including the Penny Parker series, Penny Nichols, Madge Sterling, Trailer Stories for Girls, Flash Evans, Mildred A. Wirt Mystery Stories, Dot & Dash, Brownie Scouts, Dan Carter Cub Scout, Girl Scouts, and Boy Scout Explorers. It’s a strange little collection of books. They look like fun!
Bess Streeter Aldrich (1881-1954), is one of my favorite Midwestern writers. Born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa, she and her banker husband moved in 1909 from Iowa to Elmwood, NE, where Bess not only raised her children, but began to write. (The house in Elmwood is now a museum.) She is best known for A Lantern in Her Hand, a forgotten classic (except, mysteriously, in homeschooling circles).
Although Aldrich’s mother, a pioneer herself in Cedar Falls, Iowa, told her family stories, Aldrich also interviewed early settlers in Nebraska and studied historical documents and letters before she began to write the superb A Lantern in Her Hand. Theheroine, Abbie Mackenzie Deal, follows her husband, Will, a Civil War veteran, from Iowa to Nebraska, where he struggles to farm on the unforgiving prairie and, tragically, she never develops her singing talent, because she is too busy helping him and raising children. There’s something Willa Catherish about this moving novel.
I’m so glad to see all these books by Aldrich in one place!
Don’t forget Mackinlay Kantor, who won the Pulitzer for Andersonville, his novel about a Confederate prison during the Civil War. He was born in Webster City, was a columnist for The Des Moines Register, was a war correspondent during World War II, and then wrote the screenplay for The Best Years of Our Lives. He wrote many novels: there are two shelves of them. I have yet to read one, but my husband is a fan of Andersonille!
P.S. After a rollicking meal at Fong’s Pizza, we called a spouse to beam us up. One of the bicycles had to be dismantled to fit in the car, I mean The Enterprise, but oh well…