Tag Archives: The Iowa Bucketlist

Boone Scenic Railway Tour

Hey folks; have I got a blog for you. Two weekends ago I spent my Saturday and Sunday taking an abridged tour of Iowa. Let’s start at the beginning: The Boone Scenic Railway Tour. Months ago – in advanced bucketlist preparedness – I purchased  Groupon tickets for two. Lewis and I started at the railroad museum; tickets to the museum are included with a train ride purchase. The museum consists of one large room with a handful of cases displaying historic railroad articles like building machinery, tools, and uniforms. The museum included giant informational sheets.

I was surprised to learn even in the 1950’s travelers’ trains could speed along at 90-miles per hour, getting a passenger from Cedar Rapids, Iowa to Los Angeles, California in just two days.

My favorite part of the museum was the small area devoted to Kate Shelley, an Iowa heroine. In 1881, from her home overlooking Honey Creek, she heard a pusher engine fall into the flooded creek. With a lantern in hand she crawled across the bridge to warn the coming train and save the two survivors of the accident who were clinging to a log in the creek.

When we sat down in the (unconditioned) train, a woman began directing the cab in a chorus of “I’ve Been Working On The Railroad.” The 1880’s Folk Song is a tune I was familiar with as a southern classic; it dustily emerged from my childhood memory as the harmonious voices rang out.

The train left late, and unfortunately we sat in the heat listening to indiscernible crackling over the intercom for about 30 minutes. After a bathetic start we edged along the track. First we passed Boone’s “Red Mountain”: A giant hill of dirt gathered after some construction. Don’t worry, that was the “low” point of the trip. We passed along old railway carts. We crossed the tallest bridge in Iowa while I credulously held my brand new iPhone 5 outside the window to film  the lofty 5-mph chug-along as Lewis looked nervously upon me.

After 45 minutes the train stopped and waited for an engine to come along, hook onto our train, and pull us back to the station. We waited outside in the cool air, sitting in a cart with no walls or ceilings, but railings along the edges. We were shooed inside when the train began its return. Apparently patrons pay more for an outdoor ride. This is something I would not recommend, as within the first 15 seconds of the ride Lew and I became dusty with soot from the billowing black clouds being churned from the hard-working engine. If you do pay more – and decide to go in mid-July – I’d suggest moving your rears to the air-conditioned car. While the overall ride was a little long, the experience was fun and, as advertised, scenic.

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The Des Moines Downtown Farmers’ Market

Confession time: I had never been to the Des Moines downtown Farmers’ Market until a few weeks ago. Before you clutch your heart and gasp, “No, that can’t be!” Hear me out. I’ve been less than 10 feet away from it almost every Saturday for 2 years … working.

I work at Court Avenue Restaurant and Brewing Company. Last year I worked our Farmers’ Market root beer cart (located in front of our restaurant) every other week, and often hosted during the intermittent Saturdays. This year I had my first Saturday morning off since I can remember. I immediately scheduled a date to the popular downtown affair.

This post includes a list of things I’ve found to be characteristic of the Farmers’ Market. Most of them I found unbelievably annoying when I was working. But hypocritically I quickly fell into the Farmers’ Market routine. Things I used to find odd or irritating suddenly seemed perfectly natural – with the exception of a few unforgiveable oddities.


1. People carrying their dogs

This was a common sight when I was working root beer. Is there an epidemic rendering dogs’ legs paralyzed? I didn’t understand why the people in the crowd were clutching their dogs like they were new Louis Vuitton purses.

When I was shuffling slowly through the congested streets I realized why people tote their puppies along. There is so much to see at the Farmers’ Market, no one is paying attention to puppies who might be unknowingly scurrying under moving feet. I can now appreciate this protective measure.

I remember last year I saw a couple who pushed their dogs around in strollers converted to doggy thrones with plush cushions. Dogs are the one thing spoiled more than only children. Despite the fact that I can now cross Farmers’ Market off my bucketlist, I still give mobile canine thrones a judgmental single-eyebrow raise. But perhaps by the next Farmers’ Market I’ll gain a better appreciation for this strange ritual.


2. Dogs dressed up

Don’t worry, this whole post isn’t dog themed. But if you’ve ever been to the Des Moines Farmers’ Market you would understand. Skirts, dresses, sweaters … there is no end to the modish Maltese. This not only still seems a little extravagant –it’s 100 degrees and these poor pups are already donning fur coats – but it’s a little embarrassing for me. These dogs are dressed better than I am.


3. Free samples

As a cheap college student, I can’t get enough of them. As a former Farmers’ Market vendor, I loathe them. Some stands are kind enough to present free samples for swiping as people meander by. But I’ve experienced my fair share of people fishing for free samples, when none are being openly offered, with no intention to buy. And for those of you who partake, just own up to it. You’re not fooling anyone with your Z-list acting – “Oh that is good … maybe I’ll come back and buy some,” you say as you shamelessly disappear into the crowd.


4. Horrible parking

If parking was seriously enforced during the Farmers’ Market, Des Moines would have millions of parking ticket dollars every weekend. As far as I can tell, the unwritten rule is this: any open patch is fair game, whether it’s grass, gravel, a private lot, or sits next to a clear “NO PARKING ANYTIME,” sign. People are so desperate to get out there to eat crab Rangoon and get sun burnt, they will park anywhere.

I understand the anxious appeal now. But there is something I still don’t understand. I usually park in the 3rd street parking garage. But over the course of 2 years I’ve parked in almost every parking garage downtown during the Farmers’ Market.

Whenever I drive through these garages there are handfuls of cars parked over those helpful, guiding yellow lines. This causes every car in the long line awaiting a spot to pause, hoping the break in parked cars is an available spot, only to find that some selfish Chevrolet is taking up 2 spots because he/she couldn’t take the extra 15 seconds to readjust the car.

What really baffles me about this is that these appalling parkers probably experienced the same desperation and know the satisfaction of finally finding a place to park, only to steal the hope from all other fellow parkers. They leave the rest of us to wander lots like thirsty men wandering the dessert, seeing an oasis again and again, only to find it’s a mirage.


5. Slow walkers

Once I find a parking spot it takes me  another 10 minutes to walk 1 block to the brew pub. There’s no hustling in the bustle of the Farmers’ Market. It’s like Court Avenue is caught in a time warp that slows everyone down. It’s surprising the crowds don’t end up in a complete standstill. Everyone is packed in so tightly, they might as well form a conga line and tour the market that way.

After seeing the abundance of sights that pack the streets, not to mention the smells and sounds that need to be equally appreciated – pastries, breakfast sandwiches, vendors shouting out witty “come hithers” – I understand why people have to walk slowly to take everything in.


6. Friendly faces

Everyone who is a part of the Farmers’ Market – vendors and buyers – are unbelievably nice, despite their oncoming heat stroke and blistering sunburns. Strangers chit chat. Everyone is in a good mood. It will leave you with a smile for the rest of the day and good memories for the rest of the week until the next Farmers’ Market.


7. The $nack$

A charismatic duo who play covers every Saturday on the patio of Mickey’s Irish Pub. This goofy band kept me from going insane through multiple exploding kegs, which left me with countless root beer-stained ensembles, and endless heat with their fun song renditions and upbeat set lists. My personal favorite: Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It.”


Even though I used to despise some of these qualities when I worked the Farmers’ Market, they became part of my routine as an attendee. I meandered, I picked at free samples with no intention to buy the product, I bantered with vendors, and parked on a lawn that had no signs prohibiting it. I’m sure my car wasn’t normally welcome. But like everything else on a bright Saturday morning in downtown Des Moines, it welcomed me.

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