For readers of a certain age, the headline (from the song ‘Signs’ by The Five Man Electrical Band), will take you back to 1971. Those lyrics will also rent space in your head all day, I’m guessing. You’re welcome.
This post is simply about Iowa City Iowa, and the reason I love this progressive little burg so much. Iowa City is a tiny blue spot in a sea (an ocean? An expanse? Which is bigger? I dunno.) a sea of red these days, which is why I love living here. The signs posted around town reinforce my attraction to it. In this little village of 70,000 hardy, left-leaning souls, I found my tribe, and that’s always a serendipitous occasion.
Years ago, when I lived in Iowa City the first time, I was invited to write a monthly column for the local newspaper, The Iowa City Press Citizen. In one of my pieces for the paper I discussed the leftie bent, and the politically correct default of folks living here, noting that even the newspaper’s initials were PC. In these parlous times, especially now with the political and coronaviral churn we’re witnessing, the signs and postings are proliferating. Everyone, it seems, regardless of stripe, sensibility, or preference, feels the need to announce their opinions. As I drove around taking these photographs recently, I noticed pretty quickly that many of the signs were hand made, and posted pretty much all over.
This sign speaks for itself, and also its owner’s/creator’s spot on the left-right continuum. On a ball cap the inscription would be MAS&S, I suppose. And the hat would be green. And recyclable. And union made. And knowing Iowa City as I do, the sign itself would have gone through a stringent vetting process for content, and size, and neighborhood acceptance, and environmental impact. And the paint would have to be child safe and eco friendly.
In Iowa City, wearing a mask really is a political statement. But then, in Iowa City choosing a parking spot, buying cat food, or choosing a brand of Kombucha is a political statement, so… One would think that the hyper-sensitive posture of Iowa Citians would become tiresome. The reason it appeals to me is that I’ve seen the alternative. I’ve seen what happens when consideration for others, and blindness to differences, and insensitivity to needs and desires and cultural considerations are dismissed and relegated to lower status. None of the seeming obsequiousness and PC culture here bothers me; what bothers me is the assumption of privilege for white, male, heterosexual, christian, wealthy people who own a boat. That offends me. I should mention that in my cruise around Iowa City I saw exactly one sign promoting he who shall not be named and his lap-dog Veep. That sign was planted close to the house. It was manufactured, likely in China, not hand made. It was ensconced among other right-leaning candidates’ signs. And in Iowa City, as further proof of my attachment to this accepting town, the sign was unmolested, however much I fantasized skipping the curb and crushing it with my car. Oh, the photo on the right above? That’s U of Iowa mascot Herkie the Hawk, en mask, of course.
Being hopelessly caucasian, I can’t speak for my black & brown neighbors, but from what I gather, Iowa City is a wonderfully accepting, diverse, anti-racist place where folks from around the world (literally, thanks to the University of Iowa) can thrive and feel wanted. As far as I can tell our black friends & neighbors can even leave their homes, drive their cars, sleep in their beds, and allow their children outside to play, and not expect mayhem or murder. Radical concept, I know.
Yard signs pop up like tulips in springtime, especially now. I included the gun safety sign because I see a lot of them here, and also because, this being Iowa, the well-armed center of heartland America gun culture, attaching these tiny stickers to ones vehicle is truly a political act here. I suspect these tiny black and white stickers are rarely spotted in, say, Ottumwa, or Spencer, or Waterloo.
Another reason I love Iowa City is that it’s a highly literate, well educated, amazingly urbane place in a sea of corn and soybeans. Home to the best writer’s school in the world, the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, many well known and widely read authors have inhabited Iowa City. Authors such as Marvin Bell, Clark Blaise, TC Boyle, John Irving, Raymond Carver, Sandra Cisneros, Rita Dove, Andre Dubus, Gail Godwin, Jorie Graham, WP Kinsella, Flannery O’Connor, Ann Patchett, Jane Smiley, Mark Strand, and numerous others have studied and perfected their craft here. It would not be unusual to bump into Marilynne Robinson, or Chris Offutt, or Kent Haruf at Prairie Lights, the best bookstore in the known universe. (Even though Mr. Haruf is deceased, sad but true.)
I had to include this, yet another reason I love living in Iowa City. Here I’m surrounded by Cubs fans. There’s a smattering of Cardinals and White Sox fans, of course, and the odd Minnesota Twins insignia here and there, but the Cubbies and their Fly The W signs are dominant.
In closing, a picture that says it all this political season. There are a number of these signs posted around Iowa City. My fellow IC dwellers are not without a sense of humor.
Thanks for reading. Stay safe, mask up, and please, please, please VOTE! Thanks for reading.