As a kid, I couldn’t get out of Iowa fast enough. There was nothing to do, nowhere to go. I was bored out of my teeny, tiny mind. All I could see around me -- all there was around me -- was space. What was I supposed to do with it -- all that nothing? How do you attach yourself to emptiness?
So I left. I left for a long time.
And, inevitably, I returned. This time around, though -- more than a decade older and moves-across-the-planet wiser -- I saw how Iowans were using that space. To them, it didn’t mean an infinity of nothing; it meant room for something. Anything. Just ask the endless parade of Iowans who looked at the Hawkeye State and saw more than caucusing politicians, football tailgates, and corn fields. There's the neighbor who turned his farm into a successful winery. The latest Chicago transplant who opened an art gallery and a restaurant. The classmate who sold a local version of GrubHub to GrubHub (I’m still bitter about that one). I despise myself for saying it, but that cheesy slogan on the sign you see entering from I-80? The one that says “Fields of Opportunities?” If you’ve got good luck and a good idea, that sign is right.
After decades of “good ideas,” the state has morphed into something our grandparents wouldn’t recognize. Hell, it’s morphed into something I barely recognize. The going narrative that Iowa -- that the Midwest -- is a cultureless wasteland deprived of basic necessities like craft beer and food not covered in cheese is an ignorantly perpetuated, outdated myth. If the rest of the world weren’t busy “flying over,” maybe they’d notice.
For starters, craft beer is everywhere, not just in pilgrimage-worthy Decorah, home of Toppling Goliath. Not all food is covered in cheese. (Ok, lots of it is, but whatever, cheese is delicious.) Small towns are home to world-class bars, eateries, and home-grown yoga studios. And in the literal open space -- the easier-to-see kind -- there are rolling hills, limestone caves, deep river valleys, and high, rocky bluffs, believe it or not.
"Flyover" is a state of mind, and it's time to get your brain out of the Dust Bowl. Iowa's a place that all but demands to be explored, from its vibrant cities to its sprawling naturescapes. Here's what you're missing out on.