Bruning: Iowa is just as good as New York City


Photo Courtesy of Jessica Bruning.

Jessica Bruning

I grew up on a farm in western Iowa and always assumed I would leave the state to a bigger, more exciting city. After a summer of living and working in New York City, I have found a new appreciation for what Iowa has to offer. While they are worlds apart in some ways, Iowa can certainly stand up to the “big city.”

Shopping? Well, Jordan Creek is surprisingly well equipped and, if you can’t find it there, it’s only a three-hour drive to the Mall of America. NYC has primarily chain stores with a Gap, H&M, Urban Outfitters and Victoria’s Secret every five blocks. If you go to Brooklyn or the East Village, there are some unique boutiques, but honestly, most of them are too expensive for a normal college student to even think about. Plus, with the help of the World Wide Web, you can find a plethora of independent designers right at your fingertips.

Restaurants? I actually found myself severely craving spots like Jeff’s Pizza, The Café and Indian Delights. Ames has home-style Italian, Mexican, Indian, Thai, Chinese, sushi and a few modern American places. A short drive to Des Moines and you even have a French bistro. While we don’t have multiples of all of these options necessarily, there are options that are WAY cheaper and just as good. Plus, the advantage of living in a college town, you can order pizza, Chinese or a sandwich at almost any hour, and we have excellent street vendors (another thing that’s almost all chains in NYC now).

Bars? Well, NYC does have a lot more variety in that respect. However, I stepped into a bar near New York University and felt exactly like I was in Café Baudelaire. They had a mix of salsa and hip-hop music playing and were serving up drinks like any bar in Ames would (just $5 more expensive). The clubs I went to had the same mix of guys awkwardly trying to dance with girls, like you would find at Element any night of the week. I did get the chance to check out a jazz bar that featured an amazing live band, but Des Moines does have similar options. If you’d like to make a day trip somewhere, wineries across the state offer tours and wine tastings. Vines to Wines in Des Moines will even let you make your own wine.

Entertainment? While there are a lot more concerts to choose from in the city, between Ames and Des Moines you can get a good selection of bands to see between venues such as Zekes, People’s Court, Val Air Ballroom, House of Bricks and more. Moreover, if you’re willing to make the three-hour drive to either Minneapolis or Omaha, you get a whole other set to choose from. Ames has movie theaters, parks and the added bonus of being able to do things OUTSIDE. Boating, tennis, bonfires and lying by the pool are great Iowa warm-weather activities. Most of those things are available in NYC … but only if you have the money. I also found a completely new appreciation for grass, trees and crickets on my morning run after having to literally run through garbage in the Bronx while being hit on by creepy guys.

You might be surprised at the number of plays and musicals that can be seen in Des Moines. For instance, the Civic Center of Des Moines is bringing Memphis, Billy Elliot and other award-winning Broadway shows right to downtown Des Moines for much less than you could see them on Broadway. I had the chance to see “Mary Poppins” on Broadway and “RENT” last year in Des Moines. While Des Moines can’t quite beat the Broadway experience, it was still an excellent show at a fraction of the cost. Even the Des Moines Farmer’s Market can rival NYC productions, and it’s all grown right here. There are numerous farmers’ markets available in Ames as well.

For a more artistic experience, New York City does beat Iowa. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Modern Museum of Art are breath-taking. After multiple trips to each, I still didn’t get to see everything they had to offer. If you are looking for a similar experience, however, the Des Moines Art Center does have various rotating exhibits, lectures and contemporary art.

Iowa has despicable politics, a terrible history of racism, sexism and homophobia, and the fashion is oftentimes behind by a few months, but you do you get the bonus of people smiling and saying “Good morning!” And while some people are doing their best to make this not so, Iowa did allow same-sex marriage before New York. I still personally would like to get out of the state for a while in my lifetime, but it is a lot easier to appreciate what Iowa has now. We all get tired with the things we see every day; but if you take the time to seek out what Iowa has, it can actually stand up pretty well. Welcome to Iowa State, and hopefully you can find your own appreciation for the great things it has to offer!