August 18, 2013

"But then most things in Des Moines in the 1950s were the best of their type."

Wrote Bill Bryson in his memoir "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid":
We had the smoothest, most mouth-pleasing banana cream pie at the Toddle House.... We had the most vividly delicious neon-colored ice creams at Reed’s, a parlor of cool opulence near Ashworth Swimming Pool (itself the handsomest, most elegant public swimming pool in the world, with the slimmest, tannest female lifeguards) in Greenwood Park (best tennis courts, most decorous lagoon, comeliest drives). Driving home from Ashworth Pool through Greenwood Park, under a flying canopy of green leaves, nicely basted in chlorine and knowing that you would shortly be plunging your face into three gooey scoops of Reed’s ice cream is the finest feeling of well-being a human can have.

We had the tastiest baked goods at Barbara’s Bake Shoppe; the meatiest, most face-smearing ribs and crispiest fried chicken at a restaurant called the Country Gentleman; the best junk food at a drive-in called George the Chilli King. (And the best farts afterward; a George’s chilli burger was gone in minutes, but the farts, it was said, went on forever.) We had our own department stores, restaurants, clothing stores, supermarkets, drugstores, florists, hardware stores, movie theaters, hamburger joints, you name it—every one of them the best of its kind. Well, actually, who could say if they were the best of their kind? To know that, you’d have had to visit thousands of other towns and cities across the nation and tasted all their ice cream and chocolate pie and so on because every place was different then. That was the glory of living in a world that was still largely free of global chains. Every community was special and nowhere was like everywhere else.
I've read this book many times, mostly in the audiobook version. (It's my favorite falling-asleep book.) I'm searching the Kindle version today, looking for the most intense tributes to Des Moines, a city where we sojourned for 2 hours yesterday. It's not the 1950s anymore — Bill Bryson, like me, was born in 1951 — but, still, if you were looking for the best of America, could you find another place?




Titus said...

Althouse and Meade I have to say I am a little disappointed that during your entire summer and you go to Nebraska?

Come on girl!

You are too fab for Nebraska and Des Moines.

If you didn't want to go far at least go to Minneapolis!

Titus said...

I would love to hear about the two of your experiences in Ptown!

Ann Althouse said...

Titus, don't you see that the most fab thing is to define your own fab? Don't you know that if you ever go looking for your heart's desire again, you shouldn't look any further than your own back yard, because if it isn't there, you never really lost it to begin with? Don't you know that we only went to Nebraska to watch amputees play golf, and I've never once myself played golf; I've only watched family members play golf? Lincoln, Nebraska and Des Moines, Iowa, are just other Madison, Wisconsins — American state capitals, and the one we live in has everything we need. We are exiles, sometimes, and we seek solace where we can, but — don't you know? — there's no place like home.

SteveR said...

He makes a good case for it in the book, in that time for sure. It certainly resembled many other towns as well. But I can think about things it doesn't have that for me limit the accolades, not the least of which is cold winters and no topography. Maybe not the point, I'm happy people live there although they need to get rid of the ethanol grubbing early primary.

RiverRat said...

This whole discussion warrants an allegiance to Federalism. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest (OR/WA), lived in CA for many years, and now live in TX after a few years in MX. New grass always seems better to me...other than "original" grass.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Bill Bryson is channeling Jack Kerouac in On the Road:

"There were the most beautiful bevies of girls everywhere I looked in Des Moines that afternoon — they were coming home from high school — but I had no time now for thoughts like that and promised myself a ball in Denver. Carlo Marx was already in Denver; Dean was there; Chad King and Tim Gray were there, it was their hometown; Marylou was there; and there was mention of a mighty gang including Ray Rawlins and his beautiful blond sister Babe Rawlins; two waitresses Dean knew, the Bettencourt sisters; and even Roland Major, my old college writing buddy, was there. I looked forward to all of them with joy and anticipation. So I rushed past the pretty girls, and the prettiest girls in the world live in Des Moines."

tim maguire said...

we only went to Nebraska to watch amputees play golf

That would be a great opening line to a novel. Or a Far Side comic.

Joe said...

I read Bryson's book years ago and it reinforced my theory that almost every place has a golden era.

We also have golden eras in our lives.

When those two thing intersect, it's an amazing experience.