A lot of the stuff written about Des Moines can be the same State Fair-based-malarky. "Mid-market Midwestern city has local beer and a decent restaurant or two: good for them!"
But last year, during 80/35, David Byrne cruised around our fair city and wrote a blog post with some of the most astute observations ever written about the DMI -- I consider them particularly astute because they align perfectly with how I feel.
He hit on some common compliments like, "Des Moines [may be] an ideal place to grow up or raise your kids." But he thought that for a different reason than just good public schools and low crime. "The town isn’t particularly hip," he said, "but I sort of counted that as a factor in its favor -- kids would have to discover what they thought was cool for themselves. Or make it up."
Our hip lack-of-hippness-turned-reason-we're-hip has been popping up a little more recently. Paste Magazine observed that Des Moines' East Village was one of the country's top undercover stylish neighborhoods because, "Des Moines is unconcerned with hipness and lofty ambitions."
Uh, thanks? On the one hand, that could be the back-handed complimentary language that inspired our "Des Moines: Let us Exceed Your Already Low Expectations" shirt. Kind of like, "It's nice to see a city that isn't trying to be something."
But on the other hand, as Byrne noted: "People here seem to have found a way of living that is not based around either extremes of manic striving or desperation. It may not be cool, but it might be beyond cool."
We'll take "beyond cool" for $1000, David.
Trendiness and overt hippness are what make cities like Portland or Austin appealing to some people, but are also what make them so easy to ridicule. Also, they can have an oppressive liberal-ness ("The death penalty should be reserved for people who use too many plastic bags!") that I find as off-putting as the oppressive conservative-ness of northern Arkansas ("Trust Jesus and Wal-Mart and Ronald Reagan!").
Des Moines is the perfect medium. We have plenty of hippness without the plastic-bag mafia giving me shit for needing something to carry my home-goods from Target to my car. My kids can have a cool childhood sans the small-minded prickness that can come with a city that is too liberal or too conservative.
And what Des Moines has now, we created. I'm not just proud that Des Moines has produced great stuff like The Mews, Wooly's, Zombie Burger, 80/35, Exile, Hill Vintage, Americana, Gas Lamp, The High Life, Mullets, Gong Fu Tea, Proof, Eden, or (ahem), RAYGUN. I'm proud that these are our productions. There was no flood of hip kids from outside Iowa who gave them to us as part of some Cultural Peace Corps meant to save uncool American wastelands. Instead, we've built a great environment for Des Moines, by Des Moines.
That's what gives the city a great feel. That's what I love about Des Moines, and why I wanted to move back.
We don't need to follow national trends or direction, we're playing a whole different game. We're beyond that.
David Byrne was close in his observations, he just hadn't figured out if we were "uncool" or "beyond cool." Luckily this great little t-shirt shop answered that question for him.