As you head into Iowa City on Highway 1 you pass an unassuming little intersection just north of town. It’s a fairly unremarkable place, just another rural road that cuts across a state highway before heading off into a small section of the American heartland. There’s a farm right there at the intersection. Why anyone thought it was a good idea to name that cross street “Dingleberry Avenue” is kind of an interesting question, really.
Maybe it meant something else back then.
We were in Iowa for Tabitha’s college tour, since she is headed off to higher education all too soon. I’m not really sure she’s interested in the University of Iowa, but it’s a good school and if you think you might like a large public campus in a small college town it’s the sort of place you can go to get a quality education and have a good time doing so. We’re going up to Madison sometime soon for comparison. This is what you do when your kids are old enough to be thinking of college.
I went on a whole pile of tours when I was looking at colleges as an undergrad – I have vivid memories of tramping around Lehigh University, for example, an engineering school on a campus that tilts at about 30 degrees off horizontal and that’s perhaps why it specialized in engineering – though for graduate school I didn’t worry about tours. For my MA I chose a town I wanted to live in and applied to schools there (Pitt gave me more money than any of the Boston schools, so off to Pittsburgh I went), and for my PhD I followed the advice of one of my MA professors, which was to find a scholar you wanted to work with and go wherever they were.
I ended up at Iowa.
I didn’t really work with that scholar all that much – she had moved on to other areas of study, though she did serve on my dissertation committee – but I enjoyed my time there.
They did a nice job with the tour, it has to be said. We marched all over the east side of the campus – the undergrad side, as opposed to the med school side (which also has the football stadium) – and saw a great many buildings, some of which were actually there when I was attending classes back in the early 90s though often not in their current form. I couldn’t believe how much the library had changed.
The town itself is also a different place now. The restaurants are mostly new for one thing, though we did complete the Iowa Undergraduate Eating Experience by having lunch at The Airliner. We’d already done The Hamburg Inn #2 on our way out to Colorado a couple of summers ago. We'll save Pagliai's for when we're there for dinner someday. The mall has been turned inside out so the stores face the street. Nobody does malls anymore. The Ped Mall is still there, as is the fountain. And you can still go to Prairie Lights Books, so things can’t be all that upended.
But I did spend the whole time thinking – and often saying – things like “Wow, that didn’t used to be there!” or “What happened to [fill in name of long-vanished business or academic landmark]?”
My mother did the same thing when I was an undergraduate, as I recall. We attended the same university about a quarter century apart, and in between us they closed off entire streets and took out the trolley lines. That’s what happens when you go to a university that has a vice-president in charge of nothing but construction projects, I suppose.
I have no idea where Tabitha will end up next year, but it won’t be where I went.
Even if it is.