“You can’t just float and hope something comes along.”4/4/2017
Welcome to Cityview’s newest column, Couch Surfing. For those of you not familiar with the term, couch-surfing, in its simplest definition, is staying temporarily in a series of other people’s homes, typically making use of improvised sleeping arrangements. I have successfully couch-surfed across the country, and I have opened up my home for others to do the same. I have met some interesting people along the way, and I write about my experiences here. Like this one…
Forest Fernandez is a recent graduate from Maharishi University of Management (MUM) in Fairfield who originally moved to Iowa from San Francisco back in the fall of 2012. In 2016, he realized he needed to start traveling to find more opportunities for work. He recently stayed with me for a few nights this past February while he was in Des Moines for a two-day contract job.
KD: What is the economic situation like in Fairfield?
FF: It’s an interesting dynamic. There is a strong population of extremely wealthy people but also a huge part of the population that is in poverty. A lot of people moved to Fairfield for the meditation movement and had money to begin with or they invested in oil or real estate and have become very successful. Housing and food are pretty cheap, but the minimum wage in Fairfield is still $7.25 per hour, which is what many people are earning. So although housing and food are affordable in comparison to larger cities, many people still can’t afford to live here.
KD: I would consider myself a fairly liberal guy. However, between 2013 and 2015, I was spending a lot of time in Fairfield, and I found myself becoming more conservative the more time I spent down there.
FF: Yeah, that has happened to me. I am on a salary of $1,800 per month at my Monday-through-Friday job as a video editor in Fairfield. Most people who graduate from MUM end up working for the college, which is a weird cycle. The town in some ways traps you. The University attracts a very specific type of student: new age, hippies, not someone who is too eager to go out and find a career.
KD: The idea of rebelling in Fairfield, at least in the meditator community, seems to be along lines of cutting your hair and getting a steady job.
FF: Society and its progression is sort of like a pendulum. When you have one extreme for so long, the future generations will eventually bring it the other direction.
KD: I’m not saying to subscribe 100 percent to one point of view or another. Just because you are becoming more concerned with financial stability doesn’t mean you also get on the same train of thought that normally follows with that.
FF: No, it’s just deciding that you can’t just float and hope something comes along. Life doesn’t work that way. You could be stuck for who knows how long not being able to truly support yourself. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be successful.
KD: At what point did you decide that you needed to travel outside of Fairfield to find more work?
FF: It would have been my last semester in college. I wanted to get into more filmmaking/production work, but unless you are going to work for MUM or the David Lynch Foundation TV studios, you are not going to find it here. It’s a town of 10,000 people. I was actually working for a company that cleaned houses for those millionaires that I mentioned earlier. I did it for a year and just realized I needed to be elsewhere.
KD: Up until recently, your Iowa experience was only based in Fairfield with the occasional trip to Iowa City or Ottumwa to see a movie. You spent four years in that isolated environment. What was it like coming to Des Moines for the first time?
FF: Iowa City is still pretty small, but it has more to offer than Fairfield. When I started coming to Des Moines for jobs, it was like reconnecting with civilization or being back in reality again. You don’t realize how separated you really are until you get out. Prior to moving to Iowa for college, I traveled a lot with my family to places like Peru or Mexico.
KD: From my experience with Fairfield, I summed it up as it lives inside a bubble where there are cool things happening inside of that bubble that not many people know about, but the town also ignores everything that is happening outside of that bubble. Would you agree with that?
FF: Totally, and the town really reinforces that. It doesn’t encourage you to engage with whatever is outside of that bubble. It creates a stigma. I came to Iowa to get a degree and see the world. Everyone should be encouraged to do that. I mean Des Moines is only two hours from where I live, but it’s a big enough change of environment when you compare it to Fairfield. An environment that I would never had found if I just stayed where I was. You learn more by traveling and meeting people. You can’t just wait for things to come your way. ♦
Kristian Day is a filmmaker, musician and writer based in Des Moines. He has couch-surfed across the west coast as well through the Midwest. He also offers his home up to unknown travelers passing through Des Moines… for free. Follow him on Twitter at @kristianmday.