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Des Moines Forgotten

Now it all makes sense

4/3/2024

I moved to Des Moines from Denver, Colorado, in 2007. If you asked the 22-year-old me why I did so, it may not have made a lot of sense. If you ask the 38-year-old me the same question, it would be a different answer but probably still wouldn’t make a lot of sense. My first apartment was at 2800 Fleur Drive at what is now Gray’s Lake Apartments. I lived there for two and a half years before I moved into the house that I still call home on Polk Boulevard.

Des Moines was new to me, and I didn’t know a single person in this city. The downtown sculpture park did not exist. I only frequented places that were within a 2- or 3-mile radius. This included Cup o’ Kryptonite for coffee and the occasional graphic novel rental. I also frequented Fleur Cinema because 2007 was one of the best years for movies with “No Country for Old Men,” “There Will Be Blood” and “Juno” on the big screen. The army surplus store on Army Post Road was where I purchased most of my clothes. (Olive green shirts and black jeans/slacks have been my main uniform for nearly 20 years.) If I felt like I wanted to make the trek, I would drive to the Tasty Tacos on S.E. 14th Street, but keep in mind that this was the time in my life when I started cooking 80% of my meals at home. Nothing was close, and Fleur Drive was, and always has been, a pain to turn onto going any direction. So even if I wanted to go somewhere, I would ask myself, “Do I really want to turn left on Fleur?”

One night I got into a lengthy phone call around 8 p.m. It was a summer night, and I had only been in Des Moines for a few weeks. The call started while I was walking around Gray’s Lake. It was one of those long, annoying calls where you make the decision to continue with your day rather than sit and let the time pass why you are on the phone. My plan was to drive around for a while until the call completed, and then I would return home for the evening.

I turned right on Fleur instead of left. I hit I-235 going east. I had never really explored the north or east side. I knew Grandview was somewhere in that neighborhood, but I had never laid eyes on it. I turned off onto Euclid and drove toward the orange burning sky. The entrepreneurs who decided that a used car lot, a bail bondsman store and porn shops should be within a mile of the Polk County Jail must have been some of the geniuses who only come around every other generation. I fell in love with the grit of Des Moines. Two years later, when my career behind the camera started to take off, I filmed a testimonial for the bail bondsman on that strip. I shot a handful of two-to-five-minute segments with his regular and returning customers for the YouTube channel he was about to launch. There are days when I realize my career could have continued down this path.

Back to my phone call. Before I knew it, the sky was dark, and I had no clue where I was. The call finally ended, and I was in a part of town I had never been in before. This was before smart phones and, remember, I didn’t know anyone. I just kept driving. I could see the skyline from Euclid, but I didn’t have the knowledge of how to twist and turn my way around the city with only the Ruan building in my sights. Somehow, I turned on Sixth Avenue in the Highland Park neighborhood. The arch that curved over the street and Chuck’s Restaurant were the only things that caught my eye.

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Keep in mind that even with all this romanticism, I was scared. I was lost, and I still had a job I could get fired from. On my normal trips to places unknown, I would consult MapQuest and would either write the directions on a napkin or print them out. I ended up inside some bar that no longer exists and attempted to ask directions instead without needing to indulge in any “bye bye pain” juice that, at that time, I was prone to enjoy.

As I write this today, I am sitting inside The Slow Down Coffee Shop on Sixth Avenue. The place is packed, and I know four people in this place by name. In fact, I now seem to know four people by name anywhere I go in this city, whether I needed a 25-foot-long flatbed trailer for a Trump impersonator to dance on during the Iowa Caucus or I wanted to score some black market dim sum due to being unsatisfied with current offerings available at local Chinese restaurants (RIP Kwong Tung).

And you ask why I moved to Des Moines? Now it all makes sense.

Kristian Day is a filmmaker and writer based in  Des Moines. He also hosts the syndicated Iowa  Basement Tapes radio program on 98.9  FM KFMG.  Instagram: @kristianday 

Twitter: @kristianmday

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