This Old House

Travels with Smartacus: Des Moines, Iowa

We are staying overnight with an old friend in an old house in Des Moines.

You can’t get up quietly in a house like this. The floors creak and the old iron door hinges yip like Hitchcock violins. Yet, it is solid in ways a new house seldom is. The doors are heavy, with glass knobs and old timey turn-key locks. The base moldings substantial.

That’s the word for this house: substantial.

Des Moines, for all the public sculpture and downtown renaissance, seems of another era. I pronounce it Dey-Moi, like some sort of French pastry.

I have never seen so many good, substantial, affordable houses.

This buddy and I have known each other since my freshman year, at the college that lives under some major oaks nearby.

Back then, we lived in ’70s-era buildings that were either dorms or penitentiaries, I’m still not sure which. We drove past them yesterday, and I’m still not sure. College dorms remain the most charmless architecture in America. They are a point of passage. Survive a year or two here and you can maybe have a better life. It’s two steps left of basic training.

I’m not sure I’d like college these days. There are too many rules, too-quick judgments, a herd mentality. Once the most-Utopian institutions, American colleges now represent a form of intolerance. You know you have problems when our most-fearless warriors (standup comedians) won’t go near them anymore.

Des Moines, for all the public sculpture and downtown renaissance, seems of another era. I pronounce it Dey-Moi, like some sort of French pastry. #ChrisErskineLA #Roadtrips #Iowa

Hanging over this visit to my alma mater is the knowledge that a year from now, we’ll probably be packing up Smartacus for four years, in some prison-like dorm, where the sun is different, the food is strange, and there’s no dog around to wake you in the morning.

Fine by me. He’s due a little change, and the glories of a freshman year.

When it happens, if it happens – who can predict anything anymore? – I can only hope he finds a friend like this, who 45 years later hosts him in an old house with floors that creak and iron hinges that yip like violins.

Some things should never change.

Ride along on our 5,000-mile roadtrip from California to Chicago and back. Next stop: Denver.

10 thoughts on “This Old House

  1. In 1953 our family took off on a seven week 10,000 mile trip around the United States and visited 41 of our relatives from Denver to Chicago to Maine, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, Texas and New Mexico. We visited big cities and small ones. Saw a lot of those ‘substantial’ houses and so much more most of which does not exist any more.I am glad you are not chained to a desk in El Segundo and have the opportunity to see so much of what is great in America. Smarticus has a great dad.

  2. I too will be hopefully packing up my daughter for college next year – in hopes that she will find a lasting friendship. Sounds like you have a really good one!

  3. Some of my best friendships were ones made the 3 yrs spent in Nursing School in Nashville when we were 18 to 21. Great friends then , great friends now.It’s as if we grew up together…which we did !Glad you are enjoying your longtime friend !

  4. I wish I had known your itinerary beforehand. Maxie’s has the best onion rings in the World and as such, in Des Moines. If Denver’s in your sights, try Benny’s Mexican Food and Tequila Bar for the Best Deep Fried Chile Rellenos in the World (notice I only eat the Best of Everything in the World). Safe travels with the Smartacus.

  5. Yes, old friendships are, I think substantial, too. Glad you are enjoying your travels visiting old friends and family. I know I am. As a kid we zig zagged all over the country in our Ford Country Squire with the paneling on the sides. Great adventures. How’s the Rand McNally holding up?

  6. #UCSB #UCSD both have beaches as part of their campus. Location is far enough so Smartacus can come home, but shouldn’t. And no out of state tuition to deal with. Just saying.

  7. Hello Smartacus,
    This is a “Dear Son” letter sent to you as a mother.
    It is a big decision to choose which university you would like to attend for this next four years of your life. Listen to your instincts of the right university for the person you are. And present it this way to your family. My bet is this will be a family decision of your two sisters and father. Embrace the wonderfulness of that beauty!
    Wherever you attend, you will make your own way,and find your career of choice during this four years.
    I recall a major growth spurt of maturity during these four years at the university I chose at your age. And a good choice it was for me!
    My best wishes to you for the same.

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