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The Great Plains


Mentally, it all started with Alison's sending me a graduation invitation. Hers was the first to arrive, I'd never seen the University of Iowa, and the weather in Seattle was awful. So a trip to the Great Plains sounded --well, great!

Physically, it started in St. Louis. I met two clients, David and Lingxi, at Lambert Airport, north of the city proper, and got my first shock: there are as many honeysuckled Southern accents in St. Louis as there are Midwestern ones. Judy Garland and Margaret Sullivan never warned me about that!

Life and the interstate highway system being what they are, we spent most of the drive from Missouri to Iowa in Illinois. Peoria is the embodiment of small-town America: neat lawns, American flags, and lots of blond people who didn't quite know what to make of us.

Iowa home

We were treated well everywhere, although Lingxi's accent gave a few people trouble. But I can promise you, Iowa is not a place for the gourmand. There were several rumors of Greek restaurants, but none where we could actually eat, and nothing more exotic than that until we hit Omaha -- which is not in Iowa, in case your geography is weak. I could swear we had one dinner at the restaurant where Jack Nicholson ordered a chicken salad sandwich in "Five Easy Pieces" -- and were served by the same waitress!

We stopped at or passed through more small midwestern towns than you can imagine -- or want to! Springfield and Peoria, Illinois, Iowa City and Davenport, Iowa, Joplin and Columbia, Missouri -- and these pictures could have been taken at any of them. In fact, Casey's General Store is a chain that we actually did see in half-a-dozen towns.

There's both a sameness and an artificiality about the midwest that in many ways made me feel as if I were in "The Truman Show." Small groups of slightly pre-adolescent kids rode bikes through the streets: nothing that anyone would call "a pack," no one who deliberately jumped in front of me to play chicken (well, there was that dog, but he was clearly a mongrel, so what can you expect?), nothing to interfere with the tranquility of well-manicured lawns and porches with swings and rocking chairs where the elders might spend their evenings.

Casey's General Store, a chain throuhgout the Great Plains
small town life

I can happily report that the cities throughout the midwest, while not New York, exhibited more racial diversity than I had expected.

While the smaller towns were a bit too reminiscent of "The Wonder Years" for this ultra-urban Italian-Russian-east-coast lesbian, we saw no overt discrimination anywhere, even though I was traveling with two clearly Chinese guys. David's All-American accent might have made life simpler for him, but Lingxi's All-Chinese accent didn't cause us any trouble either. I doubt that I could have said that fifteen or twenty years ago.

Heading north from St. Louis Airport, our first stop was Davenport, Iowa (which looked like the pictures above), on our way to Iowa City (which looked like the pictures above) for Alison's graduation.

The University of Iowa

I did not do well at Iowa, except for setting national and international records for getting lost. Roads that curve and change names are not my style. Since the graduation was not in the law school itself, I got to get lost coming and going.

The Law School was bright, airy and cheerful everywhere except the the classroom corridor. My perception was heightened (or weakened?) by the total absence of ceiling lights; I guess they figured that no one in their right mind would show up that day. But there were also no windows or skylights, so the dim view wasn't just a fluke. But the overall feel, as it is in many of the suburban and college-town universities, is of space: phrases like wide halls and airy views seemed to associate themselves with all of the schools we saw. And I can promise that these are not words that spring to mind in many of the urban law schools.

Iowa Law School Rodin Statue

The statue in front of the law school was naggingly familiar. The plaque set nearby resolved my sense of déjà vu. The statue is one of Auguste Rodin's The Burghers of Calais, which I had spent a lot of time admiring at the Rodin Museum in Philly in January. The original sculpture has six burghers, but I guess state schools are all in financial crisis. Or perhaps only the youngest had the look of confusion and dismay that reflects the emotions of a law student.

After the graduation and the tour of the law school, my two clients and I hopped back in the car and headed west.

Great Plains

We saw another hundred miles of increasingly-less-great plains, then:

Des Moines, IA

I was quite taken with Des Moines. The city's motto should be, "Baroque and proud of it." Ornate buildings from the era shortly following "the Rebellion," as they so quaintly name it, are found throughout the city. The public library building is a fine example of turn-of-the-century (or fin de siècle, for the literati among us) architecture. But the state capitol is a wonder, a veritable Taj Mahal in brownstone, with so much gold trim that it morphs from Baroque to Rococo. The setting is majestic, with as many steps as the Lincoln Memorial and better gardens. The monuments celebrating both Iowa's status as a member of the Union during "The Rebellion" (which included a statue of a black soldier proudly wearing a saber and the contribution of Iowa's women to the war effort) may not have been quite worthy of inclusion in the National Gallery of Art, but they were well-executed, and their sentiment far outweighed any artistic flaws in my mind.

Iowa State Capitol

 

Pioneers

The park's monuments and statuary celebrate every aspect of the State's history with fervor. Left, a pioneer searches for new horizons while his Native American neighbors, while not smiling and smoking peace pipes, are also not swinging tomahawks.

Below left, a woman offers herself to the war effort. We decline to comment further. The words above the woman say, "Iowa, her affections, like the rivers of her borders, flowed to an inseparable union." The statue was both designed and paid for by women.

Below right, a Black Union soldier is wearing a saber and holding a cannon bore.

Women of the Civil War Black Union Soldier
Cavalry

As with every War Memorial, there are men mounted on horses.

Below are a few photos from downtown. Left: Modern art, turn-of-the-last-century transportation: bicycles of the early 1900s.

Right: a beautifully restored historic building I made David stop and let me photograph.

Bicycle sculpture Restored Victorian Building

After playing in the park we headed off to Drake Law School.

The law school itself was pretty empty on a Sunday afternoon, but was clearly relatively new and well-maintained. Chairs are obviously comfy, and windows like the one below reflect a concern for aesthetics that transcends bare public school budgets.

Drake Student Lounge Nice law school

So if you want to live in the best of small-town America, the one Ray Bradbury wrote about in Dandelion Wine and Farewell Summer, Des Moines and Creighton might be the right places for you.

Omaha, NE

Omaha looked like a town just growing into being a city, and trying very hard to appear grown up. I didn't see any of the flair that made Des Moines feel special. So in Omaha you can find urban, but not funky. But places like Ahmad's (the Persian Restaurant in the Old Market) definitely added an urbane flair we didn't find in earlier stops.

Omaha building Omaha skyscraper
The contrast between the very old and the very new was typical of Omaha.

 

Creighton Law School was the best possible blend of these two extremes. I fell in love with the school, the staff, and most especially the architecture.

Circular stairwell at Creighton Law School

This stairwell in the library is a perfect example of that blend of old and new. Clearly ultra-modern, the cherry wood and wrought iron reflect the best of an earlier era and add a warmth often lacking in modern construction.

Moot Court Room at Creighton Law School

The bench in the Moot Court Room is another great example. The look is neoclassical -- or perhaps more purely classical -- yet it is clearly modern. Note also that despite the school's Jesuit affiliation, the building is not festooned with crosses (unless you think they hid one in the Scales of Justice, top center).

Creighton Student Lounge

The student lounge has another of those round windows I love. Notice the vertical support so that the window isn't just suspended in midair, and a shelf just below center making a strong visual break as well as a functional place to rest your books or your beverage.
stained glass

It looks a lot like a stained glass piece I made 20 years ago, so you can see I really do like that style. Mine is clearly more 80s retro than postmodern, but the aesthetic components are uncannily similar.

Are these really the things I look for in a law school? YES! What will you see on those rare moments when you look up from a law book? Will the break room give you a break visually and emotionally? If you think an hour of TV will provide the break, you're still thinking "undergrad." In law school, looking up from the book IS your break.

Lincoln, NE and the U of Nebraska

Lincoln is just another small midwestern town -- obviously the heartland of America, but not not a part of Loretta DeLoggio's heart.

As to the U of Nebraska, there's something about this school that I can't just write off. Every time I want to say, "just another big state school," I remember that fascinating metal mural, in the big, comfortable, well-lit student lounge. Again, we're not talking Roy Liechtenstein here (whose work is hanging at the University of Minnesota, by the way), but, well, see for yourself.

I don't usually like such nearly chaotic abstraction -- how many times have you heard me say "clean lines,' "classical," "aesthetic"? -- but the energy flows well in this piece, somehow.

Metal abstract sculptural mural of immense proportion

 

The Great Commoner

I was far more interested in the chance to visit the home of William Jennings Bryan than I was in any other place on the tour. I was awed at how much he resembles Fredric March, who played him in the movie. Imagine my chagrin when I realized the statue resembled March more than it did Bryan!

Statue of William Jennings Bryan Photo of William Jennings Bryan
Statue at Fairview, the Bryan house in Lincoln, NE Actual photo of William Jennings Bryan from Wikipedia; Copyright Library of Congress

Kansas City, MO

Washburn Law School, in Topeka

U of Kansas, in Lawrence

We blew it! I don't know if we were just too tired or whether the map of Kansas City, MO to Kansas City, KS to Topeka was just too daunting, but we didn't make it to these two schools.

Really, folks, I have no objection to Kansas. Dorothy was from there -- and Toto too! We just somehow never managed to leave our hotel. We even ate dinner at Ruby Tuesday's next door, and if you know me, that's really throwing in the towel. I guess we'll just have to save Kansas for another trip.

Columbia, MO

I already discussed it above -- right next to Casey's General Store. However, I did get to see my former client Jaron, and was delighted to spend time with him. Moreover, he's very happy there, and for an L.A. boy, that's saying a lot.

St. Louis, MO

You really should have met us in St. Louis; it was definitely one of the most delightful of our surprises. Imagine a bigger Cleveland (or a smaller Baltimore), and add a touch of that French charm that Fathers Joliet and Marquette carried up and down the Mississippi. Names like Dos Peres, Carondolet, and Bonhomme brought back fond memories of pre-Katrina New Orleans, and Lindell Avenue, in the (appropriately) midwestern portion of the city, reminds me of St. Charles Ave. and the Garden District, not only because of the beautifully tree-lined street, but also because both Wash. U. and St. Louis U. are included in its beauty (as Tulane and Loyola are on St. Charles).

A church spire along Lindell Avenue

St. Louis Arch, with two of my clients in the foreground

Loyal as I am to my to my new home of Seattle, I must admit that the Arch, while less funky, is far more graceful than the Space Needle; in fact, "graceful" is an apt description of the city. Of course there were ghettos and crime; urban is urban, after all. But as cities go, we were definitely happy with this one.

David is on the left and Lingxi on the right in this clearly staged shot.

Rout  66 sign.

Lindell Avenue is also part of the historic Route 66, as they proudly reminded us.

 

Washington University Law School's main entrance

Wash. U's law building is in a style that Assistant Dean for Admissions Mary Ann Clifford tells me is called "Collegiate Gothic, a style that I much admire for its combination of clean lines and heavy textures. The imposing steps did make me glad I was traveling on my own two feet, though; a wheelchair or walker would have been a real problem until I found the "other" entrance.

Wash U's new atrium

The courtyard has been roofed (or sky-lighted) over, making it a year-round gathering spot for students, faculty, and staff. St. Louis is far enough south that snow shouldn't ruin the bright view very often.

Note how the dark wood offsets the lighter stone.

 

I was in crisis at St. Louis U.! I had misplaced my camera (now relocated.) David Chen allowed me to use his all week, but since his flight out was several hours earlier than mine, we said goodbye before we reached SLU, and I had to return the camera. Trust me; SLU is every bit as nice as Wash. U. In fact, seeing the two of them and adding them to my experiences of Penn, Berkeley, UCLA, and UW allowed me to create a new category of campus -- the "formerly suburban," which is by far my favorite. Wash U. and St, Louis U. are both clearly in this category.

 

St. Louis U. Building on Lindell Avenue

 


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