LeeJolliffe.com

Be Proud, Iowans; We're helpful, trustworthy, aw-shucks-nice
                                                                     --and that's not bad

Special to the Register July 1, 2007


    It was one of those really, really bad blind dates. Hate at first sight. I thought he was absurdly arrogant and he thought I was maybe not pretty enough to reflect his handsome glory. We pretended to be polite, since it was just for one evening and the friends who’d set us up were there with us.

    “Where’re you from?” he asked.

    “Ohio.”

    “Oh, Iowa. Girls from Iowa’ll believe anything.”

    “Yeah, but I’m not from Iowa, I’m from Ohio.”

    “Same difference.”

    Deeper into the evening, he got a couple of drinks down me and decided to try his luck. At lying. He told me a big long tale of lost love and heartbreak and waited for me to swallow the bait. I upheld the honor of Iowa girls and didn’t believe a word of it.

    Decades later, when the girl from Ohio actually did move to Iowa, she found out that Iowans are very, very good people, mostly, and she was proud to be one of them.

    Iowa, for instance, has a real democracy, where actual regular people get together  and decide what candidate should get to run for office and what policies and ideas their political party will endorse. As an Ohio kid, I once asked my Dad what a political party was and even though he tried his best to explain, somehow I never could find the “party” in politics.

    In Iowa, you can not only find the party, you get to go to the party.

    Even when they’re not having parties, Iowans are universally well-liked. Drake student Leah Anderson told me that on a vacation, her family was studying maps they had spread out all over their car hood in Washington, DC, when some tourists approached and asked for directions.

    “Gosh, we don’t know, we’re from Iowa,” they answered.

    “Yeah, we saw your license plates. That’s why we asked you. We knew you’d help us, because you’re from Iowa.”

    Even screenwriters and novelists know that Iowans are the best people of all. When “Magnum, P.I.” investigates a horse theft, his client recovers her worthless--though beloved--horse but is suddenly poor, since her wicked uncle stole all her money. She gives Thomas Magnum $100 and promises him $200 more.

    “How can I be sure you’ll pay me?” he says. “Shouldn’t you give me an IOU?”

    She smiles sweetly and says, “Thomas, you know you can trust me. I’m from Iowa.”

    And he does. He even kisses her!

    The ubiquitous Detective Munch (who in the world of re-runs on tv somehow works as a New York cop on “Law and Order SVU,” but a Baltimore cop on “Homicide: Life on the Street,” with the same character name in both places), this ever present detective is ranting about love and marriage on “Homicide” in the “Happy to Be Here” episode. Love seems unobtainable to him. Is there only one person meant for each of us?

    “What if your one true love was an Eskimo and you lived in Des Moines?” he asks his partners.

    He can’t let it go. “And what if you went to Eskimo-land and your one true love was already married?”

    His friends are more practical--or maybe they know Iowa. They’d gladly do their  spouse-shopping here. “There’s a lot of nice people in Des Moines,” they say.

    If you ask the Canadians on the “Red Green Show,” Iowa’s the breeding ground of nice people, real downhome folks. Their 200th episode, “Twinning,” has the Possum Lodge guys looking for a “twin city” south of the border.

    “Who’d you write to, Uncle Red?” asks Harold, the stuck-in-the-50’s nephew.

    “Oh, every city, town, and state,” answers Red.  “So far, the news isn’t good.” He waves a stack of letters, all turndowns.

    A few scenes later, Harold rushes in again. He’s quivering with excitement.  “Uncle Red, Uncle Red, we got one! It’s from a whole state.”

    Of course the state is Iowa. We love Red Green. Forget being his twin. We’re duct-taped to him at the hip. Canada sends “Red Green” cast members in character to our Iowa Public Television fund drives, and we positively rain money on them. They debuted their movie here, that unforgettable classic “Duct Tape Forever”. They tour here, for crying out loud. (Yeah, other places get fancy rock star buses and stretch limos, but only Iowa gets the Possum Lodge boys on tour.)

    And at least fictionally, we get to trade visits. In the Twins episode, some visiting Iowans are visible in the background, a bunch of guys in khaki hunting vests and gimme caps, staring up at the clouds.  “What’re they looking for?” asks Harold.

    “Oh, I told ‘em a possum would come flying across the sky any minute now,” says Red.

    Not only are the visiting Iowans nice enough to watch for a flying possum, they really know how to follow through on the twinning thing. Late in the episode, some Iowans come trooping onstage dressed just like Red, Harold, Dougie Franklin, and the rest of the gang. The Dalton Humphrey look-alike, hair awry and green sweater rumpled, starts touting his hardware store in Ames. A scrawny Winston Rothschild III clone jumps in to advertise his “sewage sucking service” from Oskaloosa. Utterly companionable, the “twin” Iowans all go off to a lodge meeting with the regular cast, closing out the episode.

    Yup, Iowans get around, and when we do, we’re just the epitome of niceness. Maybe it started with “M*A*S*H”’s Radar O’Reilly, the most naive character ever drawn onscreen, a perfect foil for the sharp-edged Hawkeye. Radar haled from Ottumwa.

    Nowadays, whether it’s a futuristic thriller by J.D. Robb or an Alaskan wilderness mystery by Dana Stabenow or an episode of “CSI: Miami,” if a writer needs to drag a reliable witness on-stage, they drag ‘em in from Iowa, and especially from Des Moines. Des Moiners are apparently nationally known as the only people who are normal, reasonable, and still capable of being shocked by murder and mayhem.

    I’ve lived in Iowa for a dozen years now, even got an Iowa t-shirt to wear on visits to Ohio. I tell a lot of stories about Iowa when I go back East, but I do have a favorite.

    It happened this past December. My son and I were driving up route 63 from Ottumwa late at night and I was in a hurry. Speeding, no question.

    An oncoming car flashed its lights at me. “Cops,” it seemed to say. “Radar ahead.”

    I slowed down, and it saved our lives.

    Slewed across both northbound lanes up ahead was a station wagon with no lights on. Glass and metal were strewn up the road for a good 200 yards before the actual wreck. The only lights were taillights of other vehicles pulling over to help. I stopped and jumped out, calling 911 on my cell as I ran toward the crushed car. I’m no medic, but I could do CPR and maybe staunch some bleeding. This thing had definitely rolled over at least once.

    Pussyfooting through the worst of the metal shards, I realized there were also tools and burst-open suitcases, even heavy toolboxes mixed in with crunched auto parts and empty beer cans in the road. Oddly, though, there was no one in the car. No blood, either.

    I looked around in time to spot two male figures highstepping it through a pasture, running away from their handiwork.

    Here’s what makes this so Iowan.

    The first four cars to come along all stopped to help. One car had a nurse, one car had an EMT, one had me, Ms. First-Aid, and the fourth car had a Life Flight pilot, who said he was on the way home from one horrible accident and rescue flight--but he still stopped, didn’t he?

    And we’ve gotta figure the two wreck ‘n’ run fellas weren’t from Iowa at all.

    So if Iowans are thought naive by the occasional conceited blind date, who cares? Everyone else knows we’re the last man standing--the only regular folks, the only real people left out there, trustworthy, reliable, downright NICE--and proud of it.