I went to Iowa.
I made the 1500-mile drive from Virginia to Iowa to be in the middle of the first serious moments of the 2020 election season. I already tolerated seven Democratic Party debates. Each more disappointing and useless than the one before. But now the field would finally begin to winnow. At least that’s what I thought then. We all thought Iowa would matter.
Des Moines was crawling with candidates and media. With film loaded, batteries charged, and a bag of camera gear, I made photographs.
“Just pay attention, Philip,” I reminded myself.
But I didn’t.
I didn’t pay attention to the news that a man in Washington was diagnosed with coronavirus on January 21. I missed that the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a global emergency on January 30. I didn’t know that 259 people were dead in China by January 31. Or that Italy was a simmering pot soon to boil over in a rage.
By the time I stepped through my front door back home another 1,000 were dead in China.
I’m paying attention now.
So what about those photographs from Iowa? And the political commentary I intended to piece together? They’re in quarantine.
My mind’s on other things. I’ve been thinking about the folks I met in cities and towns across those 1,500 miles.
- That fellow in Indianapolis who made the best falafel I’ve had since Tel Aviv 32 years ago.
- The silent cowboy who sat in a coffee shop looking at his phone for hours without ever looking up or taking a sip of coffee. What did he see that I didn’t?
- A guy at Scenic Route Bakery who sat with a newspaper on his lap, intermittently reading and napping. I believe that sofa was a refuge for him.
- The man I shared a table with at Java Joe’s who told me to buy Good Economics for Hard Times. (I did. I need to read it.)
- The gentleman in the apron and yarmulke who talked to anyone that would listen. He was always smiling. Except when he turned toward a private moment. Then the smile faded.
- Folks sitting in booths beneath a panoply of signs that look back on an America when people were social without the help of Twitter, Instagram or YouTube.
- A barkeep barista in Oskaloosa who drew a beer for a lady and made an espresso for me.
- A classically trained violinist gigging to earn a living at the Raucous before the Caucus. The violinist was fantastic. The raucous wasn’t.
- A woman running a pizza out to a guy sitting in a truck on snow covered 4th St in Des Moines. I blinked and there she was with that pizza.
- All-around good folks hanging out together sitting and standing close, rubbing shoulders and elbows. Having fun.
I wonder how those folks are faring? Did any of them lose their job? Are their businesses making it? Are falafels still selling? The coffeeshops? The restaurants? The people enjoying good times?
I wonder how - or if - life has changed for the 900,000 people living in Indianapolis and the 16,000 in Indianola? For the 3 million in Iowa and the 12 million in Ohio? I wonder.
So, no political photographs for this commentary. No Trump. No Biden.
And, Bernie? No. No Bernie.