Friday, January 21, 2011

The big chill

The second thing I do after arrising too early these winter morning (coffee comes first) is fire up the computer and tune into the National Weather Service Web site to assess the situation. This is one of the Iowa weather maps that greeted me this morning. In other words, it's cold.

Actually it isn't as bad as predicted down here in the southern hills --- only zero at 5 a.m. (the forecast low was minus-nine). That's probably a factor of cloud cover. I always check out my old homes up north so I can (usually) feel modestly superior from a temperature standpoint because I don't have to brave the wind chill  there. It was clear and minus-21 in both Mason City and Thompson this morning. Now that's cold.

So we don't have that much to complain about down here. The ground is covered with snow, but there's not even a foot of that (yet), it's warm inside and there's plenty to do --- if I could generate a little enthusiasm for doing it. Is this cabin fever (aka seasonal affective disorder)?

We sat around at a meeting yesterday morning complaining about the weather --- among other things --- and there was general agreement that no one had actually wanted to get out of bed in order to be there. Except me. I always arise joyfully at about 4:30 a.m. (a great time of the day), then run out of steam shortly after lunch. It's at that point I want to go back to bed and stay there until it gets dark again.

This is my morning to open the museum office and see if I can accomplish a few things there, but considering the cold I'm not sure I'm going to be quite as eager to leave the house today.


It was a beautiful drive yesterday through the winter landscape and over the hills and through the woods to Mary Ellen's house down along the South Chariton for lunch and a good catching-up. She was taking a break from Des Moines where the non-profit she heads up, concerned primarily with sustainable land use, is doing battle with the new GOP House majority and a Senate only narrowly now in Democrat hands.

That new mix has endangered a number of  land use and development programs put into place over the years by progressive Republicans (Mary Ellen is one of those, a rare survival) and Democrats.

I was interested in her account of a conversation with one of the GOP legislative leaders regarding ongoing efforts to establish a rail passenger link between Des Moines though other Iowa cities to Chicago. That effort --- now a Republican target --- involves using state seed money to attract larger amounts of federal funds for the project.

Why, that leader had asked her, would we want to encourage a form of transportation that Iowans could use to leave the state? Missing, of course, the point that the goals of the project are enhanced public transportation for Iowans, to encourage people to come to Iowa (not leave) and also to make the state a more attractive place for jobs development by improving accessibility.

A majority of Iowa's best and brightest do leave the state, unfortunately, but seem satisfied to use our Interstate highways and airports to do so --- making it unlikely a passenger route to Chicago would increase the outflow. At least the new crop of Republicans hasn't bought into --- yet --- proposals to plow up the interstates and close the airports.


Three of us worked Wednesday afternoon at the Stephens House, beginning the job of turning the upstairs hallway (lots of bare wall) into a display gallery.

We're a museum that works hard NOT to have piles of artifacts stuck away in storage, but huge panoramic photographs of large groups of people taken for the most part between 1900 and 1920 have always been a problem. Many of these monster photographs (our largest is nearly six feet long and depicts an entire engineering unit complete with horses and wagons in New Mexico) date to World War I --- and they're wonderful. But as a rule, only one of the often hundreds pictured in these monsters has a Lucas County connection. And they swallow lots of wall.

But now we've found a place for many of them, at least --- and there are more to be added before we open full-time again in the spring.


Ed said...

Amtrak can't even attract enough passengers to break even on the line they already run in our state so why should we expect that sinking millions/billions of more dollars in them will improve the situation? I love Amtrak and have ridden it a couple times and always enjoyed my trip but at some point they need to stand up on their own two feet. I have a fundamental problem with any activity that continually requires me to throw money at it even when I don't need it.

Frank D. Myers said...

You're certainly correct, looking at it from one direction. However, neither our highway nor air infrastructure stands on its own feet either, but receives public funding because of actual and perceived economic and social benefits. Rail transport has never gotten over the fact it started as private business and any public support is still looked upon as subsidizing a private interest no matter how great the real or potential benefit and no matter how many other private interests we subsidize, too. There's little justification for an Amtrak route across southern Iowa where numbers and destinations are few, other than the fact our tracks are the ones in the state passenger trains are least likely to fall off of right now. The potential passenger base is along the proposed (long-term) route: Omaha, Des Moines, Iowa City (by extension Cedar Rapids) and the Quad Cities. I have no idea what the outcome will be or of the ultimate economic viability, but do think we need to keep the option open.