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GROB: The Charles City experience, through the eyes of a stranger

By James Grob, [email protected]

When my oldest daughter visited from San Francisco last month to treat me with her presence for a few days, I decided to give her the Charles City experience.

She’s an avid tennis player, or at least she was avid at one time. She’s 31 years old now, and so she doesn’t play as often as she used to, but she still plays and still loves the game. So I thought I’d take her to the amazing grass courts out at All Iowa Lawn Tennis Club.

GROB: The Charles City experience, through the eyes of a stranger
James Grob

If you’ve never been there, you should drop by. We were fortunate enough to do so on a day when they were having a big tournament — kids from Iowa were playing against kids from Nebraska. It was a joy to watch. She was impressed. Mark Kuhn himself — the creator of the court — took a liking to her, talked her ear off and even showed her some tennis artifacts he had accumulated over the years.

As we drove off later, my daughter said that Mark “might be the nicest person” she had ever met in her life. I told her that most people who have met Mark probably wouldn’t argue much with that statement. He’s certainly in my top five, at least.

Just down the road from there, we made a stop at Carrie Lane Chapman Catt Girlhood Home and Museum and we were graciously given a tour. My daughter is an advocate for equality, and was fascinated to learn about one of the places where equality advocacy started. Not in San Francisco, not in New York City, not in Chicago or London or Paris — right here in Charles City.

She learned a lot. I learned a lot. My wife took a photo of the two of us next to the barn, which had a sign on it that said “Barn.” I’m guessing they put the sign there to identify the building just in case some big city tourist stopped by and didn’t know what he was supposed to call that big red structure.

She went with me that evening to meet the mural artists, who were in the process of turning a couple brick walls downtown into giant, colorful mosaics that are simply beautiful. The artists were wonderful to talk with, although one of them was kind of a smart-mouth, but when you’re an artist like that, you’re maybe expected to be that way. He made me laugh. I enjoyed the moment, and the finished work is top-of-the-line, in my opinion.

Lunch the next day, I took her for a pork tenderloin at Comet Bowl. That, also, is a work of art — in the culinary sense. And that’s something you just can’t get in San Francisco.

And it occurred to me that we do OK, here in Charles City. We have plenty of things that aren’t available anywhere else. If I started to make a list, I wouldn’t be done until I filled this page.

No, we don’t have the Golden Gate Bridge, but we have a brand new Charley Western Trail Bridge, as well as a beautiful suspension bridge. I’ve been to the Golden Gate. It truly is a marvel and a sight to behold, but our little bridges are just fine.

When my youngest daughter visited last year, she got a taste of the Chuck Town Brown and some other varieties at Saint Charles Brewery — now Tellurian Brewing. I know there are hundreds of micro-breweries in Iowa, and they all have some pretty good flavors, but as my daughter said, “I think they’ve got something good here.”

I couldn’t help but agree. This is unique, this Charles City experience.

And when some old friends of mine brought their kayaks to Charles City last year and rafted the whitewater rapids of the Cedar, they told me they had a great time, doing something they couldn’t do anywhere else in Iowa. “It’s wonderful that Charles City is so close,” they told me.

And I realize that I’m often as guilty as anyone else is — guilty of complaining about things in Charles City, how some things could be better, how some things can’t get any worse, about how some things are backwards and some things are dated and some things are just plain dumb.

Contrary to popular belief, being a complainer isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We need complainers. Their complaints are the first step toward making things better.

Before we complain, though, let’s take a walk across the new bridge. Let’s have a sip at the brewery. Let’s check out the artwork, in public around town, or down at the local arts center, or even at the public library. Let’s watch the children play and listen to them sing. Let’s just take a breath.

Someone built that, someone started that — and it’s here for us to enjoy — right here before our eyes, in Charles City.

This is unique, this Charles City experience. I think we’ve got something good here.

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