It’s not the Des Moines of my boyhood

Scallops served with roasted corn, peppers, corn Veloute, crispy La Quericia prosciutto and collard greens at Clyde’s Fine Diner in Des Moines.

A work trip last week took me to Des Moines for four days.

It was my first such trip since February and it felt good to be on the road again. But it is sobering to think about because Des Moines, the state capital in Iowa, which is in Polk County, has become a hot spot for COVID-19. As of Saturday, there had been 2,309 positive cases reported in Iowa’s largest county over the past seven days, bringing the total to 13,119. It has a positive test rate of 10%, a figure that steadily increased every day last week.

Things have become serious enough in Iowa that Kim Reynolds, the state’s Republican governor, last week ordered the temporary closure of bars, taverns, breweries and nightclubs in six counties, including Polk.

But you have to hand it to people in Des Moines. In the hotel where I stayed, along with every restaurant and store I entered, there were signs telling patrons to wear masks and employees at the entrance to remind people when they needed a reminder. This leads me to two asides:

  1. What makes people behave this way in public? Do they watch these videos after they go viral and feel any shame or embarrassment for their behavior?
  2. How many months will the pandemic stretch into before I remember to put on a mask — or at least grab one — before I’m halfway out the door?
Fried Brussels sprouts with Caesar dressing, sunflower seeds, toasted bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.

Anyway, the people I encountered in Des Moines showed concern and acted responsibly. And this is a good thing. We all need to pull together — something growing numbers of us seem increasingly unwilling to do. This could lead to bad news of epic proportions.

The Federal Reserve last month said a large number of small U.S. businesses could fail during the coronavirus recession, slowing recovery and creating lasting damage to the world’s largest economy.  Some 30% to 40% of small firms in sectors most affected by social distancing have gone inactive since February. Spending at small restaurants was down 80% by April during the height of the nation’s shutdowns and was still down by half in early June, the Fed said, citing data from credit card transaction processor Womply.

My wife works for one of those small businesses in our town, so I hope it survives. I’m also hoping and praying for Clyde’s Fine Diner — easily the best place in which I ate last week. I had the scallops served with roasted corn, peppers, corn Veloute, crispy La Quericia prosciutto and collard greens. The person I met for dinner and I split an appetizer of fried Brussels sprouts, Caesar dressing, sunflower seeds, toasted bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. It was the best meal I’ve eaten in a long time even if I had no idea what Veloute sauce is until I Googled it later.

Clyde’s opened last year in Des Moines’ East Village. Owner and chef Chris Hoffmann, who moved to Des Moines from Chicago, stopped by our table as we were finishing. He said business has been picking up and that Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights have been particularly strong.

Being a native Iowan who grew up maybe 50 miles from downtown Des Moines, I’m old enough to remember the days when absolutely nothing about it was cool and trendy. It’s easy to root for Clyde’s, along with the other small businesses I visited last week and the small businesses we all depend on wherever we happen to live. These businesses employ 58.9 million people, which makes up 47.5% of the country’s total workforce.

It just can’t be said enough: Wear a mask, wash your hands, practice social distancing. Make smart decisions. Be safe.

Thank you for stopping by.

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