Locals Only: Ellen Butler (I ♥ Des Moines)


Welcome to Locals Only, a week-long series written by Des Moines locals for Des Moines locals. Every day this week, a Midwesterner will be contributing a piece to the site about a topic of their choosing. We'll start off with my new friend, Ellen. She's written a thoughtful essay about life in Des Moines versus life in New York City. But before we get started, here's a little bit about her....

Hi there! My name's Ellen and I'm a Des Moines native, yogi, singer, pet lover, and hardcore fan of the Midwest. I embrace the Oxford comma and the literal definition of literally. When not out for a run or playing Trivial Pursuit with my fiancé, I can be found working hard and having a blast as the UX Director at Happy Medium. Today I want to share about my love for Des Moines.

On either side of my bed hang two big Ork posters- - the type where the geographic area of a city is broken up into neighborhoods in big, black block letters. One is for New York City, where I spent the last two years of my life. The other is for Des Moines, where I grew up and only recently returned after eleven years away.

I'll be up front and say that I did not have a love affair with New York City. I lived there for a semester in college and at the end of my program declared proudly that I would never live there again. Living there can be tough - it's stressful to do otherwise simple things, like buy groceries or meet friends for lunch. However, when we decided we'd be leaving, I was shocked by how much I mourned this place that I had been stressed out by for the past two years. Though I grew up in Des Moines and had visited it dozens of times since I moved away, I worried that it might not be able to fill the Manhattan-sized hole in my mind. 

Being back here now, I can genuinely say that for the most part, when I find myself missing something about New York, I can find it here. I am a 5-minute walk from the Art Center. Django is the perfect place to enjoy a delicious pot of moules frites, which was always my entree of choice at places like Cafe Luxembourg or Cherche Midi. The endless trails in and around Waterworks Park are vast enough for me to forget Central Park ever even mattered.

Of course New York is magnificent in its own way, too! When I left my office at the end of the day, I could look south and be staring directly at the Flatiron Building. If I turned around I could see the Empire State Building peeking out, reaching skyward. Some days I'd walk through Riverside Park with my dog, the Hudson River shimmering through the trees, and feel awestruck by the view. But those kind of moments were few and far between. Of course, it is those memories that stick the most because our silly brains tend to remember what was good and forget what was bad. 

When my fiancé and I moved back to Des Moines in April, we were relieved to the point of giddiness about so many things: no more wasted time sitting in traffic or on a stalled subway train. No more climbing five flights of stairs to and from our apartment. My office in Manhattan was only five miles from my apartment, but on a normal day my round trip commute took an hour and a half. Traveling around Des Moines, on their other hand, is life changing and it takes only eleven minutes to get nearly anywhere. 

There were so many days in New York when I craved the solitude and calm I've come to associate with the Midwest. Being constantly surrounded by people, traffic, pollution, noise - it wears you down. The fact is, you can't find calm there.

There was no Des Moines to be found in New York. Nowhere to go to find some space, nowhere to feel peaceful. In all fairness, it's true what they say: There is no place like New York. Despite my complaints, I genuinely believe everyone should go there and experience it for themselves. But there is also no place like Des Moines. 

This is an incredible place and it has become incredible without having to sacrifice its heart - it is the most perfect blend of cosmopolitan and unassuming. My fiancé and I decided to come back to Des Moines, despite the fact that neither of us has any family living here anymore. It is because living here now means something different from living here fifteen years ago.

We love Des Moines on its own merits and we could not be happier to be back.