Midwest to Manhattan: My Goldilocks Home

Midwest to Manhattan is an ongoing series on the site, dedicated to folks with connections to both the Midwest and Manhattan. We accidentally took a loooonnggg break from this series, but we're back with Karla Walsh! Today she's sharing about some of the differences between DSM and NYC, and why she decided to come back for good.

Bettendorf, Iowa, where I was raised, felt too small. New York City, where I moved after college, felt too big. Des Moines feels just right.

Living downtown and attempting to soak up every last drop of awesome that this gem of a city has to offer, I have zero regrets about moving back to the Midwest (despite the fact that I thought Iowa was so boring when I grew up here). Here are nine things I learned moving from Iowa to NYC and back—and how I finally found my home.

The real estate market in Des Moines is crazy. The real estate market in New York is CRAZY.

A couple weeks after graduating from Iowa State, I packed up a suitcase and a couple boxes for my parents to ship once I found my final destination. Similar to jumping without a net, I booked a one-way ticket and started my dream job without having a place to live. It’s tough to trust online listings without seeing the place in person, I figured, but after spending $1,200+ on a hotel room and having several apartments snatched up quicker than I could sign for them, I settled on a place in Jamaica, Queens (about an hour commute one-way). By comparison, signing a mortgage for a Beaverdale brick four years later felt like a breeze.

Nighttime showers are pretty much a necessity when you’re in NY.

Walking to and from the subway and slogging through the far-from-spotless stations leaves you with grimy, black-soled feet if you wear anything less than all-encompassing shoes (see: pumps, sandals, strappy heels). Unless you want to wash your sheets daily, nighttime showers will become a habit—and one you’ll probably keep regardless of where you go after since the cozy, warm feeling is perfect to lull you to sleep.

Cereal will never be a commodity that’s worth $8 a box (for me).

Eight million people tend to throw off the supply/demand curve a bit. It has to be tough to supply enough Cheerios to feed that many humans! After recovering from the sticker shock at the store, I turned to cheap and easy DIY options like homemade muffins and oatmeal to save cash. It is possible to put money in the bank while living in New York—packing breakfast and lunch sure helps!

Speaking of groceries, Hy-Vee is pretty magical.

The biggest surprise at supermarkets like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods was another factor influenced by the population: the checkout lines. At peak times, the queue spirals through the aisles and leads to a 45-minute wait to reach the scanner. Every time I’d come home to visit, or once I moved, I never took for granted the truly express line.

The diversity in New York is beyond inspiring.

There are benefits to having so many people in one small geographic region, like New York. You’ll witness more different perspectives, walks of life and unique beliefs in one city block than you might for miles in other parts of the world. This really makes you evaluate your convictions and the aura you’re emitting in a new way.

The variety is inspiring too, but also overwhelming.

Yet despite the fact that I lived in Jamaica, Queens, a neighborhood with restaurants that range from Portuguese to Pakistani; Salvadorian to soul food, the vast options were almost paralyzing at times. It was like trying to select an outfit from a Carrie Bradshaw-sized closet. Where do you start? So most times, my life resembled Groundhog Day more than Sex and the City, since I’d commute, work, commute, work out, make dinner, sleep, repeat.

Work/life balance is a bigger challenge in New York…

Besides being closer to family and saving more money, one of the main driving forces for my move back to the Midwest was the potential for more time for extracurriculars. In New York, I’d spend my days just trying to get it all done. Just trying to survive. But I wanted more. I knew there had to be more. So after two years, I packed up my things, moved to Des Moines (where my company also has an office) and started fresh. Since the entire Iowa campus is nearly empty by 5 p.m., that leaves several hours for volunteering, exploring and meeting new friends.

Iowa pizza simply can’t compete.

I do miss some things about NYC. The pizza. (Someday we’ll get a solid street slice in Des Moines. I’m sure of it.) The ability to find whatever you want 24/7. The ease of travel to other lands states and countries. But my goldilocks home, Iowa, has so much to offer. It’s centrally located. It’s becoming more culturally-well-rounded and diverse by the day. And living is just easy, from shopping to saving money to getting from one end of town to the other.

But the humans sure can.

It’s also effortless to make incredible friends and business connections. Rarely, if ever, will an Iowan say “no” to grabbing lunch, coffee or happy hour—even with a stranger. In fact, I’ve met some of my greatest friends that way. The first time I experienced that welcoming nature, I knew I had found my place. Home.

If you’re in New York, don’t miss…

  1. Roberta’s, a hipster Brooklyn hotspot, for wood-fired pizzas served alongside wines you’ll never find in Iowa.

  2. Snacking your way through Eataly, the ultimate Italian food market.

  3. Big Gay Ice Cream. Order a half Bea Arthur and half Salty Pimp; you won’t regret it. Sounds ridiculous; tastes incredible.

  4. Grabbing dinner or a drink at The Upsider, a very Instagrammable midtown bar.

  5. Lazy brunching at Gemma at the Bowery Hotel (on the patio if it’s nice out, of course).

If you’re in Des Moines, you can’t skip…

  1. Monday “Cheese School” classes and more ooey-gooey goodness at The Cheese Shop.

  2. The unexpected, creative and amazingly delicious Asian-inspired small plates at Harbinger.

  3. Aposto for handmade noodles and other Italian delights in a beautiful and cozy Victorian home.

  4. The tucked-away Ecuadorian restaurant Mi Patria for some of the best food you’ll find in a strip mall.  

  5. 5. Cooney’s Tavern, for a “Cheers”-like bar experience. (Psst...bring cash.)

top photo by Ivory House Photography