Monday, June 20, 2005

Wedding joy, simple pleasures

It's been an interesting weekend - I had the blessed opportunity to attend the wedding of a classmate in Dubuque, Iowa. The journey up and back provided me with some eye-opening revelations.

The first is how much I've been longing to leave the city. We left Chicago late on Friday - so we didn't get to Dubuque until pretty late, unfortunately. But since my friend Barb was driving, the traffic just didn't faze her.

Dubuque is a beautiful little town. I could see how it could become small and smothering - like many small cities, it struggles with the loss of major employers and the domination of others. But the cleanness, the openness, the slowness of life besides the Mississippi is an amazing thing. The trolley driver apologized for it being a slow day downtown...I told him that I didn't miss busy one bit, to be honest.

Signs you're in a small city in the summer:
- it smells cleaner, somehow. I'd gotten so used to the smell of the city that it was sort of a shock to get out of the car last night at the hotel. And walking and trolley-ing around the downtown and port area, it came to me that things looked clean, but felt cleaner, somehow. That's when I realized: it just doesn't smell so bad - that's the difference...

- The absence of traffic. Sitting outside at the coffee joint across the street from the Julien Inn, I was astonished at the peace and calm on the main street of town. It was in marked contrast to what I'm used to...

Usually, on Saturdays in Chicago, I get out about 8:45 and head north on Lake Shore Drive and over to the Dan Ryan Expressway to an AA meeting up on North Ave. Even by 9 AM, the Dan Ryan (I-80/94 through downtown, for you out-of-towners) is already busy...not "busy" for Chicago, but definitely not serene by any means.

By contrast, in downtown Dubuque on Saturday, you could count the cars going by, with entire minutes or more between each one. Even on the "expressway," traffic would be best described as "pretty darn light."

- People smiled, said hello, and were gracious when you asked directions. The trolley driver (from the business district to the casino and resort on the riverside and around town) was pleasant and chatty. There were no panhandlers in sight. The air was light and crisp; the skies were clear blue, with cottony vapor contrails slashed across them. It was a level of beauty and serenity that I didn't even know I'd been missing while living in Chicago.

I was in Dubuque one other time, for about 36 hours back in 1998 - at Wartburg Seminary, for their "Called To Do What?" conference on calls to ministry, when I was "thinkin' about gettin' ready to consider the possibility" of going to seminary full-time. I didn't get to "see" much of the city, but I remember visiting a unique AA meeting site in that town which has always stuck with me.

In a little strip shopping center, there was a central vestibule with three doors - three choices. To the left, a donut shop; to the right, a bar - and straight ahead, stairs leading to the lower level, where the AA meeting was held. The way it was set up, you literally had to decide what to choose - one addiction, another addiction, or every meeting was a "first-step meeting," in some way. I didn't get to go there this time, but it was a fun memory.

The wedding was a joyous time. We arrived early, just to get a good seat - the Wartburg Seminary Chapel is not that big, and the guest list had grown over the last several months. The prelude music consisted of classical pieces alternating between organ and solo piano - it was kind of fun to see the musician spin off the organ seat and dash to the piano bench to begin again. The service was brief; the vows were heartfelt, and Laila came close to losing it when she said her vows...but she hung on, and the couple's first kiss was a bit of an endurance run.

In short, it was a joy-filled celebration.

The reception was at the Grand River Center, on the banks of the Mississippi. The food was fantastic; the toasts amusing and beautiful; and the company was neat. A couple from Chicago, now in suburban KC and members at Advent Lutheran in Olathe (at 143rd & Pflumm!) sat next to me (talk about six degrees of separation!).

The dancing was the amazing part. I had more or less decided that I was going to just sneak out after a couple of dances (because I hadn't danced in years, and wasn't going to start now), but something drove me out onto the dance floor. I knew I'd look stupid - at my age and size, it'd be hard not to - but I also had this idea in the back of my head that looking stupid was not going to stop me from having fun. (It's taken a while to learn that lesson...)

It was amazing. All those classic dance songs - "Shake a Tail Feather," "Twist'n'Shout," even (God help us) "YMCA" and "Baby Got Back," along with dozens more. I even found myself in the position of encouraging one of my twenty-something former classmates to get out on the floor with me...which is definitely of God, and not myself, because usually I'd rather have my teeth drilled than dance. But for some reason, I knew this was a time to celebrate, and so I just asked God for help to leave my self-consciousness at the table, and just went for it. Even on the second day after, I know I have muscles I haven' used in, oh, 4 or more years - and I definitely needed Advil...for serious pain when I got up this morning.

But it was worth every bit of it.

I rode home with my young dancing parter-in-crime, Tom G., and we had a delightful time talking about every topic under the sun. I couldn't help being struck with how the countryside in western and north-central Illinois is much like that where my dad's family is from, in western New York state - rolling hills, farms, lushly green fields and trees, and "trucks use lower gear"-type hills. Several times, we'd crest a hill and see some farmland panorama, and Tom would just break off conversation and say, "Oh, wow..." It would have been perfect to have "What a Wonderful World" playing in the background...

So now it's back to reality. The newlyweds are headed to Hawaii for a couple weeks of honeymoon, joining a list of several friends (who I'm trying hard not to resent!) who are off on exotic vacations. But I'm grateful for a weekend of small-town pleasures and joyous times, to give me a little recharge for the journey ahead. The looks of joy and love on my friends' faces, and the memories of small-town serenity, will surely ease the path as I "trudge the road of happy destiny" this week!


Dave said...


Anonymous said...


Michael said...

If you're still job-hunting, perhaps you should apply to the Dubuque Chamber of Commerce or some other civic promotion group...
[I wouldn't try with the Windy City, though. At least, not with this post.]

bobbie said...

i was married in dubuque - not nearly as grand though. it was fun to hear it from your perspective.

Bar Bar A said...

Steve, you have a gift for writing. Have I told you that before? Since both of the female friends your mentioned share both of my names I think that is a sign. Of what, I don't know.

I enjoyed your small town weekend. I love small towns and hope to one day get the heck out of Suburbia and land somewhere outside of Flagstaff, AZ.

Do you think small towners accept people that move in from "the outside?"

I moved from CA to a small Oregon town once and got a very rude welcome (well my car did...they trashed with a note about going back where I came from). Since then I've been a bit leary....