Archive for June, 2008


June 24, 2008

So I promise not to turn this blog into a post-flood requiem. To that end, I shift gears back to the truly important matters, like beer.

MB and I recently went back to Maryland to celebrate my Dad’s 80th birthday. Glad to say he’s in great shape and still kickin’ in high gear. There was a big bash, but our real mission was to go to one of the Dogfish Head franchise bars that has opened not two miles from my folks’ in Gaithersburg Maryland. In fact, it was our first stop in town.

That’s Mom and Dad, mom with a Lawnmower Light (she was a good sport, but this was not the bar for her in terms of beer) and Dad with a Shelter Pale Ale. That’s MB’s 90-Minute IPA in the foreground, mmmm….

And that’s me, sleepy from travel, but thoroughly enjoying a Raison D’Etre. Nothing like a pint of that stuff to kick an afternoon into gear. I also had their Indian Brown which was surprisingly nice, says the man who doesn’t generally go for Browns. It had a unique spice to it.

Now, as much as I love Dogfish Beers (and they are indeed some of my favorites), I was hoping for something much more from the brewpub. It really was a fairly standard fern bar, although the vegetarian options for food were certainly above par. What I was really bummed about, though, was that they had none of the harder to find beers that I really wanted to try. The Raison D’etre was superb to get on tap, but they didn’t have the Raison D’extra. The 90-minute is one of the best beers around, and it was a pleasure to have on tap, but I was looking forward to tasting the 120-minute. The spring Aprihop was done. No Immort Ale. No Black & Blue, no Red & White, no worldwide stout, and none of the “brewpub exclusives.” Again, I don’t begrudge Dogfish anything here (just keeping brewing big strong beers, guys!) but I really thought that the brewpub would offer a bigger range of their beers. Oh well, I guess I have to go to Delaware.

Anyway, it was a great way to open up the weekend festivities for my Dad. Looking forward to many more Birthday visits to come!

The Difficult Decisions

June 22, 2008

It’s easy enough to see why communities originally developed near the water and why those communities have remained. It’s not easy to simply say, “OK, now we’re all going to relocate somewhere out of the flood plain.” But we should certainly consider if this is perhaps the time to make that move. A 100-year and a 500-year flood in 15 years? Over 3,000 houses were flooded in Cedar Rapids. Several neighborhoods–the Time Check area, the Czech Village, and the Normandy Drive area in Iowa City–were nearly completely destroyed. Over half the houses in the Time Check area, for instance, are not safe enough to enter.

This is a fact of life in many smaller towns along these rivers, as well, with whole communities washed away. In these regions, the dynamics are different. We as a society have said that we need to have the fertile floodplains farmed (whether this is a good policy or not is another debate); if we need to make floodplains productive then we do need to at least make reasonable efforts to afford those farmers the ability to live where they work (this is, of course a catch-22 as the process of making floodplains farmable actually alters the river’s dynamics that make it so fertile in the first place. But as I say this is another debate for another time). I’m not saying I necessarily buy our farming priorities, but I do recognize the economic dynamics of midwestern cropland; the issue is that the dynamics in these small towns is different from midwestern cities. There is no inherent reason to keep people living in regions such as the Time Check neighborhood other than the fact that people’s lives have been established and connected to the region. Many people have strong emotional ties and are ready to rebuild. I more than understand that. But can we afford to have people live there? These floods have really highlighted the sad state of Iowa’s infrastructure as a whole. Do we have the resources to rebuild in a way that will make any of these areas safe and functional?

Both Cedar Rapids and Iowa City governments are beginning to discuss buy-out options. These are very difficult decisions. What is ultimately needed is true leadership. The decision cannot be put off one way or another. Once people in those communities start rebuilding, it’s too late to truly have the conversation. Right now, there is a clean slate (so to speak). People may not like particular decisions, but they lose nothing in the process that they haven’t already lost. Once they rebuild, they will lose their homes twice. In both cities, the government needs to be willing to make some unpopular decisions and live by them.

I know that officials have been discussing these issues with officials from Grand Forks, ND. Grand Forks officials did a good job after the ’97 floods (I’m sure we all remember those haunting images of the city burning in the midst of floodwaters with no real way to stop the fires) of making intelligent but unpopular decisions and moving ahead quickly and decisively. It has taken ten years, but Grand Forks is now once again a vital city. Several neighborhoods were bought out and turned into green spaces by the river. I think this vision would serve Cedar Rapids really well. Most of all, though, it’s the decisive leadership that our officials should emulate from Grand Forks. Grand Forks offers a glimpse of what it will take and how long it will take if we are going to get past this disaster. Yes, people are going to be unhappy pretty much whatever you do, but that’s the nature of the beast at this point. Waiting on some of these decisions will only make it worse.

One More Organization

June 19, 2008

I wanted to mention one more organization that is really hurting and could use some donations. The Cedar Rapids Community Health Free Clinic does amazingly good work in downtown Cedar Rapids serving over 22,000 patients over the last year, all of whom have incomes below $15,000. Predictions are that this number will rise dramatically over the next year as some 7 to 10,000 people are projected to lose their jobs due to the flood. The Clinic survives almost solely on individual donations, so this is another organization I really encourage donations for. If you are interested, please take a look at their website:

Flood Update

June 17, 2008

Today I got my first real sense of what business and homeowners will be facing. I helped people salvage what they could from houses that flooded up to the 2nd floor. The experience is incredibly heart-wrenching and images don’t really do it justice. Outside, there are lawnmowers and furniture in the trees; appliances are strewn in ditches and everything is coated with inches of pure muck. Inside, a house’s contents are flung wherever and thick, gunky, moldy muck is over everything. The smells are horrendous. And these were houses in small neighborhoods several miles from the river. It’s just unbelievable to try to imagine the miles and miles of homes that are facing these conditions. Many are unsafe to even walk in as basements are collapsing and floors are rotting. Most of the houses I saw are completely gone. And now the floodwaters are moving down into the far southeast corner of the state and on to the Mississippi.

I had mentioned in my last post that I would try to list some places that are worthy of donations. I will say at the start that the Red Cross disaster funds are currently depleted. The Red Cross will have to borrow money to offer relief for the Iowa floods. So more than ever they seem like a good place to support. Locally, the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation has opened up a Flood 2008 fund. These funds will support non-profits in Linn County and help with specific flood relief projects. Donations can be sent to PO Box 9, Marion Iowa, 52302. These funds seem like the most wide-reaching ways to put money into Iowa recovery.

A few other options for less-visible but important groups to support:

First, the Legion Arts group has started a fund for low-income artists and musicians who live in the area. Legion Arts has really been a mainstay for cultural development in cedar rapids and their efforts here should really be supported. If you are interested, I’d suggest you go to their website at It is uncertain how much damage the legion arts center and stage sustained at this point. You might use this website to track the center itself as I am sure they will need funds to maintain this incredibly important fixture of cedar rapids life.

Second, I have talked with many people about the amazing number of rescued animals and pets who are being housed at this point. This is an often neglected side of such tragedies and, if you are interested, funds can be sent to the Kirkwood Foundation, c/o Friends of the Cedar Rapid Animal Shelter, Kirkwood Community College, 6301 Kirkwood Blvd. SW, Cedar Rapids, 52406

Finally, an issue after my own heart. One of the great things about Cedar Rapids is its parks and trails system. Many of the trails have been completely washed away. This system was already in serious financial difficulty, to the point that I have trouble imagining this trail system returning to its old self, let alone expanding as the city hoped. If you want to contribute to the trails system, I would suggest you look at Linn County Trails Association at I recognize that this may seem like a secondary issue at this point, but it’s things like hiking and biking that help give a place character and feel alive, something this area will need in the years to come.

I think the extent of these floods is just starting to become clear to people. It will take a long time to wake from the daze and see the long road ahead. Any help along the way will be more than appreciated.

As always, whatever your situation and place, take care of each other.

The Road to Recovery

June 17, 2008

The waters are receding in Cedar Rapids and the Iowa River has crested in Iowa City (earlier and lower than predicted–at least a bit of good news amid the rest). So, now the long, painful road to recovery begins. The latest estimate of damages in the area is close to 2 billion. And this apparently doesn’t even factor in the loss of cropland for this year which in many areas will be a total loss.

The city began to allow people back into their homes after an inspection but this proved a longer and more complicated process than anyone imagined. After further inspection they have decided that neighborhoods are too dangerous at this point and all entry into flooded houses has been denied. People are understandably upset and nerves are frayed; on the other hand, I believe that the authorities are indeed acting in everyone’s best interests. At least from the limited images we get, flooded areas seem like toxic nightmares to me. One report I saw on the news urged people who were able to get to their houses not to pump water from basements too quickly as the pressure would make the walls collapse–this is certainly something I wouldn’t have been aware of and I can’t imagine how many people are ready to rush in and start pumping. We fortunately got through this with few injuries; now seems like the time when injuries would start piling up. I don’t have answers to how to handle this, but I can see the need for caution here. That said, I am speaking as an outsider. My house was not flooded and I can only imagine the emotions welling up in the floods’ victims. For the homeowners and the authorities alike, the next few weeks will prove a vexed existence.

I am taking stock of organizations that are offering services and aid to the victims and to the city. I will post them shortly to this site should anyone feel inclined to contribute to particular efforts. As we know with the all-too-frequent disasters recently, though, the Red Cross is always a worthy avenue to funnel funds to those in need. I will give updates as we go, though, on other opportunities to help.


June 14, 2008

So, here’s a few more images of Cedar Rapids:

It’s hard to know how this is playing in the media outside, what images and stories are making it into the larger world, but I hope it’s big. No, this is no Katrina with its horrible loss of life and there are no real political stories here (at least yet), but this is utter devastation. And the horrifying part is that the Iowa River hasn’t come close to cresting yet. Here in Cedar Rapids, the Cedar River is now starting to recede but it will be at least a week before it completely recedes; drinking water is at a critically low level and thousands will be without power for over a week. But we at least can see the extent of the flooding. In Iowa City, the extent is not quite fathomable yet. Both cities will reach record flooding that far surpasses the 1993 floods. Here in Cedar Rapids, the flood waters were a good 10 feet beyond original predictions. 2008 was named “The Year of the River,” a year to revitalize our downtown and turn to the river as its cornerstone. Little did we know that it would truly become the year of the river. The road to revitalization now is a long and tenuous road at best. The Paramount Theater, Theater Cedar Rapids, Legion Arts, Museum of Modern Art, the University, Hancher Theater all under water. Small businesses gone. Jobs evaporating. Whole neighborhoods of poor and working class citizens completely flooded out. Yes, the mantra is “we will get through this together,” but the realist in me doesn’t know what “getting through” in this context will really mean.

My Town

June 13, 2008

OK, so I’ve never shown any hesitation to discuss my ambivalence about living in Cedar Rapids, or Iowa in general. But I have to say that this truly breaks my heart:

This town has been really struggling financially and this could well break its back. It’s also really frustrating to be able to do nothing. Sure, I can sandbag with the best of them, but it seems to have done nothing. I would go help with sandbagging in Iowa City–which is due to be hit even worse next week with the entire University under the gun–but I can’t even get there now. Highways are closed down, bridges under water. This stuff hits you right in the heart, and I wish there was something we could do besides wait mother nature out.