It Could Be Worse. In Iowa Nice Praise of Test Iowa

There have been a lot of complaints about Test Iowa and Gov. Kim Reynolds’ response to COVID-19. Those complaints do not feel very Iowa nice. It could be worse.

So I wanted to offer some overdue praise.

Since Test Iowa’s launch, I had been dutifully submitting my personal information to the state via its opaque website. It’s easy for me, since I have a cell phone, email address, ready access to the internet and my health.

I was tested on Aug. 10 in Cedar Rapids, and I can honestly say that my Test Iowa test was the best thing to happen to me that day.

Each week, I received a personalized link and encouragement to “crush the curve.” I would follow that link, reenter my name, email address (twice for confirmation), cell phone number (twice for confirmation), date of birth, street address, city, state, ZIP code, gender, height (in inches), weight, underlying conditions, demographics of my household, and job. I was glad they were being so careful to make sure it was me.

In May, testing became available to anyone could get an appointment regardless of symptoms who after two months and a $28 million no-bid contract to help us crush the curve. And we did, as Iowans undertook serious group study to get ahead and help set the grading curve here in the Midwest.

As the school year crept up on us, even though we’d been super careful and hadn’t set foot inside a grocery store, restaurant or movie theater since before spring break, my family wanted to get tested. Scheduling our tests was four simple steps. Our process was:

  1. Plan some vacation time, since we couldn’t guarantee testing on a specific day and no testing is done on weekends or evenings.
  2. Check each morning in the days leading up to our time off to see if we could schedule a test.
  3. Schedule a test. Then log in as my wife and schedule another test. Then log in as my daughter and schedule a third test.
  4. Print our QR codes on actual paper to be ready to go for our test.

While we live in the fourth most populated county in the state, and minutes from the state’s hygienic laboratory, we had got to travel to Linn County for testing. Since we’re not transportation dependent and own the required hardtop vehicle (no walk ups!), we had no problems getting to the test site, as it had good signage from the interstate.

The test took just minutes, and the care worker who shoved an incredibly long swab up my nose twice for 10 seconds each could not have been kinder and more professional.

I received my results — negative — about 24 hours later (once I could find a place with enough LTE data to load the website).


This week was our summer vacation, originally set for hiking the Colorado Rockies; we stuck closer to home amid the pandemic. 

And so, as Monday’s derecho storm rolled in, we were at Palisades-Kepler State Park, just east of  Cedar Rapids. We sheltered first in our car, buffeted by 100+ mph winds, and then in the park ranger’s basement.

After the storm passed, we abandoned our car and hiked the quarter mile out, over broken trees, downed power lines and dying wildlife. We were fortunate to get a ride home with my parents, who had downed trees and no power at home.

We returned home to find no power, a terrified dog and at least two large tree limbs had gone through our roof and ceilings. Our damage was much less than many.

Thanks to the kindness of neighbors and friends, we got cleaned up, kept our phones charged and our coolers full of ice. Many others offered help, because that’s what Iowans do. Thank you.

Power was restored this morning, thanks to overnight work by linemen and foresters, 108 hours later. 

Dismantle Our Current Structures

Redefining what public safety means for the University of Iowa will require the campus community to think differently and to dismantle our current structures in order to build a better future.

Everyone has a right to be skeptical that real actions and change follows, but when that quote follows “in order to truly reimagine public safety on our campus, we must approach the issue as though we are starting from scratch” in the press release from our big public university?

This moment is different.

Or maybe not. Skepticism is OK.

One-track Minds

We’re in the midst of a moment: police brutality, the long-time callous disregard for Black lives, has come to the fore with opportunity for rapid change and reform.


We’re in the midst of a moment: a global pandemic infecting millions of Americans, and killing thousands without an end — or leadership — in sight.


We’re in the midst of a moment: an incompetent wanna authoritarian for whom cruelty seems to be the point stands for election.


We’re in the midst of a moment: the point-of-no-return for our climate.

And so on and so forth.

Humans are so bad at focusing on more than a single rage-inducing issue at a time, our wannabe authoritarian has (inadvertently?) weaponized it against us.

In short: you can stay mad, but you can’t stay mad at the same thing if more horrors keep popping up. There’s so much coming at us and the rapidly-dying media that we can’t keep our focus long enough to make the case that is obvious.

It’s so easy to forget. To forget the compounding weight.

We humans like to chuckle about how goldfish forget something once they hit the other side of their bowl. Or about how dogs only think in the present tense. Or how birds can’t count above three. Gosh, they’re so simple.

And here we are, stuck on our one track.

Hindsight: Best Pandemic Moves

Making a few stock-up purchases two months ago.

Planning my spring break to a cabin in an isolated state park five months ago.

Refinishing the basement and building an addition to provide spaces to work, read, sunbathe, puzzle two years ago.

Moving to careers that pay well and allow us to work from home 12 years ago.

Buying a chest freezer 13 years ago.

Becoming a parent and stopping after one child 15 years ago.

Being born a white, cis, hetero male to educated, well-to-do parents who have been supportive of me my entire life, allowing me an incredibly large safety net so when a global pandemic hits I’ll be just fine, thanks, 40 years ago.

(Did you “make” good pandemic moves, too? There are people you should help.)

Last Meal

On March 13, I consumed one of my last meals in a restaurant for the foreseeable future. I found myself on North State Street in Chicago, surrounded by employees munching on Hot Cheetos and kale salads before the lunch rush.

Nina Elkadi, Life Without Restaurants, Little Village

This piece, which, coincidentally, includes a photo of my family eating at Pullman’s Mission Creek dinner a couple years ago, has had me thinking about my last restaurant meal.

It was for my birthday in early March, and the food, prepared with care and creativity by Rodina‘s team, was excellent, as was the company of Evelyn, Laura, Sam, Erek, Kelly, David and Lisa.

Such meals aren’t ancillary to my social life. As a homebody and an introvert (of which I’m even more certain now than before), they’re often the necessary social lubricant.

I miss (in-person) meals with family, and I miss meals with friends. I miss the magical experiences — surprising, novel and transportive — that restaurants can offer.

When we travel (when will that happen again?), it often centers on food, and we seek out those places we hope will offer a thoughtful meal and then figure out what else we’ll do and where we’ll stay from there.

When we’re home and our kid is off with friends (when will that happen again?), we’ll venture somewhere locally, and simply watch people while we enjoy good drinks and good food.

None of that comes in a to-go box.

The Arts Will Strengthen Our Community

My first date with my wife, Laura, was a 1995 showing of Braveheart at the Englert.

A few years later, just as I was finishing high school, the Coralridge Mall opened and laid waste to Iowa City’s retail. Big department stores had either abandoned Iowa City or were getting ready to. There weren’t many decent restaurants, and the bars relied on underage drinking. And the parts of downtown that weren’t bars were rapidly being replaced by more bars.

Then the Englert, the last movie theater in downtown Iowa City, closed. It was going to become a bar.

I was in college — the downtown scene was being build for my cohort! — but I was heartened when a group of locals launched the Save the Englert campaign and managed to do just that.

Since then, the Englert has become a cultural beacon, hosting hundreds of show a year, organizing festivals and helping program arts across the community. And FilmScene has brought movies — good ones — back to the heart of Iowa City. And Saturday, they launched a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen our existing venues, grow the arts into new spaces and with new festivals and evolve our organizations with community-driven arts access and education. You can read more about it here.

Here comes the appeal. We’ve given. We’ve asked our friends to give. And I’m asking you to consider giving. These opportunities don’t come around very often.

Communications That Don’t Suck (or Cost a Buttload)

No non-profit organization exists just to do communications.

Instead, people get involved because they’re interested in helping communities, advocating for change or building a needed amenity. But communications are vital to supporting these organizations’ mission by raising funds, recruiting volunteers, spreading information and inspiring action.

But I see a lot of sucky communication from scrappy organizations doing really important work, and I want to help. So I put together a guide with goal of helping organizations get on solid footing and pointed in the right direction with practical advice.

There are other, more sophisticated ways to do communications than this guide offers. You can target your ad spends using lookalike audiences to boost your ROI, if that’s your thing.

The guide, however, is geared towards people who don’t have a background in communications, marketing or information technology. In fact, it’s geared towards organizations that might not have a website or social media presence.

This guide is for organizations that have more enthusiasm than expertise, and more dedication than dollars.

The guide is not intended to be shared with or used by right-to-lifers, gun-rights champions, “educational choice” advocates, pro-military chickenhawks, censors, anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, science deniers, nationalists, Nazis or libertarians.

You can get the guide at You can send me feedback at

My favorite movies of last year

I watched fewer movies this year than I did at one point of my life, when I didn’t have a kid and TV shows weren’t nearly as good as they are now, but I still saw a healthy amount.

While I made it out to see Oscar contenders like Roma, my favorites of the past year were all over the place.

Here they are, in no particular order.

Saving Brinton

Saving Brinton still

A love letter to Iowa and her people disguised as documentary about saving film history. Michael Zahs, who I had the fortune hearing speak at the conclusion of my first showing, is a natural entertainer and a salt-of-the-earth type who warmed my heart. [Watch on Vimeo]

Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse

Into the Spider-verse

I loved Spider-Man when I was growing up. Then, when I tried to jump back in after a few years away, I found it incomprehensible. What they hell were all these weird contrivances? Oddly and amazingly, Into the Spider-Verse manages to tell a story far from that simple Spider-Man beats up bad guys story of my childhood — including multiple dimensions and a main character who isn’t Peter Parker — but makes it familiar and entertaining.

Black Panther

Black Panther still

I love a good superhero movie and Black Panther was exactly that. Plus: representation matters. Wakanda Forever.

Eighth Grade

Eighth Grade

Part of my love for this movie surely comes from being perfectly primed: I saw this with my daughter the summer she was getting ready to enter junior high. It offered an opportunity for us to talk about the journey ahead. The story and acting is incredibly true to life, cringey in all the right ways.



Like all Spike Lee joints, this is heavy handed at times. But we live in a time like no other and drawing a straight line from shitty cops and organized racism in the 1970s to a shitty president both-side-ing racism in 2017 requires (and resists) being heavy handed.

Minding the Gap

Minding the Gap

A fascinating exploration of three friends, including the filmmaker, bound by skateboarding, as they grow up and grapple with their childhoods and their futures. [Watch on Hulu]



I’m not kidding. Blockers is exactly what you think it is. Crass. Gross. Over the top. Absurd. But it’s also hilarious and touching. And it actually treats teen sexuality with respect. Blockers is also an argument for why women should helm more movies.


The turn of the year is a natural time to look ahead, set goals and pledge to improve.

I’ve never been one for new year resolutions. They strike me as optimistic, and I’m not, as anyone who knows me can attest, not an optimist.

Still, I hope, by the end of the year, to be a better person whose done more good.

Rinse. Repeat.