It’s summer and I’ve once again become a creature of habit. Saturday morning means the Downtown Farmer’s Market. Even if I don’t actually need to buy anything, I go to the DFM. I may pick up a fresh-baked loaf of jalapeno-cheese bread, or fresh asparagus, or a cinnamon roll the size of a toaster, or a free-range organic artisan t-shirt printed by Thai immigrants. Sometimes you don’t know what you need until you see it.
But mostly I go to the DFM just to wander around.
I almost always stop at Breakfast Delights (one week I arrived late and the line was simply too long). They’re a little outfit from Corning, Iowa (population: 1635, located on Highway 34, about halfway between Creston and Red Oak; I’m told it’s the birthplace of Johnny Carson). Each Saturday the folks who own and operate Breakfast Delights drive about 95 miles to downtown Des Moines, set up their awning and grills, and serve up delicious breakfasts (including a sausage and egg croissant that ruins you for any other sausage and egg croissant). They also follow RAGBRAI every year.You have to love a small-town caterer that will trail along with a week-long bicycle ride that runs all the way across Iowa, from the Missouri River to the Mississippi.
You smell the food cooking and hear the music at the Downtown Farmer’s Market before you actually get to it. The food ranges from classic Kansas City barbecue to authentic samosas (and lassi on ice), to spanakopita, to falafel, to handmade tamales, to almond chocolate ghoriba and stuffed Mejdool dates, to fresh spring rolls, to lamb or pork cevapi sold by recent Bosnian immigrants. There’s also, of course, fresh fruits and vendors serving wheatgrass shots, and a few gluten-free specialty booths.
There are half a dozen music venues scattered throughout the DFM. As you wander up and down the streets, you might hear old-school country-western, or a jazz-fusion trio, or a multi-pierced woman playing Emotional Rescue on an electric violin, or some sort of Brazilian afro-funk quartet, or a middle-aged white couple singing the ballads of John Denver, or some serious kick-ass and nasty Chicago blues, or maybe a very sincere young woman paying an autoharp and singing cheerful songs to groups of face-painted children. And somehow it all blends in together without becoming noise.
And for the last two or three weeks — mimes. Seriously. A troupe of actual, no-shit, genuine, non-ironic mimes wandering through the crowd, posing with every damned child under the age of ten. I’d no idea mimes still existed. I thought they’d all been hunted down. But I have to say, there’s something oddly inspiring about their ability to sustain that level of enthusiasm.
After the Downtown Farmer’s Market, I usually walk along the river (the DFM is within an easy frisbie-toss of the Des Moines River). Down through the flood gates, along the refurbished riverwalk — the relative quiet of the river makes for a nice transition from the busy-ness of the market itself. There are usually other walkers, a steady stream of cyclists, some folks fishing, and I can report I’ve never seen a mime by the river.
You do, though, see folks napping. Sometimes the nappers are homeless folks; sometimes they’re just over-fed, exhausted market shoppers. On occasion I may have closed my eyes down there my ownself.
Yesterday the river was still probably six or seven feet above its normal level, but the flooding has receded quite a bit. A couple weeks ago only the tops of the balustrade were visible, and the upper level of the riverwalk was underwater in several places. The lower level of the riverwalk — the one that’s normally just a few inches above the river itself — hasn’t been visible for weeks.
After walking along the river for a while, it’s back home and the continuation of Saturday. I’m usually back by noon or one o’clock — a bit foot-weary, a bit heavier (although a bit lighter in the pocket), and content.
Every Saturday, the river is both different and entirely the same as it was the preceding Saturday. Every Saturday, the Downtown Farmer’s market is different and entirely the same as the week before. Every Saturday, with few exceptions, I visit them both.
Considering that every other day of the week is largely unplanned and schedule-free, I guess I don’t mind being a creature of habit for three or four hours one day a week.