A trip to Des Moines ends with a smile | Latte Guy | Feb. 13

By Tom Tyner

While much of the rest of the civilized world was fully engaged in deciding whether to make chicken wings or nachos the centerpiece of their Super Bowl snack plans the Sunday before last, I was merrily winging my way to beautiful Des Moines, Iowa, “The Maui of the Midwest.”

I was headed to Des Moines (which I believe is French for “wool socks”) to participate in a minor misunderstanding involving the Internal Revenue Service, Federal Tax Court and a couple of million dollars.

I’m happy to report that my client got off with only a modest jail sentence, and was awarded credit for time served at the Des Moines Embassy Suites, which is not really as good an outcome as it sounds since my client was only a witness in the case, and the case was only a civil matter where jail sentences are rare, to say the least.

Perhaps next time I’ll refrain from shouting, “You can’t handle the truth,” at the Court Clerk when he asks a witness to tell ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’. And really, how bad can federal prison be? Half of the political and business elite in this country seemed to be keen on getting there.

I had never been to Des Moines before, and with all due respect to Iowa’s lovely capital city, it’s unlikely I’ll ever go back. It was chilly while I was there, with temperatures hovering between 4 and 10 degrees. But it was a dry cold, whatever that means.

I didn’t get to see many of the sights Des Moines has to offer, although I did go to a local seafood restaurant. Not surprisingly, the price of fresh seafood on the menu looked like it included the cost of flying the fish in from Seattle in a first-class seat.

The menu included various kinds of imported seafood in the $30-to-$50 range, a whole chicken in the $8.95 range, and fresh Beluga caviar for $499 a serving.

By way of compromise, I ordered the chicken, and then asked that it be seared in the same pan that the Pacific salmon had been cooked in and waved over the caviar bucket before being brought to the table. Evidently waiters in Iowa have no sense of humor.

I don’t spend much time in courtrooms in my practice, and so the whole trial experience was new and exciting to me. I use the word “exciting” here to mean baffling and terrifying at the same time, sort of like being trapped in a revolving door with Leona Helmsly’s billionaire dog.

I hadn’t really been looking forward to spending three days in Des Moines on this matter, or any other matter for that matter, and so for the entire week leading up to my Excellent Adventure in Iowa I was a tad bit irritable.

Then the long, stressful days in Des Moines, my client’s totally excessive wailing and gnashing of teeth as he was led off in handcuffs to Leavenworth, and the long trip home all took their toll on me.

By the time I was moments away from boarding the plane in Denver for the last leg of the trip back to Seattle, I was dog tired and in a pretty foul mood. To amuse myself, I was making a mental list of my many grievances against the world as I worked my way through the line of travelers boarding the plane.

The gentleman from United Airlines collecting the tickets at the gate, on the other hand, appeared to be having a pretty good day. He shook hands with each passenger, hugged many of them, joked and chatted freely with everyone, and sent each one of them down the ramp with a smiley face.

When I got to the front of the line, he took one look at me and asked me if I had been working that day. I said that yes, as a matter of fact, I had been working that day. He paused for a moment, broke into a big grin, grabbed my hand and said, “Friend, it’s good to have a job right now, isn’t it?”

What could I do? I had to smile and tell him he was right. That one simple gesture turned my day around.

And isn’t that the way life goes? Some days you think about the future and all you see are violent water disputes, global food riots and a sick and dying planet. Then other days you feel just lucky to be alive on such a beautiful planet.

So thank you, my new good friend in Denver. United is lucky to have you. But I’m still not going back to Des Moines any time soon.

Tom Tyner is an attorney for the Trust for Public Land. He is author of “Skeletons From Our Closet,” a collection of writings on the island’s latte scene.

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