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Happy National Tortilla Chip Day!

Pass the salsa. [In honor of the bottomless bowl of tortilla chips and salsa in Des Moines Iowa, I’m revisiting a blog post from some years back.] 

I went to Des Moines, Iowa. Yes, I did it on purpose and I’d do it again. After living in the UK for several years, it was a bit disorienting to hear American voices in Des Moines, where they speak a version of English. But it is the home of the absolute friendliest people on earth and almost everything in Des Moines is practically free.

On the (free) hotel shuttle, the driver told me West Des Moines had everything that you could find anywhere else in the United States. And it was cheaper. And if they didn’t have it, you probably didn’t need it. Over the (free) hotel breakfast, the waitress told me that we should visit the (free) art museum because they had a terrific Matisse collection on display. And in the (free) hotel laundry room, another lady confided that her business trip had ended four days earlier, but the hotel was so nice and so affordable, she just told her husband there were more meetings and stayed on to give herself a little holiday. She had, she told me, three teenage children home for the summer and not one of them had gotten a job. I asked her how soon they would be leaving for college, and reminded her that the hotel had (free) wifi and a very nice gym. With a jacuzzi and a sauna. She looked thoughtful.

After less than a week at the hotel, the desk clerks were asking how we liked the dinner at the restaurant we’d gone to the night before. They knew about this because their cousin’s neighbor’s brother had spotted us there. Of course he did! We were the huge group in the corner whooping it up on pitchers of margaritas, bottomless bowls of tortilla chips and salsa, and platters of Mexican food which came to a grand total of less than $100 for fourteen people. Counting the tip.

My sisters and I believe in quiet, dignified margarita consumption. At least, that’s how I remember it…

My sisters and I believe in quiet, dignified margarita consumption. At least, that’s how I remember it…

When we got back to the hotel, I spotted my brother in the lobby. He was listening to a woman sitting in the bar, and looking like he’d won the lottery. So of course I headed right over. He told me that his new friend was in the insurance business. She nodded. “We sell hell insurance.”

Tina needs this insurance.

Tina needs this insurance.

I didn’t think I’d had that many margaritas. “Excuse me. Did you say hell insurance?”

She nodded proudly (narrowly missing falling from the high bar stool). “We’re the oldest hell insurance company in the country.”

My jaw dropped, skittered over to the corner, and leaned itself up against the wall. “Hell. You insure people against hell? I always thought you just had to take your chances with that.”

“Oh, honey, we invented hell insurance.” She nodded so hard she did come off the barstool this time. I waited while she climbed carefully back on. “Been selling it for over a hundred twenty-five years.”

In Des Moines, they insure against hell.

In Des Moines, they insure against hell.

(I looked her over. She didn’t look a day over 120 to me, but I sure hadn’t had enough margaritas to mention that.) I was curious though.  “Um… have you ever had to pay out on a policy? Because, it seems like it would be pretty hard to prove someone’s claim.” I thought about it. “Of course, I suppose there are a lot of churches who take up collections every week, so technically they’ve probably been in the business for longer than you.”

My brother was laughing so hard, I thought he’d hurt himself. But the insurance lady didn’t seem to notice. “Oh, sure we get claims all the time. There’s a LOT of hell in Iowa. Especially these last couple of winters.” She stopped and gave me a worried look. “But I never heard that churches were in the business. That could be bad because I don’t think they have the same reggae we do.”

“I don’t think most of them are into reggae,” I agreed.

“That’s going to take some…” She looked surprised by her empty glass. “Another drink.”

On the way up in the elevator, my brother broke the news to me that the insurance was probably against the kind of hell that comes down from the sky in frozen chunks, and the churches likely aren’t into reggae OR regulations. So I’m now back home in Glasgow, where they say normal, familiar things like, “Happenin? You wint tae cum to ma bit cos I’ve goat an empty ra morra ‘n a fancy a swally?“** but there’s no insurance policy if you gang tae hell.

[**Translation for those who don’t speak fluent Weegie (Glaswegian): “How are you doing? Would you like to come to my home and join me for an alcoholic beverage?”]