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Popular Culture, History, and Current Events

Outhouse Races, Chocolate-Covered Deep Fried Cheesecake, and the Butter What? Nothing Compares to the Iowa State Fair

By Sabrina Völz

Credit “Iowa State Fair – Day 2” by Phil Roeder

When tourists from all over the world plan their vacations to the United States, they often   stick to tried and true places to visit: National parks, Disney attractions, beaches, monuments, outlet malls, and museums. While they certainly are worthy places to visit, they won’t bring visitors closer to the people, contemporary culture, and everyday life in America like a good ole state fair. As an Iowan, I may be somewhat biased, but I wholeheartedly agree: “Nothing Compares to the Iowa State Fair” (this year’s motto).

Although the Iowa State Fair is not the oldest – that honor goes to the New York State Fair first held in Syracuse in 1841 – it is one of the best state fairs in the nation and places in the top 10 of most rankings. The Iowa State Fair, located right in the middle of the heartland, has been in operation continually since 1854 except for a time during WWII. The first visitors travelled by covered wagon to the largely agricultural showcase held in Fairfield which included spectacular exhibits and entertainment, such as “female equestrianism” otherwise known as female horseback riding. The Fair is five years older than the state, which became the 29th state in the Union on December 28, 1846. Iowans like to point out that Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, State Fair (1933), was inspired by their fair. Today, it draws over 1.1 million visitors from all over the world to its permanent fairgrounds in Des Moines each year. So now that you know the basic facts, let the fun begin.

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1550 San Remo Drive

By Maria Moss

This almost Bauhaus-style villa, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, is located in beautiful Pacific Palisades, just off Sunset Blvd. In 2016, it went up for sale – for a measly $16,000,000. And the German government not only went right ahead and bought it, but also renovated it for another $4,000,000. Now why would Germany buy real estate in Los Angeles? Read more »

“How many years can a mountain exist?” Bob Dylan and the Civil Rights Movement

By Jessica Walter

On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. touched thousands of people with his unforgettable “I have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963. In the face of discrimination against African Americans, more than 250.000 activists protested during the famous March on Washington. That very same day, in the very same place, another watershed moment occurred: The New York folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary sang a cover of “Blowin in the Wind”, forever adding Bob Dylan’s masterpiece to the canon of American protest music.

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If You’re a Star…

By Bobbie Kirkhart

Photo credit: caccamo “Walk of Fame – Hollywood 2”

 “If you’re a star, they’ll let you do it,” Donald Trump explained in his boastful account of casual assault on women. This rant, known as the Access Hollywood tape, was released years after he said it, during his presidential campaign. It did not, however, keep him from becoming President. He was right about the privilege of stardom. We are a country that protects power, whether it’s the star, the producer, the tycoon, or the supervisor in the department store in Topeka, Kansas. Women learn early: disrespect power at your own risk.

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Hidden Figures: A Highly Entertaining Film that Means Well but Doesn’t Quite Add Up

By Sabrina Völz

photo credit: Release poster / Wikipedia

As many of you might know, Hidden Figures (2016) is a biopic directed by Theodore Melfi based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s popular history book and New York Times Bestseller, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race (2016). The film about the NASA’s black female computing group at Langley’s Research Center during the Space Race was nominated for three Oscars and has reaped high praise from movie critics the world over. I was among the droves of people who rushed to the theater to see the movie when I read that Hidden Figures is an inspirational film that makes little known achievements of intelligent, determined women visible. I also appreciated the fact that this ‘feel good’ Christmas film might encourage girls to seek Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers. The plot also avoided all too familiar themes in black films, such as brutal beatings and rape of black women, which were taken to an extreme in Precious and 12 Year’s a Slave. It seemed like a win-win situation for all and the perfect story of triumph in dark times. And to be honest, that is exactly how I experienced the film. Well, at first. Then I read the book.

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How the “Ping” Was Heard Round the World

By Pelle Koppen

Photo credit: Ingo Joseph on Pexels

During the spring of 1971, 19-year-old American table tennis player, Glenn Cowan, wrapped up his training session in Nagoya (Japan) in order to prepare for the 31st World Table Tennis Championship about to take place later that week. He had been concentrating on perfecting his game for hours before he left the building. To his great surprise, Cowan encountered an almost empty parking lot. His team bus had left without him. But when the Chinese players, who were about to leave as well, saw a young American who looked lost, they motioned to him to hop on their team bus. During the short bus ride, Glenn was approached by the Chinese star player Zhuang Zedong. Against instructions to not seek contact with the American players, Zhuang introduced himself to Cowan and presented him with a gift – a silk-screen portrait of a Chinese mountain range. The next day, this friendly gesture was repaid in kind when Glenn gave Zhuang one of his personal t-shirts which had a peace symbol and the Beatles’ lyrics for “Let It Be” on it. These small, spontaneous acts of human kindness triggered a series of events with great political consequences. Read more »