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Tramel: Ames travelblog means seeing the Iowa State campus

Twenty-nine years ago, I went to Ames, Iowa, for the first time. Covered an OU-Iowa State football game. Stayed in a hotel in Ames, ate at the iconic Hickory Park, drove around campus.

And thanks to the COVID pandemic, I did something quite similar this weekend. For the first time since 1991.

As Iowa State fans have increased in number and become the Big 12's best fans in terms of support/rewards ratio, hotel space in Ames fills up quickly and can be quite pricey. So for decades, we've stayed in Des Moines, 30 minutes south on Interstate 35.

Staying in Des Moines generally means not much time in Ames. You drive up for the game, usually with quite a bit of traffic, both on I-35 and in Ames itself, and head straight for the stadium, which sits in the southern part of campus. Think Lloyd Noble Center at OU; that's where Jack Trice Stadium and Hilton Coliseum are in relation to ISU's main campus.

But the coronavirus has changed the standard. Far fewer people coming to town for a game. Even fewer than that spending the night. Hotels are easily found, at a reasonable rate.

So for the first time in almost 30 years, I got to spend some quality time in Ames, away from the athletic facilities.

Ames has a population of about 66,000, which makes it a little bigger than Stillwater or Manhattan, the Big 12 towns to which Ames is most often compared. ISU's student population is 33,000, which makes it slightly larger than either OU or OSU.

Saturday afternoon, before the OU-ISU game, JAson Kersey of The Athletic, an Oklahoman alumnus, and I drove around the main campus. ISU is a stately campus, with traditional architecture nestled amid glorious trees, which are turning into the paintings of autumn. The campus seems more dense than either OU or OSU, with more roads running through campus. 

Down south, by Jack Trice Stadium and Hilton Coliseum, the buildings sport a more modern look. But the ISU main campus has the charming collegial feel.

Iowa sports few brick houses. The clay so prevalent in Oklahoma is not so prevalent up north, so more of the houses are wood or siding. ISU's campus has some brick but lots of stone exteriors, too.

It's a beautiful campus. I assume it still looks good in the dead of winter, when it's 15 degrees. Ames has some of the coldest weather I've experienced, so I'm quite thankful to visit in early October.

I got some work completed Saturday morning, then we headed for lunch at Hickory Park, a barbeque tradition in Ames since 1970. Huge place, with reasonable prices and big portions. You wouldn't think it, but barbeque is a big deal in Iowa. All kinds of barbeque joints everywhere.

I had a three-meat combo for $16 that included a quarter chicken, a few pork ribs and a huge chunk of sausage. Plus Hickory Park is known for its ice cream, particularly shakes and sundaes.

I had a vanilla malt. I'm not sure I've ever had a malt before. Didn't really know the difference between a shake and a malt, though Ryan Aber tried to educate me. My malt was good; I'd describe it as a shake with an extra kick of something.

And Jason made the valid point that Americans have commandeered the term "vanilla" to mean boring, when vanilla actually is an exquisite flavor. I concur. Give me vanilla any day.

We went back to the Fairfield Inn and watched football -- OSU-Kansas, Texas-TCU -- before heading to the stadium. 

The COVID sucks, we can all agree. But I'll tell you, it sure makes for easy trips on game days. We drove right to the stadium with virtually no traffic, two hours before kickoff. Parked in a virtually empty parking lot adjacent to the stadium.

You know all about the game. No reason to pick scabs. I can tell you the pressboxes are not as lively as usual. In the Jack Trice pressbox, there were about seven feet between seats. Hard to carry on a conversation like that, so I mostly just watched the game and took notes. I like to chat during games -- make wisecracks, ask questions, etc. -- but not much of that is going on this season.

The postgame press conferences are different, of course. All via Zoom. With OU, there are two going on at once -- coaches on one, players on another. OU sports information director Mike Houck keeps the organization at a high level, so it works reasonably well. 

With the game ending after our print deadlines, we had plenty of time to gather interviews and write. We left the pressbox about 1:20 a.m., then I finished up working back in the hotel about 2:30. Makes for a long day. But a good day, and a different day. A day that started and ended in Ames for the first time in three decades.

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Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›