The Quad Cities. Davenport and Bettendorf are located in southeastern Iowa, Moline & Rock Island right across the mighty Mississippi in northwestern Illinois. (sorry East Moline, you DON’T COUNT. Otherwise the long-time clever name of Quad Cities would have to be changed just for you. Quint Cities just doesn’t have the same ring) Davenport, the largest of the quad was our home for 6 short years during the 80’s. We chose to live on the southeastern side because we wanted our 3 kids to remain in Iowa schools. Duh.
We did not realize our house was famous once a year. (It was located in an older neighborhood with large, single dwelling homes). The whole metropolitan area of Davenport was about 100,000. The significance was all about the street (boulevard actually) on which our 2 story stucco house was built.
There was this health-conscious dude from Bettendorf who ran the Boston Marathon in 1974 (and liked it). After he came back to reality (Iowa) he decided running alone throughout the year wasn’t much fun. He wanted to encourage other runners and cap it off once a year with a special event. Now hang on a second. John Hudetz (marathon man) knew it would be easier to sell this idea/plan if it was incorporated with an already successful endeavor.
That’s where Leon Bismark (Bix) Beiderbecke came in, (now why isn’t my middle name something cool like Bismark? I like Bismarcks) although he had already been dead for 45 years. Bix was born in Davenport in 1903. He became a renowned jazz cornet/piano player during the 1920’s, teaching himself to play mostly by ear. But his uncanny ability with long improvs and jazz solos were a God given talent. Bix died of alcoholism at the age of 28 in 1931, but he left a mark on the music world forever. (We named our dog Bix after the musician). Davenport celebrates the life and music of Bix Beiderbecke with a week long music festival every summer. Marathon Man decided to use the festival’s success by adding a race, but not a marathon.
The year it began was 1975, the number of runners signed up totaled 84. The 7 mile race started in downtown Davenport at the base of the Brady Street hill, (a killer) heading north then turning east on Kirkwood. The Boulevard was perfect. Both sides of the boulevard were fairly wide, with gentle up and down slopes for the runners heading for the Village of East Davenport, then looping around while remaining on Kirkwood. The racers headed west back to Brady Street, then south down the steep hill. Guess who lived on Kirkwood?
By the time we moved to Kirkwood Boulevard in 1982 the runners applications for the Quad City Times Bix 7 had risen significantly. Why? The Olympics. What? Yup. When the US boycotted the 1980 Moscow summer games, the world’s top distance runner, Bill Rodgers decided he’d run in the Bix race. Frank Shorter, a Yale graduate and Olympic gold medal marathon winner in 1972 and silver medalist in ’76 chose to participate in the Bix too. Those guys brought notoriety to the race but also cemented the validity of The Bix being an actual race sought out by many of the world’s most elite runners every summer. When we were enjoying The Bix, the number of runners was about 8 thousand. (I believe the number of runners has doubled again since we moved away in 1987. The Bix is now the largest non marathon race in the Midwest. Wow) The race as well as the Bix Beiderbecke music festival has proven to be quite lucrative for Davenport. News outlets, including the 3 major networks, plus local television stations were a common sight (anyone near our house always stopped in for food. I don’t know if the reporters dipped into the Bloody Mary’s or beer but they often asked to use our bathroom-so probably.
The front lawns on either side of Kirkwood, the sidewalks, parking and curbs were swarming with thousands of spectators. Several small roaming bands played while they walked the route on the sidewalk, stopping in yards to play a couple songs (and eat).
Long garden hoses were hooked up to spray the runners with fine mist. The serious racers didn’t like getting their feet or shoes wet so our kids would aim the hose up towards their chests and heads. They also set up small tables with plastic cups filled with water (before the insanity of the bottled water craze) which were handed to the runners as they zipped past us on the first leg of Kirkwood. The runners often dumped the water over their heads or the back of their necks as they ran. The weather in Iowa at 8 a.m. on the last Saturday of July was eerily similar to the heat and humidity of hell.
We had huge parties for The Bix race every single year we lived on Kirkwood Boulevard. John worked at JI Case which employed hundreds (and I think the Hubs invited them all). John’s responsibility was the yard and everything alcoholic to drink, beer and Bloody Mary’s. My job was baking for a couple hundred people. Blueberry muffins, homemade bacon, egg, cheese biscuits and our own version of sub sandwiches plus fresh fruit, cookies, coffee and orange juice. You just never knew who was gonna show up. One year the Hubs and Ron, his good friend and coworker stopped at one of their favorite hangout bars called The Station on the night before the Bix Race. Ron always encouraged John to arm wrestling contests (because he always won). During the Bix party the next morning Mr. Universe (who they had met at The Station the night before) and some of his buddies knocked on our door because they had gotten an invitation from John and Ron.
The list of reasons to stay in the Quad Cities was as long as my arm for our whole family, but it was not to be. Farm equipment manufacturing was on a downward spiral and the layoffs were massive, meaning we had to move. We were heartbroken leaving Kirkwood Boulevard, the neighborhood, Case, the great schools, our friends and especially Iowa. We never thought we’d move out of our native state, yet here we are. Still in Michigan since 1987-and not one of the kids has left the mitten state, so here we stay…