Random thoughts following a trip through middle America on the way home to Oregon last Fall:
- If you can afford to live on the West Coast or the East Coast, you can live like royalty in mid-America. Homes are comparatively cheap. For the price of a nice home in Portland, you can own a mansion anywhere from Michigan to Arkansas – and it probably has lake frontage. Gas is cheap. Food is cheap. For a restaurant meal, you can budget about a third to half (or less) what you would in a foodie city like Portland. Of course, you’ll be eating meat loaf, mashed potatoes, canned peas, and pie, but you won’t go away hungry.
- On the left coast, you head to the mountains or the desert or the coast to go camping. It would be unthinkable to travel 10 or 20 miles to camp in a campground that looks about the same as your own backyard. In mid-America, however, people do that all the time. I finally figured out the reason: out West, you can go somewhere fun and interesting and completely different to camp that is an easy weekend drive. For example, from the heart of California you have the following choices for an easy (1 hour to max 4 hour) drive: LA, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, Yosemite, the Napa Valley, Sequoia National Park, the central coast, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Monterey, Big Sur, and if you stretch it another hour or so, you can add Mammoth Lakes, San Diego, Death Valley, and Las Vegas. In mid-America you can travel hundreds of miles and it is pretty much all the same. If you leave your home in the corn and soybean country of Iowa and travel 3 or 4 hours, you are still in corn and soybean country. If camping is your thing, and you live in mid-America, you might as well go to the KOA that’s 20 minutes away rather than the one that’s 4 hours away, and spend more of your time in the campground rather than on the road. It’s all going to look the same anyway. The result is that even as Fall
comes,and it gets cold and damp, the campgrounds in mid-America continue to fill up on the weekends with families having fun just being in their tents and trailers, and enjoying the hokey things all the campgrounds do to get and keep you there, like hay rides, crafts, bicycling around the campground, breaking limbs on play structures, kayaking on the pond they dug out. Decorating for Halloween is an art form there too. Hey it’s either go camping or head to the casino. So camping in mid-America is generally not the experience of exploring some place different and adventurous. It is the experience of just hanging out at the campground.
- In mid-America, tourist bureaus have to work hard to get you take the off-ramp to their town. So just about every interchange has signs for the attractions they hope will draw your left hand to the turn signal. And there were attractions everywhere. How can you resist, for example, “The World’s Largest Golf Tee” at Exit 129 in Kansas? Or the World’s Largest Sycamore Stump in Kokomo? Or the Hubcap Lady in Jeffersonville?
- We did resist Uranus Chocolates (motto: “The World’s Best Chocolates Come From Uranus”).
- They really like their cars in mid-America. Every town seems to have its own dirt track, and there are car museums everywhere. We missed the DeKalb turnoff, which thereby wiped out the possibility of seeing no less than 47 auto-related museums. The 500 Museum of Wheels (500 what? we don’t know) in Terra Haute had an open wheel racecar with an airplane engine that had been driven by Chuck Yeager (the first person to go BOOOOM! in an airplane that did not blow up.) Notable quote the day he broke the sound barrier: “Hey Ridley, I got me a little problem. I fell off my horse last night and busted up some ribs; I can’t tell these guys because they won’t let me fly today.” “OK Chuck, let me see what I can rig up.”
- Where but the heartland would you find the one and only, and world-famous, Quilter’s Hall of Fame?
- If you judge an area by what you see from the Interstate, you would conclude that Missouri is all about adult stores and fireworks factories. (Sorry, no photos.)
- Rest areas are an art form in mid-America. In New England they basically do not exist. In many parts of the country, they are reluctant after-thoughts by highway departments that have run out of money. But in mid-America, they are roadside attractions in their own right. Look closely, because each of the following is a picnic table shelter at a roadside rest area somewhere in the heartland:
- Finally, motorhome aerodynamics are carefully engineered so that the first bug landing on the windshield after you cleaned the windows at the last rest stop will land right in the middle of the driver’s field of vision. Every time. I believe that the engineers do their real world testing in mid-America.