Just a bunch of square cornfields and wheat farms,
Man, it all looks the same,
Miles and miles of back roads and highways,
Connecting little towns with funny names,
Who’d want to live down there
in the middle of nowhere?
I am blessed to work with people I call friends and provide service to customers I adore. I fly all over the country to interact with inspiring individuals I would have never met without that employee ID number.
That said, I don’t belong in the business world I live in. There’s little appetite for humor, compassion or authenticity other than the canned kind that’s been legally blessed by our corporate lawyers. This industry thrives on the bottom line, awards workaholic behaviors, and shuns non-business critical activity like building rapport and meaningful relationships.
There are only fourteen of us who have my job description, and my accounts make up one of the geographically largest territories in our company. I work with organizations to help improve patient health outcomes for individuals and families who live in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming, Tennessee, and Georgia. And snippets of the states that border each of these.
Our corporate executive calls my territory flyover states, box states, and a personal favorite, dirt. Last month, it was when she started to harp (again) how it wasn’t worth our time to service these customers that I crawled into an invisible shell. I often do that at huge cattle call meetings saturated with too much food and extroverted personalities. This time, I chose to stay in my happy corner while I thought about what makes the middle of the country unique.
I get it. I’m good-natured and can laugh at the stereotypes. As a Kansas girl, I don’t mind being associated with red shoes and tornadoes. Unless you’ve lived here, it’s hard to appreciate the beauty of an endless star-soaked sky and the passion that miles of this dirt conjures when you can only see it blowing and filling your eyes and atmosphere with grainy dust.
That’s the purpose of this post. Not to convince you to move here or to love it like your own, but to help you see the Midwest through my eyes and feel some of it with your heart.
Seven facts you didn’t know about the middle of the country
1) The Great Ball of Twine in Cawker City, KS measures over 38′ in circumference, weighs more than 16,750 pounds and is still growing. ~~It was the landmark I used for the directions on our wedding invitation–Turn left at the ball of twine, follow the blacktop road to the church.
2) Omaha, NE has the best cupcakes. Ever. I can drive from my house to Jones Bros. in exactly 3 hours and 6 minutes without stopping. It takes me less than 60 seconds to devour the cake du jour…and have seconds!
3) Brad Pitt is from Springfield, MO. Kirsty Ally grew up in Wichita, KS and I’ll bet you don’t know where Eminem roamed before landing in Detroit.
4) When Dakota Territory was created in 1861, it was named for the Dakota Indian tribe. Dakota is a Sioux word meaning “friends or allies.” ~~Seriously, some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. They DO talk like this, and I could listen to it all day.
5) The most powerful earthquake to strike the United States occurred in 1811, centered in New Madrid, Missouri. The quake shook more than one million square miles and residents felt the shock waves almost 1,000 miles away. ~~Kansas had a big one, too–5.6!
6) Colorado contains 75% of the land area of the U.S. with an altitude over 10,000 feet. ~~Insert legal marijuana comment here–I won’t be partaking or providing the butt of the joke.
7) The Dwight Eisenhower Memorial Tunnel between Clear Creek & Summit counties is the highest auto tunnel in the world. Bored at an elevation of 11,000 feet under the Continental Divide, it is 8,960 feet long, and the average daily traffic exceeds 26,000 vehicles. ~~The kids and I attempted to hold our breath from end to end. Dane holds the current record and Dad is not allowed to play because he’s the one usually making the 10-hour drive. You don’t want to pass out on the mountainside!
There are only eight US states I’ve not been to, and they are all on my bucket list! I’m fascinated by similarities and differences in dialect, slang, family relationships and regional rituals. Sitting in an airport during long layovers doesn’t bother me because I love to people watch and imagine life in other parts of the world.
But you know how it is when you are with your own. There’s a vibe, a mutual and unspoken pact about remembering our roots. Being with “my people” makes me appreciate the stereotypes and know that clichés can be a compliment.
I’m so grateful to the kind folks I’ve encountered over the years and want to send a few call-outs to strangers and old friends who don’t know I write and won’t ever read this. Do me a favor and give these individuals a handshake and a hug if you happen to cross paths:
Dakota/Minnesota nice: The Fargo taxi driver who picked me up at the airport when it was -25. “Ah jeez, is it cold enough for ya? Let me take you through the downtown while you warm up. Here, take my hot cocoa–I’ll just get some more down at Gloria Jeans.”
Midwest work ethic: My three co-workers who each live in Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois. These amazing women will be covering for me while I’m on medical leave for a month–all while taking care of their kiddos (nine between them) and making it look easy.
Nebraska cornfields: For my Nebraska buds who droned incessantly about the Cornhuskers and endured my smack talk until the KSU Wildcats finally beat them in 1998. Years before that, you guys got me through a college semester in Laramie, WY when I was further from home than I’d ever planned to be purposely.
Clean Air/Healthy Bodies: For the many Coloradans I’ve met through the years and have adopted me into your families. I love running, hiking and skiing with you. You call to check on me, you have my back and make me laugh. Never will I take you or your mountains for granted.
Down to Earth: My favorite customer in Sioux Falls, SD. Even a busy chief medical officer takes the time to show pictures of his grandbabies and comments that he loves it when I wear my Dorothy ruby-red slippers when I come to see him. He tells me to be safe driving home and hugs me when I leave.
Show me: To my co-worker who sends me pictures of extra-large snakes, stray dogs (pregnant with puppies) turkeys and sunsets from his farm in Missouri. It’s very cool that we can share tomatoes and swap stories even though “border wars” are forever part of these states’ histories.
- The Geographical center of the US: to my fellow Kansans who still provide a haven where we can leave doors unlocked, running tabs at the grocery store and make business deals with handshakes. I’ve gently had my heart broken by Kansas boys and married the sweet one who didn’t. My daughter is a Kansas State Wildcat, and hubby and I are Fort Hays State alum. When asked where I’d chose to live if I won the lottery, I’d pick the sunflower state and my gravel road every time.
It’s where I learned about livin’
It’s where I learned about love
It’s where I learned about working hard,
And having a little was just enough
It’s where I learned about Jesus
And knowin’ where I stand
You can take it or leave it
This is me
This is who I am
As this post winds down and you head into a busy Monday, feel free to come back and take your time. There’s always a cold something in the fridge, snacks in the kitchen and a chair with your name on it.
You have all week to look at the photos, listen to the playlist and see these states differently the next time you visit or fly over them.
(hover the mouse over the photos for captions)
Audience participation time!
What do you love most about where you live/travel? What nifty bit of trivia do you want to share? What stereotypes drive you crazy and which ones are valid?
Please add your sunshine to the comments below.