August 2022


48: The Eleven in the Middle

Ah… time to bore you with 11 states in the middle of the country, now that I’ve cleared the 12 in the West. I’m en route to talking about the 48 Contiguous United States – and in the near future I will have visited all 48, leaving only Alaska and Hawaii to visit.

North Dakota is at the top of the list – and as you may recall, I visited Fargo in January with my chief memory being the cold. I was there for a really cold spell and lots of deep snow. Fargo seemed surprisingly nice, but it was covered in snow, so I wasn’t really able to get a good view of the city.

The other half of Dakota, South Dakota, has more memories. I mainly remember visiting De Smet, which was the last childhood home of Laura Ingalls Wilder – author of the Little House on the Prairie books. Naturally I also visited Wall Drug and Mount Rushmore.

One step further south is Nebraska – and when I was a kid, its tourist slogan was “The Good Life,” something I was doubtful of then, and still now. My memories center on driving across the state on I-80 with my Father on our way to upstate New York. The timing was never right heading east, but going home my father would time it in order to get to Grand Island in time for dinner, where we’d eat dinner at some steak house. I don’t remember its name today, but the steak house was the kind of place that people in Omaha would drive out to visit just for dinner.

Kansas also focuses on a highway: I-70. There aren’t too many other strong memories – but I once stopped at the Eisenhower Presidential Library. Yes, I am that geeky.

After Idaho, which I have no memories of, the only other state that falls into that category is Oklahoma. I know that I’ve been there – but it was as a young child and I have no memories of it at all. My only personal Oklahoma memory is from a high school teacher, out of Muskogee who would quote the song an “Okie from Muskogee”.

Texas, a giant sized state, has a lot of memories: I used to have a friend in Austin, and one of my favorite memories was touring the state capital. Standing in the rotunda, the tour guide announced that Texas has been ruled by a number of different powers, each represented by a seal on the floor under the dome: France, Spain, Texas (itself), and the United States. Each power mentioned was regaled with a long discussion of dates, events, and more information. At the conclusion she paused, pointed at the last seal, and said, “Oh yes, and the Confederacy. Moving on….” – we were out of the rotunda seconds later.

East is Louisiana – and I haven’t been there since Katrina, but New Orleans is truly an amazing city with truly amazing food. I’ve never had a bad meal in New Orleans. There’s something about the city that connects with me – and I would easily be happy to live there, if not for the heat and humidity. Actually, I have friends living there. I should go visit them.

Arkansas may or may not be the state that I’ve spent the least time in (it’s in contention with Massachusetts and South Carolina), driving south on I-55 from Illinois to Memphis in the wee hours. The principle memory: an amazing glory hole in the rest area bathroom. Despite all the defenses put up by the state’s transportation department, there was still a hole in the wall.

Kansas City and St. Louis dominate my Missouri memories. Kansas City – well Independence – for the Harry S Truman library and home (well worth the visit), and St. Louis for the Arch. For awhile one of friends lived in St. Louis. Their apartment had an amazing view of the Arch and it’s the one thing I miss the most.

North is Iowa and Des Moines – and what I remember about Des Moines was a trip that I took with my parents one summer. It was a hot and humid day when we pulled into Des Moines and into the parking lot of the one place in Des Moines that was possibly hotter and more humid than the outdoors: the botanic gardens.

Minnesota is the last of the 11 states in the middle: and I choose three Minnesotan memories: first, Walnut Grove, which brings us to Laura Ingalls Wilder: this was where on the Banks of Plum Creek was based. My Father endured this stop, my Mom and I enjoyed it. The second was visiting the Minnesota Zoo: I remember it being absolutely enormous as a kid and today I wonder how large it actually was. The third, and final one, was going on a tour of the General Mills factory on the outskirts of the twin cities. At the end of the tour I got a gift bag, the one for kids, when I really wanted the one for an adult.


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