And no this is not the beginning of some awful grandpa joke. It’s actually the introduction to my Midwestern adventure, during which I crossed two state lines (what up, Missouri and Kansas?), discovered a small town called La Plata, and experienced the union of two 20somethings in the absence of any alcohol.
I should preface this by saying that my exposure to the Midwest has been limited to the Chicagoland area. As a college intern at PBS, I traversed the city and its immediate suburbs in search of relevant news stories. However friendly the residents were, they still maintained an air of cosmopolitan curiosity.
Kansas City, Missouri- though one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen with its myriad fountains and Spanish stucco architecture- offered a distinct contrast. Though technically a city, Kansas City maintained a small town charm and conservative idealism I’d never quite experienced before. [In other words, I talked little of politics or religion.]
And while politics and religion color many of my New York conversations, there was something rather refreshing about taking a break from the same old chit chat with similarly minded people. For once in several months I was outside my comfort zone, and instead of discussing the impending Supreme Court decisions plaguing my sleep I was focusing my attention on arranging a variety of flowers for an impending Muslim wedding.
I then watched in amazement/with amusement as the young Muslim women removed their hard scarves and robes once the men departed; how they danced like they were in the midst of a Beirut disco; and how they seemed perfectly content to adorn their scarves and robes when the men returned later in the night.
And after the wedding festivities were through, I returned to a beautiful Christian home– where my mom and I were staying- and stared at the taxidermy lining the basement walls. Nothing like a dear’s head to startle you at 1 o’clock in the morning! And to remind you that, Toto, you are indeed in Kansas.
But the most shocking part of the weekend adventure was not the taxidermy collection; it was the reaction I had to the whole Midwestern experience. I genuinely enjoyed it. As I boarded the plane back to New York, I became emotional, unable to embrace the East Coast reality that awaited me. There was something so comforting (and cheap) about this area of the country, and I wasn’t quite ready to depart.
The beauty in the situation is that I can come back; the people who had opened their doors and hearts to me would let me back in again. They valued friends and family and time spent together, and they were willing to stop the corporate madness of everyday life to savor those moments with each other.
After eating my first salad post-Midwestern getaway, I just had to smile because Little Miss New Yorker had found value in the unlikeliest of places: Chick-fil-A country.