Saturday, June 15, 2013

City Girl Visits Midwest and Loves It

My girlfriend grew up in the city of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and now lives in Manhattan. Being in both those places her entire life, she has never lived in a city that is particularly known for being friendly. In Florida and New York, the maddening tourist crowds and resource scramble makes open hospitality a rarity.

Then she came to Solon, Ohio, my hometown, to visit me. Solon is a suburb of Cleveland. As with most Ohio suburbs, it tilts towards a rural, small-town feel rather than a truly integrated suburban space. I took her all around Northeast Ohio to get a feel for the place. One thing she kept saying was how nice the people were. In ice cream stores, the employees waited patiently with smiles on their faces until we were done tasting all the ice creams. At the West Side Market—an indoor old-school market we visited—other customers made small talk with us while we waited for our food. In the airport, on her way out of town, she told me that she saw four people who were late for their flights being escorted by security to the front of the line. Instead of being mad, people smiled and waved, “have a safe flight! Good luck!”

That is the Midwest for you. The people here are considered pretty nice, honest, and ordinary. There’s a slower way of life here, a more isolated one. When a shooting happened recently in our town—something that happens once-in-a-decade, if that—everyone buzzed about it for weeks. 

People from the Midwest often take pride in their humility. I remember reading a local sports columnist write—as if they were trying to convince themselves of it too—that the professional athletes who stayed in Cleveland stayed because they fell in love with our “hardworking, honest people.” The fans of the Indiana Pacers, when facing the big-city Miami Heat in the 2013 NBA playoffs, wore shirts that read “blue collar, gold swagger.” 

Our fashion is composed of a lot of flannel and colors that mirror our infernal and distinct Fall season. The landscape is criss-crossed by mostly the same stores and franchise restaurants, but there are pockets of fringe culture here and there, punk and art and drug scenes in cities like Columbus, Ohio, or Bloomington, Indiana, closely connected with the major state colleges, Ohio State and Indiana University.

The mass media often profiles Midwesterners as the most American of Americans. This sentiment is reinforced by linguists, who assert that what they consider “Standard English” is the dialect spoken by Midwesterners. 

The American pioneer spirit is still locked away in the Midwest. Since the beginning, foreign culture has arrived at our harbors and, like a tidal wave, surged inwards, losing power and form. It hits its farthest point inland, then receded, for a year, two years, a decade, maybe longer. Life grows in its shadow, deep in the heart of the country, nursing the heart of American culture. Then one day it gets up and moves away, an inversion of the process, to deliver the message of Appalachia and Americana to the cities and the coasts. That is why so many New York City people are secretly Midwesterners.

A great place to raise a family.

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