Geographic kibitzing aside, the US has two coasts, each with a personality so individual as to make them into cultural shorthands standing in for the people who live there. The coasts are referenced regularly enough that even third graders can tell the difference between a silhouette of California and a silhouette of Florida. But give any of those kids a blank map of the US and there will likely be huge swaths of the landlocked Midwest that will remain blank.
I grew up in the midwest, spending a week every March in the Ozarks of Missouri, driving up to Wisconsin every summer for the superior Brookfield Zoo, and doing other things that are only really conceivable to other midwesterners. Midwesterners are known for being “nice,” which is sort of like being known for having a famous child: sure, it’s something to be proud of, but the fact that it’s “your thing” is sort of insulting to the rest of the life you’ve built for yourself.
Sometimes, a thing just has to be. Because there is a beginning and an end, there must be a middle. Its existence is codependent with other, flashier, fancier things. There are always people, from firefighters and doctors to hipsters and celebrities. And because there are people, and those people have to eat, there must always be farmers. If we are going to have lawyers, doctors, and CEOs, we’re going to need third grade math teachers. Behind every strong woman is the bank teller who cashes her checks.
And what drudgery life can seem to be when the world tries to convince you that you only exist because of a symbiotic relationship with something more interesting. If you’re like any protagonist coming of age, how quickly you’ll want to escape Nowheresville, Middle America and seek out your great perhaps, probably on one of the coasts.
When you’re on an airplane, one corn state after the other passes without anyone noticing. When you’re driving, you see where the Bojangles end and the KFC begins. You notice as pickup trucks turn to minivans. You are acutely aware of every metropolitan area that allows you the briefest of forays on to a 4G LTE network.
When you drive, you are forced to look in the eye every resident of that Nowheresville. You are brought face to face with the day-to-day, entirely extant life and culture and style that the innumerable corn and plains states have developed for themselves, in spite of the rest of the world believing that they only exist because our country isn’t made of coastline.
And when you live there, you know why cheesy potatoes are a meal unto themselves. You may not love the strip mall, but you appreciate its efficiency. You have nuanced opinions about corn subsidies and ethanol in gasoline, and you probably argue about them over Thanksgiving dinner.
Sometimes a thing doesn’t come into existence because there was a great lack of it and some innovating entrepreneur came up with a sleek solution for that absence. Some things are born, not out of “disrupting” industries or hashtags trending on Twitter, but out of a quiet assent that they can exist, and so they will. The world builds itself around these things, these places, these industries and the people who make them what they are, and suddenly they’re indispensable, but still almost one hundred percent invisible.
But spend fifty hours driving across America’s heartland—the states that call themselves “the gateway to” something that people want to get to, the acres and acres and miles and miles of decidedly not coastline that is covered in corn and the cows who eat it, and I think you’ll come to appreciate the vibrancy of the human spirit that started living there because someone had to, and continued doing so because it built something for itself there. Being known for being nice, polite, hospitable, and plain isn’t really so bad. But there is so much more there, too.
Mary Margaret is a 2013 English, history, and secondary education grad who went rogue and became a Social Worker in Pennsylvania’s Child Welfare system. Specifically, she works as a caseworker in the Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network finding families for children and educating the masses about foster care, adoption, and permanency planning. She made it over the grad-school hurdle with gold stars and warm fuzzies and is on to the next big adventure: the unknown of adulthood. Her major writing dream right now is to finish her science fiction novel that explores the concurrent futures of child welfare and artificial intelligence.