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Midwest Love: Cheese, Camo, Chicago, Detroit and Seductive Trees

I’ve spent the last week touring the Midwest.  As of many summers in your twenties and thirties it was on a wedding excursion.  I traveled from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.  It’s been a six state escapade and I must say that in each state there is a certain atmosphere and a certain flavor of people. 

So here are my random noticings in each state and what lesson I will take away from them. 

1. Wisconsin.  Wisconsin is known for their cheese.  So I will not stereotype them and discuss the building long glass case full of cheese flavored with random things such as cayenne, salmon and beer.  I will comment and say that there are two types of Wisconsoners.  There are the smaller city educated elite who severely defend their cultured small city and maintain its urbanish culture.  The Madisoners wear skinny jeans and have beards and incense up their coffee shops so we know we’re not in a small town.  Then like most Midwest states there is a faction of small towns full of charming, gruff people who especially enjoy camo, riding Harley’s and dining at the local Truck Stop diner. Wisconsin is a family.  The educated, the hunter, and the soccer mom–they all have a strange affinity for each other.  And though they don’t talk often…they’ll always be family. 

2. Illinois.  Illinois is like the younger, adolescent brother of a Yale graduate.  They are forever in the shadow of the brother, who is Chicago.  So anyone from anywhere in Illinois sits in the shadow for a while and then just gives up and claims Chicago as their hometown.  If you can’t overshadow them…join them. I love Illinois for their older brother.  I love Chicago for its grit and its stubborn refusal to give up its edge and somehow manages to be the school of hard knocks city.  I’ve felt more at home in Chicago than most other places in the world.  Walk down the streets of downtown and breathe, and somehow amidst the chaos…you’ll find something to take home with you.

3. Michigan.  I dare you to go to Michigan and not fall in absolute love with the trees.  They whisper to you as you drive by them.  They arch over the roads and highways in a protective covering from the cares of life.  And even when you are in a hurry somewhere, or late to a wedding their eyes follow you and tempt you with adventure, their leaves moving seductively.  I know I could get lost in Michigan.  I know I could fall in love with them all.  As you move into Detroit you can feel the pain of the land. Detroit lost the trees somehow…and its been in mourning ever since. But I can see the little saplings of promise beginning to sprout.

4. Indiana.  Indiana is full of clothing stores.  And dentists.  It took me 15 miles to find a coffee shop but I saw about 100 dentists and chiropractors.  Hoosiers love appearance. They love straight teeth and name brands.  Indiana reminds me of a 56-year-old woman who works at the Macy’s perfume counter.  She looks good; she knows all the fashion and world of money.  Yet, she’s tired when she goes home, sore feet and hard work.  But her taste is impeccable. 

5. Minnesota.  Minnesota has elements of all the others in it.  It has its city, its area of trees, its educated elite, and its fashionable side.  But Minnesota has never been able to know itself.  Its still on a path of self-discovery, trying to reconcile all its diversity and differences and still have an identify unto itself.   But it’s growing, learning, but it’s an introvert.  It won’t just tell you about itself, you have to dig down and ask questions. 

The Midwest is an interesting place full of secrets.  We’re used to being ignored or forgotten.  And even though I was supposed to be on a tour of Europe this summer, somehow this trip makes sense to my life right now.  Its good to know yourself before you explore someone else.  Midwest, it’s been a pleasure.  

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