Our return to Michigan is just nine days away, and we’re beyond ready to be home amongst our fellow Midwesterners: people who love things like Big Ten football, who don’t take themselves too seriously, and who actually pronounce R’s at the ends of words (if you hear us saying “cah” instead of “car” you have permission to smack us). So for this week’s post on Found Michigan, we asked a handful of friends originally from the Midwest to share their thoughts on the adage “Midwest is Best.” We gave them each 350 words to write a bite-sized essay musing on what makes the Midwest special. We had enough responses that we’ll be splitting the pieces over two weeks; here are the first three.
Michigan > New York , or
Why I Want to Hug every Midwester in Manhattan
by Sarah Frank
Hometown: Allen Park, Mich.; Current city: Brooklyn
If there is one thing about me that has remained completely unchanged since the moment I moved to New York some three and a half years ago, it is my undying, unwavering, vehement (at times irrational?? Even deplorable??) obsession with all things Michigan. It was just 24 hours prior to landing in “da big ci-tay” with two enormous suitcases (which I lugged up six flights of stairs to a West Village sublet, thankyouverymuch) that I inked myself with a (very tiny) Michigan-themed tattoo. Thought process went something like this: “Omigoodness, I’m, like, moving to New York, which means my life is, like, totally changing and I’m, like, totally gonna forget where I come from, so, like, let’s get a Michigan tattoo, mmk?” It’s nothing more than a tiny heart on the fatty part of the back of my hand, signifying Detroit. I show this thing off to anyone who’ll listen. Which is obnoxious, I realize. (Who wants to see people’s silly tattoos? Unless they are in a sexy spot or something, which mine, regrettably, is not.) I’m always looking for an excuse (any excuse, really) to talk about Michigan, a place that I so dearly love and dream of returning to one day. (Note to Mom: I mean like when I have babies, not now!) Meeting people from Michigan in New York causes a physical reaction that at least makes me smile, and at most makes me actually shout “I’M FROM MICHIGAN!!!”
It’s almost as though I think Michigan is some tiny planet 3,000 light years away with 42 inhabitants. I get it, Michigan is a huge state with millions of people. But I’m consistently delighted to find them in New York City. When I see someone on the street wearing a Detroit Tigers hat, Red Wings jersey or a Michigan State sweatshirt, I have to actually put on hold whatever it is I am doing or thinking about to remind myself: “Do not approach that stranger to comment on his or her Michigan or Detroit paraphernalia. It’s a big city with a people from all over, tourists even, from Michigan. Do not hug them.” (Alright, occasionally I have high-fived them.) In a city like New York, you have to find something to hold on to or else it feels like you could just slip off the island and float away. For me, that’s been finding these little specks of Michigan wherever I can: Eating at restaurants owned by Mitten-ers, listening for those long A’s in words like “hah-key”, seeing someone from across a room actually point to a spot on the back of their hand (!!!), or just building a group of Michigan friends in the city to watch Detroit sports with. All of which has made this place feel more like home. It turns out I never forgot where I was from. In fact, I understand more now than ever. (Ink or not.)
Pop or Soda, But Never ,ever Coke
by Bobby Evers
Hometown: Algona, Iowa; Current city: Chicago
I’m not sure if I can pinpoint exactly what it is that makes the Midwest great. It’s sort of like that saying about great art or pornography: hard to define, but you know it when you see it. This is usually when I am returning to the Midwest from somewhere else. You go to the west coast, or visit a foreign country, and when you land you feel a great weight lifted. A relief. And it’s all you can do to keep from kissing the tarmac. It’s that feeling I get when I cross the Mississippi River driving across US 20 into Dubuque from Illinois, the sailboats on the blue water, the rich blue sky with giant fluffy white clouds. It’s the kinetic tightening of my chest when I know, not just cognitively but spiritually, that I’m home. And we can forget the regional differences, the one-sided rivalry between Minnesota and Iowa, or whatever it is that Illinois seems to have against Michigan, or Ohio with everywhere, or what exactly is the proper phraseology for Pepsi (pop or soda, but never, ever Coke). We can forgive the high price of gas in Chicago, we can forgive the toll roads, we can forgive specific instances of high fructose corn syrup. Because we’re responsible for Bob Dylan. We’re responsible for Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, LeBron James, and Michael Jordan. We’re responsible for Wilco. We’re responsible for Ira Glass. We’re responsible for Saddle Creek. The sky in Minnesota. Lakeshore Drive. One of the only states with same-sex marriage. We are unconditionally nice, we are non-confrontational, and we want to be friends with you.
Form the State that has Everything
by Susan Quesal
Hometown: Iowa City, IA by way of Macomb, IL; Current city: Austin, Texas
In Texas, they laugh at you: Who would want to go to Iowa? they ask. Iowa is boring. Iowa is full of wheat, they say, and sheep and nothing else. And when you suck your breath between your teeth and clench your jaw and settle that impossible ire that’s been sitting just below your larynx since you moved for some stupid reason to this arrogant, endless state and say, “It’s corn actually. And soybeans. And hogs more than sheep,” they shake their heads and say, “Oh in that case, let’s go!” It’s hard to impress a Texan, you see, because Texas has everything. We’ve got corn and pigs AND wheat and sheep, they say. And mountains and ocean and forest too. They don’t understand why anyone would want to be anywhere else, when Texas has everywhere already in it.
But there is something to be said for doing one thing well. There is something to be said for commitment to a craft, for having better of less. Iowa has the tallest, best smelling corn fields I’ve ever seen. Iowa has the most delicious pork chops imaginable. Iowa has small cities that rival Austin and Dallas for cultural output and investment. The restaurants are consistently good and the people are consistently nice. We might not do it all in the Midwest, but what we do, we do well. The Midwest exhibits a commitment to goodness: subtle, stable, thick-wrought kindness. Hand-hewn benevolence. Farm fresh eggs.