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On the Midwest
November 29, 2012 - David Alexander
Although I often lament living in a run-of-the-mill Midwestern town, I have come to realize that this is the America I love. I think no matter where I end up living, and no matter how long I end up living there, my sensibilities about the world will always bear a distinct Midwestern color.
I will never be the sort of person who moves to California and becomes a vegetarian or spends a summer in Prague taking pictures of Old World architecture and suddenly decides to pursue a career in photography. It’s not in me. And, it’s because I am too stubborn to change or because I have some aversion to new things. It’s not in me because I know the difference between growth and alteration based on superficiality.
I don’t mean to say that I am content with living in a small-town rural America. I do enjoy the city, and plan to move there in the near future. But my aim has never been to absorb the zeitgeist of city culture. No matter where I am drinking it, I will always think $13 is too much to pay for an Old Fashioned.
Admittedly, I have done little traveling. Despite my limited travel experience however, I have known a good deal of people, and consequently feel I have a good handle on the ideologies of people from other parts of the country, not perhaps broken down by state, but at least by region. Like most everyone, I like to think my knowledge goes beyond stereotypes and where it doesn't, that it is because those stereotypes are accurate. I don’t want to tell you, the reader, to trust my sizing up of the world implicitly, but I would ask that you recognize that I am not a Chauvinist. Either way, I digress.
In the Midwest, we have winters that warrant buying sweaters. I’m not talking about those thin, nearly see through pima cotton things academic types wear over Oxford button downs, I mean honest-to-goodness sweaters. People have train tracks in their back yards. Cafés actually have coffee, not just hot mud, not just steamed soy, non-fat, mocha, caramel, no foam, extra whip, lattes. We are not philistines but we aren't dilettantes either. All these things temper in me several qualities in which I often take pride. I realize the Midwest is a big place. So, common threads are bound to differ from town to town.
I am from Kalamazoo, a city of more than 76,000. It’s a far cry from Marshalltown. I don’t pretend that those two locales are comparable. That said, I feel that I know the value of a dollar, the virtue of hard work, what it means to be a good neighbor, how to be a pragmatist, how to own my problems and not whine that the world is unfair to me because I grew up in the Midwest.
If I had to speculate why the Midwest is quintessential America, it is because it is a microcosm of the county as a whole — a melting pot of people. I am not idealizing it, claiming that the ugly elements of humanity don’t exist here. They do. But the Midwest is not homogenized. While other regions have more diversity in certain areas, the Midwest has a little in each area, which I think makes it possible for anyone to find somewhere that suits them.