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What I Learned Driving Through the Heartland –

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Published: August 28, 2013 Comment










“The udder on this cow just keeps getting better and better as the day goes on,” remarked Barry Visser, Kandiyohi County Fair dairy cattle judge, over the PA system. A boy led his prizewinning Holstein away as a friendly crowd of western Minnesotans, and one out-of-place New Yorker, looked on from the modest stands. The dairy cow competition was nearing its end; the rabbits, hens and pigs had already had their days of judgment — no udders required — and were unwinding one building down. Up the hill, workers prepared rides and games and funnel cake stands to open.

The Frugal Road Trip: Photos, Videos and More

Part 7: Minnesota

On a visit to county fairs, watching everything from a demolition derby to a fashion show.

– 6: South Dakota

– 5: Iowa

– 4: Kansas

– 3: The Ozarks

– 2: Memphis

– 1: Louisiana

– Introduction


The Heartland Route

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Most of the audience in the 4-H arena that morning was barely paying attention. But I was riveted by Mr. Visser’s patter. He put together sentences the likes of which I had never heard, praising open ribs and clean hocks and the overall “dairyness” of animals that young people from all over the county had raised and brought to the fairgrounds in Willmar. This annual summer ritual takes place on county fairgrounds across the United States, but I had somehow never been to one. A longtime city slicker, I had decided to flip the traditional coast-to-coast journey 90 degrees, zigzagging from Baton Rouge, La., to Fargo, N.D., through a large swath of the nation that we coast dwellers often dismiss as flyover country. By that Friday in August, I was nearly a month and more than 4,000 miles into my summer road trip.

I suspected that spending most of my adult days in New York City and the rest largely outside the country had left significant gaps in my knowledge of America, not to mention unfair biases about the 10 heartland states I would be visiting, many of which I had never set foot in before.

My suspicion turned out to be true. Vague notions of the region were replaced by what I gleaned from museums and historical markers as well as from residents’ stories of their great-grandparents’ struggles as settlers. The simple question I asked of every farmer I met — How many acres does it take to make a family farm profitable? — launched conversations in which I learned infinitely more than you could by reading articles about farm bills. The trip suited me in another way: it was inherently frugal, even after shunning the cheap prices to be had at national fast-food and low-end motel chains. Independent motels were easy to find and always under $70 a night (sometimes way under). Plentiful farmers’ markets and inexpensive local specialties — barbecued pork sandwiches in Memphis, smoked trout in the Ozarks, fried chicken in southeast Kansas — kept food costs down. And activities, like visits to some unusual museums and festivals, were always cheap and often free.

But the greatest take-away from my five weeks on the road was how much I could learn without crossing any borders. I’ve made my way through Latin America, the Mediterranean, Scandinavia and southern China. But a spin through the middle of my own country was every bit as, well, exotic — revealing you don’t have to go abroad to experience new music, annual rites and political views far different from what you find at home. Below are some of the lessons from the road.

The Path Less Beaten

I had allotted about five days in each state — an exercise in futility. Planning turned out to consist of deciding what I could bear not to do. This was made all the more difficult after I asked readers for suggestions: they launched a mammoth tip offensive of more than a thousand comments, Twitter and Facebook posts and e-mails.

I tried to filter out the obvious and look for off-the-beaten-path ideas. But there was very little to filter out. People told me about local drive-ins, urged me to stop for services at their church, suggested gas stations that offered stellar barbecue. That shouldn’t have been a surprise, I suppose. With very few and worthwhile exceptions — Mount Rushmore, for example, or the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis — a path through the central swath of the country has simply not been beaten.

For example: the stop I made in Chanute, Kan., population, 9,000. A reader had suggested the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum, dedicated to a husband-and-wife team widely celebrated in the 1920s and ’30s for their filmed documentation of headhunters in the South Seas and the wild beasts of Africa. Their approach to the subject was intriguing — they made little distinction between “savages” and wild animals. (One of the film’s subtitles: “Adventures Among the Big Apes and Little People of Congo.”)

Obviously, the world has changed and the way (most) Americans think and speak of foreign cultures has as well: part of the allure of the museum is just how simultaneously appalling and heroic the couple comes across — and what it reveals about American world views during a very specific window of time.

via What I Learned Driving Through the Heartland –


Born in 1964, business owner, from Woodbridge, VA, owns ExcitingAds! Inc. ( and blog ( He was born in Mirpurkhas, Sind, Pakistan. His elementary school was ST. Michael's Convent High School, Mirpurkhas, Sind, Pakistan. Graduated high school from ST. Bonaventure's Convent High School, Hyderabad, Sind, Pakistan. His pre-med college was S. A. L. Govt. College, Mirpurkas, Sind, Pakistan. Graduated from Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences, Jamshoro, Sind, Pakistan in 1990. Earned equivalency certification from Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, Philadelphia, PA in 1994.

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