I feel like an anthropologist in Ohio. This is my first experience in the midwest and was initially enraptured with childlike excitement. I’m sure this is exactly how Christopher Columbus felt when he discovered The Americas and found the (non-bobbling) Indians to be comical and naive, that is, before they started chanting “hubba hubba hubba” in the bushes and blowing darts into his forehead.
I would also like to acknowledge that what I just wrote was a VERY ABOVE AVERAGE American understanding of world history. Did you know that 42% of high school seniors in the US can’t identify an Asian country on a map? I have no idea if that statistic is true but, honestly, if someone started singing, “In 1492, Trump sailed the ocean blue” I’d start singing it too because in this day and age you can literally make up any random fact and it will be true, simply because you thought it and because you’re no dum dum!
I actually haven’t been able to formulate a coherent opinion about the midwest, other than jotting down these few observations. I urge my friends and family to forgive what will probably sound like “racist” banter. I certainly don’t mean it as a personal attack, and have always believed that having roots in the USA is its own unique cultural experience akin to hailing from any other country on this planet. I am inherently an outsider looking in to an experience that I will never claim to understand, because I’m too self-obsessed and in search of unattainable solace in my own utterly confused and fractured personal identity. But that’s a hilarious (to be read as: hilÁHR-iyus!) topic for another day.
There are a lot of white men named “Brian”
Initially I found it odd that there were so many men introducing themselves as “Brian”. I started to believe that maybe all the white guys in Ohio made a secret pact to introduce themselves to the lost indian yankee speaking surfer ebonics as “Brian” because that would be funny, and when things are funny you laugh, and when you’re laughing you’re not crying about how we’re all actually just still in the midwest.
I don’t know. I guess I’ve grown fond of the name Brian. I think statistically, of all male names, I know the most Brians. And if you’re unsure of the name of the person you’re speaking to, you can just blurt out the word “Brian”. This is advantageous in either one of four ways: Either his name actually is Brian, you will catch the attention of some other Brian who is coincidentally passing in the periphery, his name is Ryan which sounds like Brian, or nothing will happen at all because in some parts of the state it can be construed as normal to stare off blankly into space and whisper the name “Brian” to yourself at abrupt and unexpected moments in time because the midwestern “spirit of Brian” will have possessed you–something that probably decimated the indigenous peoples of Ohio centuries ago.
Listen, I’m ignorant, so I don’t know what the name Brian actually means. I’ll have to do some reading about it, or please feel free to edjucate me. But like most common names, I’m going to assume that it has something important to do with the history of the Western identity. It will be very confusing for my brain if this were not true. (Which reminds me, if you’ve ever misspelt the word “brain” by writing “brian”, I believe it to be a sign that you’ve been possessed by the spirit. It was not an accident.)
Every farmhouse has a shimmering temple
A writer from the midwest once said grain silos were like shining, shimmering, splendid temples on the horizon. This man wasn’t Aladdin, but he did show me the world, and it was true! I had no idea that the name for the towering, oddly phallic-shaped buildings which were adjacent to rural homes but which I deduced could neither be an actual house nor a water reservoir was called a “silo”. I am not being facetious when I say that they seem like powerful and symbolic artifacts of wealth and sustenance. It is a uniquely American structure that inspires great awe within me. I feel like part of the reason may be because they are roughly the shape of Hindu lingams blown grossly out of proportion, and that if I were ever close to one, I probably should start walking in circles around it. I’ve never been close enough to touch a silo, but I imagine the following scenario in which I’m standing with a farmer, beside the farm’s silo, looking upwards with my eyes filling with tears and my hands trembling:
Me: “Farmer, let us pray, to the lord Shiva.”
Farmer: “Get off my farm, before I call the police.”
Stuck behind a freight train in Tinkerdink, for eternity
It turns out that in the middle of America there are tons of mysterious goods to shlep around in freight trains across counties with uniquely American names like “Coleslaw” and “Tinkerdink”. In fact, one of the most exciting things to look forward to when rolling along the Great Plains (read as: clipping my cat’s toenails in the backseat with cruise control on) is arriving at the little green signs that say “NOW ENTERING [X] COUNTY”:
The fact that there was not one distinguishing feature between County A and County B–not even a piece of roadkill, or a location-orienting water tower, was baffling to me. What was it that gave each county a sense of identity, or even history? It felt like the entire midwest was the same patch of wilting corn field that God had copy & pasted and had fallen asleep holding “cntrl + v” because he was so bored with creating the midwest.
Anyway, what I had truly underestimated was the ancient american railway system whose freight trains of the 1800’s are still tooting around the open country with the speed of molasses, burping soot of death. They passed at any time of day which was pretty eerie especially in the dead of night when the entire town echoed with the screech of these derelect trains, apparently manned by no human other than the ghost of a probable local legend, Capt’n Dungaree. Both the sound and the site were enough to give me goosebumps. What the hell was moving these trains? White walkers??
Getting stuck behind trains was a comical site for the locals, who either whipped their pick-ups around and darted off leaving a trail of dust towards some magical portal back to civilization or entirely avoided this situation with the pride of exclusively knowing the important goings-on of the bumpkin backroads. Usually my GPS signal was out of range. Anticipating the timing of my actions was the most stressful. Would it have already moved in the time it would take to figure out how to get around it? For how long would I be stranded? I couldn’t even urinate into some godforsaken Nalgene bottle thinking that someone or something in that train was watching me. I’d have to start drinking windshield wiper fluid to survive and then just lay sprawled out on the dirt beside my car and await my natural death.
Knowing that these county roads are predictably shaped in giant, endless grids, I often tried to outsmart the train by trying to calculate the general N/S/E/W directions I could speed through to get to the opposite side. So then I, too, would whip my car around and speed off turning aggressively into every permutation of direction, dreaming the American dream of driving away with that demonic 19th century train receding in the mirror, crying joyful expletives. 100% of the time that dream never came true and either resulted in turning onto an interstate that was rapidly siphoning me off towards the state of Indiana or ending up right back in front of that same godawful train, banging the steering wheel and crying joyless expletives.
Terrible drivers who haven’t earned their terrible personalities
Most people who claim that “drivers in NYC are atrocious” are missing the very obvious fact that people who are capable of traversing that finite and hostile terrain are basically the olympic athletes of driving in public. It’s like training and then performing at Juilliard. If you can’t keep up, then either quit driving or go back to driving your Tonka truck in circles in your driveway. They may be unfriendly but that is because they are fighting to claim their very limited space. It comes with an incredibly adept intuition as to the size and capacity of their car, as well as near-perfect timing of sudden movements without actually killing anybody. The middle fingers, flying expletives, honking, and arm farting is basically a romance language between two city drivers displaying mutual appreciation.
On the contrary, midwesterners were born and raised in a big, bloated land mass where it is never required to be possessive nor even at least minimally conscious of what may be happening within a 1 mile radius of their trucks. Instead of being humbled by the small bit of land that they tenuously hold on to, they feel entitled to claim vast quantities of nothingness. They bluster around, the Tom Buchanans of the world, not only unwilling to let you into a lane, but entirely likely to smash into your car due to the collectively sluggish reflex of the midwestern spinal cord. Every road is an eight lane expressway in which you are perpetually in the lane furtherest from the one you should actually be in. You are constantly missing turns and trying to navigate cryptic arrows painted on the road. Then in order to make the next U-turn, you must traverse an endless strip of road spotted with motels, Red Robins, Speedways and absolutely nothing that resembled my false idea of a ‘quaint’ midwest.
It seems that everyone in the midwest exclusively does all their shopping in some type of “megamart” establishment. The one closest to me was called “Meijer”, which I never actually learned how to pronounce, largely out of resignation that most places are never pronounced properly out here (eg, Toledo is pronounced tol-EE-do; Lima is pronounced as LYE-ma). Well I guess that since American states are quite literally as large as moderately-sized european countries, it would make sense to amass all commercial goods under the roof of one centrally located space.
But good Lord. These stores where so colossal, I thought that all the frail old people who wandered in there had accepted the fact that Meijer would likely be their final resting place. Do they gift them LifeAlerts at the door?? I literally had to start doing burpees in my apartment just to muster then thigh strength necessary to spend an entire Saturday propelling both my body and cow-sized cart up and down the aisles.
A charming place to [have your friends] be from
I’m not going to lie. It’s a love-hate relationship with this place, most especially after realizing that even doctors with over 10+ years of graduate level education (usually the community paragons of rational thinking) were staunch Trump supporters. It was particularly deflating as students who had to silently endure poisonous ideology disguised behind a midwestern smile long enough to get out before making a scene, which, in theory, could delay our graduation.
Um. Can I get a heeeeeyyyyylllllll nawwwwwww!
But some things I did love: Q95 country radio, camo everything, driving fast, cheap gas, incredible star gazing, massive sunrises/sets, wine sold everywhere at any hour (all these people must be functional drunks), the fact that one dollar goes a hell of a long way, and of course, all the exceptional attendings, residents, students, and patients who have helped me learn the universal language of medicine, regardless of where I was on planet earth. Because everyone, at the end of the day, is simply a human being. (At the beginning of the day they are robots.)