My Strange Midwest Obsession

What does “the Midwest” make you think of?

Midwest corn field

Credit: Shawn Nystrand

If you’re 21% of the U.S. population that lives in the Midwest, then you might be thinking: “home” or “family.”

Perhaps that’s too general. So I took a quick poll – the super scientific kind – from my (4) token mid-Western friends. Here are some of their awesomely golden nuggets:

Me: Y’all are from the Midwest. What does the word ‘Midwest’ make you think of?

My friends: “You guys, meat and potatoes, snow days, just wait and the weather changes, bonfires, ma instead of mom, casseroles, crockpots, pot locks, summers are incredible, anything below 20 degrees is considered cold, sandals and shorts if it’s above 50 degrees… It always snows in spring, cheese and sausage, Merkts cheese spread, deer season, pot roast, I’m corn bread fed, unsweetened tea, pop . . .  Snow, farmland, family, holidays, community . . . Hardworking and honest, wholesome farm boys, we call pop… Pop, drink a lot bc it’s so cold and nothing else to do. They call a bag a “tote beg” not bag. Beg.”

So I guess some stereotypes can also be truisms.

To me, the Midwest is this strange Bermuda Triangle-like phenomenon. Other than a sister trip to Chicago, I’ve never actually been anywhere in the Midwest. Chicago doesn’t seem like the typical Midwest.

Maybe it’s the whole ubiquitous urbaneness of it all. The sleek skyscrapers channeling a Manhattan vibe – though less art deco – that lilts slightly toward Seattle or Toronto. (Thrillist actually rates the Chicago skyline as America’s #2, after Seattle – beating out Manhattan at #9. I’m curious about your thoughts on that!)

Like an island in an otherwise very Midwesterny state, it maintains a unique yet universal urban culture. You know what I mean. Don’t you?


Millennium Park, Chicago 2011

But when you talk travel with your friends, whether a family trip, a girl’s getaway, or a solo adventure, rarely do the words “I’m going to check out Ohio!” surface. Nor “I’ve been dying to go to Iowa!” (I used to get these two states confused in middle school. All those vowels in a 4 letter word, shaped almost the same way, and which one was where again?)

But I think there’s something to be said about “knowing” America’s heartland- a large swathe of the country that contributes immensely to our culture and economy.

And since it’s the only region of the country I’ve never seen – – – well, color me curious!

“It’s just a bunch of corn fields”

That’s what everyone seems to say right? Even some folks I’ve met from these states dismissively claimed, “You’re not missing much.” Maybe that’s why I’ve never made a point to visit.

Vacations out west were always the intrigue: skiing the rugged Rockies, hiking Utah’s otherworldly formations in Arches, Zion and Bryce, traversing California’s scenic Hwy 101, inhaling fresh evergreen air in the striking Pacific Northwest.

Living in DC for nearly a decade, New England and mid-Atlantic states were often on the travel agenda. Growing up in the deep South, all of the southern states were easily covered.

Now that I’m living – still in the south – but so tantalizingly close to those heartland states, I find intrigue pulling me, ever stronger, to explore what seems like an often overlooked regional destination for travelers.

Proximity also breeds complacency. We often take for granted what’s in our own backyard, right? So, I’ve just never done it. I’ve never made the effort to get out and explore the heartland of my own country! And how can we truly appreciate where we’re from (country, that is), if we never bother to go check out such an important part of it’s story?

All of that’s to say- it may seem weird, but I’m Jonesing to visit Cincinnati (Cinci, as my friend calls it), explore Columbus, discover Bloomington, uncover Indianapolis…. Milwaukee… St. Louis… Minneapolis… and the spaces between.

And Kansas. Please, let there be Kansas. (I’m channeling my childhood nostalgia for The Wizard of Oz).

I’ve literally been to every other state (save Arizona) but never set foot in a Midwestern one (except Illinois, but we’re not counting that Chicago trip, remember? Nor do we include layovers. Nope. That’s cheating).

So, with not quite the motive of checking all the boxes as much as just a simple, small quest for knowledge and understanding, we’ll embark on some new adventures to the Midwest! Da da da DA!!!

First stop?

Columbus, Ohio!


Why Columbus?

This has been the most common question I’ve encountered.

For one, it’s simple math – and convenience. Now that I’m shopping for two on those airline tickets with an over-two-year-old, road trips are the more frugal option. And if you’ve ever ridden in a car with a toddler, you know that minimizing time in said car should be your numero uno priority.

So, the closest Midwestern states to Nashville are Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

Here’s a map, if you’re a visual person, like moi.



image source

I’m not sure why, but Ohio keeps popping up in my mind as a great spot. Maybe I’ve seen a lot in blogposts and social media mentions about the fun things to do in some of its cities. Or maybe it’s the upcoming election and that whole swing state thing. Regardless, Cincinnati and Columbus were at the top of my list.

The more I asked around, the more I realized there were a lot of things to do in Columbus, specifically a couple of world-renowned places to take toddlers. And that is often a focus for me these days: two-year-old entertainment.

Plus, Columbus, Ohio. It just sounds approachable; a manageable adventure that’s a little easier to wrangle with a temperamental toddler than Disney. I also like to mix it up. You can’t always go to the beach or the mountains. Diversity is key to keeping your experiences fresh and intriguing.

So, Ohio it is!!

Follow along and check out the next post for our adventure to the capital of The Buckeye State!


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