I’m a South Carolina native who grew up in Georgia, and I have lived in one of these two states most of my life except for two years in the Navy (during which I never saw a ship — a story for another time) and a misguided six months in California, land of fruits and nuts.
How bad was the golden state? Well, when I got back home I kissed the ground and vowed never again to leave the South except for visits, and only then with a copy of my birth certificate in hand to prove where I was from so I could be sure to get back in.
But I might have been a bit hasty in making that pledge. Two reasons: Iowa and Maine.
I had heard for years that Iowa ranked high in quality of life (among other things, like public education). But possessing that foreknowledge had not prepared me for Des Moines, which my wife Margaret and I visited recently.
Ready? Des Moines offers clean, safe streets; free-flowing traffic; good food at reasonable prices; low unemployment; affordable housing; higher wages; pleasant, friendly people; and (at least when we were there) very nice weather. (Full disclosure: We had been advised by friends there not to come till after March so as to avoid the harsh winter. Turned out they had had a mild winter, but forewarned is forearmed: we went in May.)
My chief impression was that Des Moines was designed for its inhabitants, not for its automobiles – a sharp contrast to, say, Atlanta, where we used to live when we worked for The Atlanta Constitution. On a visit to The Big A last November, we found a city choking on its traffic. We missed two engagements simply because we could not get there at the appointed hour. We were stalled in traffic on the freeway. Stalled as in “not moving.”
Then, this month, we visited Maine. Oh, boy!
We’d been to Maine several times, including Kennebunkport, where we stayed this time, and had developed a special fondness for the Granite State. But this time, it was, in the words of that great philosopher Yogi Berra, “déjà vu all over again.” In short, it was wonderful! Again!
Think delicious weather under clear, blue skies. Think great seafood. Think flowers and American flags everywhere. Think American Yankee attitudes and spirit.
Not least, think Down East common sense and mischievous humor.
Example: Sign in a Kennebunk barbershop where I got a haircut: “Be Nice or Leave.”
Sign in a downtown Kennebunkport parking lot: “If you park here, we will crush your car while you shop and/or dine.”
Sign at the Cape Porpoise post office, which is located in a general store: “U.S. postage and small talk.”
Gotta love a place like that. Moreover, the sign was an example of truth in advertising. At the post office’s one window, I saw and overheard a patron who was indeed engaged in small talk with the clerk.
But we’re home again, and of course there’s no place like it.
You can quote me on that, but remember I was not under oath.