Touring America's heartland through the headlines

The current state license plate design, introd...

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This is the first in an occasional series.

As an East Coast professor living in the liberal bubble of Boston, I’m well aware of the limits of my understanding.  I am known to blurt out (usually to my golden retriever Murphy), “How did this country get so damned conservative?” Or, “what kind of chemicals are they pouring on the corn fields out there, anyway?”

And so, as America heads into what is likely to be an historically heated election (that’s newsspeak for, “the loonies will be screaming at each other”), I’ve decided to take a closer look at the heartland I knew far better in my early 20s,  crisscrossing the country in my father’s beat up station wagon Clarabelle and hustling tourists as a bell hop in America’s Mountain States national parks.  (It wasn’t terribly hard; I’ll never forget the guy who screeched to a stop at Flagg Ranch just south of Yellowstone and asked, breathlessly, “What time do they turn off Old Faithful?”)

Since I’m driving a Prius now, I figured I’d miss a lot tearing across America at 94 mph while screaming for help. So I decided to take this journey through the words printed in America’s newspapers. This, I thought, might have a side benefit of explaining to me why no one reads them any more. (And, as a secondary side benefit, might help me catch up on lost sleep.)

Today I began my journey in Dorothy’s home state of Kansas. What’s the matter with Kansas anyway?  Absolutely nothing. But what are folks concerned about? I thought I’d take a look.

I stopped by the Abilene Reflector-Chronicle, which left my mouth watering. It seems Marty Andrews, owner of Joe Snuffy’s Old Fashion Grill located at 2209 N. Buckeye, and Jim Shelton of Abilene, were hard at work yesterday preparing Chisholm Trail Steaks for Dickinson County’s annual Township Day meeting. I don’t know what happened at the meeting, but I promise to get back to you if anything more important than the trail steaks came up.

And the big news out of Dodge, or at least the Dodge City Daily Globe? I guess that would be that “The Boot Hill show director (is) busy with books.”  They’d keep me busy, too, if I were serving them with dinner. Or maybe he’s been checking out Snuffy’s grill online.  Anyway, the lead under the headline read, “Doug Austen has a lot on his plate right now,” so you can draw your own conclusions.

I figured the hot political news must be hopping in Kansas’ big cities so I headed out of Dodge (I’ve always wanted to do that) toward Wichita, which has had its share of battles over abortion and cattle over the years (different stories, actually).

There, in the Wichita Eagle, I discovered, under the dateline, TOPEKA, Kan., that, “For at least one day, Topeka is one of the most popular Web sites in the world. It’s all part of an April Fools’ Day prank by Google, which for one day has changed its name to “Topeka.'”

GOTCHA, huh? No, I’m not making this up. It’s serious, this news business.  But then so is politics. And here, neither the Wichita Eagle nor the good people of Kansas disappointed. Turns out the big story of the day was that the “Kansas legislature delays hard choices on state budget.” It ran with the lead,

TOPEKA — Lawmakers left town this week without doing the one thing they must in the 90-day session: Pass a balanced budget. They put off wrenching decisions about increasing taxes or cutting spending until the final 15 days. The delay is unprecedented.

It surely warms my heart to know that lawmakers in the heartland are as incompetent as they are anywhere else.

Red State, Blue State. You know, we’re not so different after all.


About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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One Response to Touring America's heartland through the headlines

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