State by State

Apparently there is an entire country between Boston and San Francisco.


by Natalia

Do you want me to take a photo of you two?, she asks. No, thank you., I shake my head. She must be blind and deaf because she yells: is it a yes or a no? Yet she is ready to jump out of her car and walk 20 yards just to take our picture. How rude of us to decline.

I am getting tired of the aggressive politeness and hospitality offered here. I don’t like to trust my camera to strangers. I don’t need a proof I visited various attractions together with Damian. And, more importantly, I am used to a different protocol: it’s the people who intend to have their pictures taken that initiate the conversation. And they apologize profusely for invading privacy first.

Damian, in his misguided ways, attempts to be nicer: facing the want me to take your photo proposal he makes up stories. Oh, I don’t want her husband to find out we are together, he cruelly says to one helpful granny. He used to explain that we are international spies and just don’t like to have our pictures taken but gave up on that after the recent Russian spy scandal.

In a restaurant, before she even sits us, the hostess inquires where we are from. This goes beyond polite interest, it’s plain nosy. Does she have a list of places inhabitants of which are not admitted? And quite frankly I am bored of the predictable exchange that follows. Surprisingly living in Vermont is usually deemed more interesting by most interlocutors then being from Poland. Typical reaction: it’s different in Vermont then here, isn’t it? To which I respond yes it is with stright face and clear conscience as wherever we are mountains are higher or trees are scarcer.

Do you have big plans for today? the clerk at the front desk wants to know. As if one could have big plans in this state. Taken by surprise I ask about his plans. Not that I am interested but I suddenly understand why his eyes light up at my mention of driving to Omaha. 3 hours away of where we are at the moment there is another world: bustle of a big city, restaurants, shops, theaters. In short civilization. And nobody cares where we are from.

Those are sparsely populated states that we find ourselves crossing (Nebraska and South Dakota are 43rd and 46th state respectively measured by population density). Differently than in large cities people here have little need for privacy in public spaces. One can always drive a bit farther to find solitude. I miss the standoffish aloofness of Bostonians.


Pioneer Auto Show in Mudro, South Dakota is a genuine road side attraction. Row after row of early cars. Building after building of period pieces illustrating life on the plains in the first half of the 20th century. A huge barn full of tractors. Collection of motorcycles including one that belonged to the King. One of the first custom made houses on wheels a.k.a. RV. It’s all dusty and the smell reminds me of my grandparents’ attic - not necessarily in a good way. It sorely needs money: audio narration mentions cars absent from exhibits - probably sold to help the site survive. It sure could use some public funding and a professional curator to de-clutter displays and put them in historical context.


All the states that we have crossed so far have sections that are uninhabited. Mountains, forests, deserts and other natural obstacles stand in the way of human conquest. Not so in Iowa. Incredible 99% of land is put to a productive use. With the exception of a few cities this means agriculture. Specifically, fields of corn. In a 100 years of settlement Iowa was so successful in cultivating prairie that at the turn of the 20th century there was none left for the federal government to put its paws on and convert into a national park as it was tempted to do in other states.