© 2017 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.
I stole the title of this essay from the very popular and long-running Readers' Digest column, "Life in these United States". I stole the format from the USA Today newspaper, in which each issue has a 1-page snapshot of news from each state, and sometimes a territory. [To paraphrase Picasso, "Great men steal; lesser men borrow!"]
In my 38 years of living in the US, I've visited 48 of the 50 states, and three of the six inhabited territories (in which I include Washington DC, although that might properly be called a Federal District instead). For an overview/map of the states and territories of the US, click here and here.
For each state, I'll write a few notes based on my knowledge and/or experience. The commentary will be brief, whimsical, possibly biased, and/or incomplete! How's that for "truth in advertising"?
I spent a few hours there one Christmas on a driving trip from New Orleans going east along the Gulf coast. They claim to have a top-notch college football team, the Crimson Tide. It's very likely that I knew of the popular song, "Oh! Susanna" even before I moved to the US. Although it contains the line, "I come from Alabama with my Banjo on my knee", to this day, I have not met anyone coming from Alabama with a banjo on their knee! BTW, the country music band Alabama does indeed come from that state. Think Mobile, Birmingham, Montgomery, George Wallace, and Hank Williams.
It's by far the biggest state (even bigger than Texas, if you can believe that!) and it has the smallest population. If you want to see pristine country, tundra, glaciers, snow-capped mountains, and lots of wildlife (some of which can kill you), go look. My first experience in a motor home was from Anchorage to Fairbanks via Mount Denali, and across Prince William Sound to Whittier on an 8-hour ferry ride. I got to stand on a glacier. This was some six months after the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill. A huge earthquake occurred on Good Friday in 1964, causing damage along the coast and in Anchorage, and a subsequent tsunami went all the way down the west coast of the US to Antarctica. Oh, and then there is former governor, Sarah Palin, who ran as a Vice-Presidential candidate!
Very hot, often very flat, and part of the Wild West; think Tombstone and its Boot Hill. I very much enjoyed a visit to Biosphere 2 near Tucson (a city whose pronunciation I never quite correlated to its spelling; just drop the "c"). The Titan Missile Museum near Green Valley is worth a visit. It's not every day you get to go into a decommissioned underground missile silo from the Cold War. Back in WWII, US Navy battleships were named for states. The Arizona was sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor, and still lies in full view under the water at the memorial built over it in Hawaii.
Looks like it rhymes with "Kansas", but the "sas" is pronounced "saw" or even "sawa", if you care to have extra syllables in your words (as in shi-i-i-i-i-i-t). It was my 48th state to visit when I stayed overnight and then drove across it in a moving van in half a day. I saw rice farming, billboard advertising, heard about all the chicken farms and processing plants, and I met several women who had not been intimate with Bill Clinton when he was state Attorney General or Governor! The world headquarters of the Walmart chain of stores is in Bentonville.
Well, it's really more than a state; in fact, it's a whole other planet! I seem to recall that if it were an independent country, it would have the 5th largest economy in the world. Think Hollywood; Disneyland; earthquakes; fires; droughts; the universities Berkeley, Stanford, and UCLA; Silicon Valley, and the former Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who will not be back! Ronald Reagan was also Governor. The state capital, Sacramento, is worth a visit, as it the small museum at Folsom Prison. Because of the proliferation of the right kind of eucalypt trees, numerous zoos there can keep koala bears. The beautiful city of San Diego is about the same latitude north as my home town in Australia is south, and I just love that climate; none of that hat, gloves, coat, and cold crap!
Has lots of very tall mountains, forest, snow, and winter sports. The capital, Denver, is called the Mile-High City, 'cos it is! The state has a perfectly rectangular shape. The town of Pueblo (Spanish for town) is a common address for mail-order product (and other) post-office boxes. In Spanish, colorado means red/muddy, as was the Colorado River.
Drop the second "c" and you have the correct pronunciation. Of course, part of it is really the eastern suburbs of New York City. The capital, Hartford is the world capital of the insurance industry. And just in case you are in the market for a new or used submarine, the Electric Boat Corporation in Groton is the place to shop.
Known as the First State, as it was the first of the 13 original states to ratify the U.S. Constitution, in 1787. Unfortunately, the Dover Air Force Base is well known as the place to which military dead often return to the US. There are far more chickens in the state than people. A popular beach spot (for both chickens and people).
In Spanish, florida means "place where old people go to die, before, during, or after, a hurricane!" Actually, it means flowery. Think Disney World, Kennedy Space Center, the Florida Keys, the Everglades, hurricanes, Cuban immigrants, St. Augustine, Miami Vice, and very high humidity in summer.
Think peaches, Atlanta, peaches, Ted Turner, peaches, Jimmy Carter (his brother, Billy, and mother, Miss Lillian), peanuts, 1996 Summer Olympics, peaches, Masters golf tournament in Augusta, and one of my all-time favorite songs sung by Ray Charles, "Georgia on My Mind".
A very valuable piece of land that we "stole" from the natives. I've visited the main island of Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii (known colloquially as the Big Island). Think Honolulu, surfing, Pearl Harbor, active volcanoes, huge dormant volcanos, the Elvis Presley movie Blue Hawaii (complete with English actress Angela Lansbury as Elvis' overbearing mother, and speaking with a southern accent), a great place to go in winter, the Parker Ranch, Captain James Cook's death place, and the Kona triathlon Ironman World Championship. Home to my good friend Tom (and his wife Lana), long-time reviewer of the essays in this blog.
Think mountains, potatoes, forests, potatoes, paper companies, potatoes, wild rivers (as in the Snake), a town called Moscow, and Craters of the Moon National Monument. Oh, and potatoes!
Although its nickname is "Land of Lincoln", 'cos Honest Abe practiced law in the capital, Springfield, he really was born in Kentucky. The biggest city is Chicago, which was my first home in the US, for a year from late 1979. Think Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox baseball teams; Wrigley chewing gum; Mayor Richard J. Daley; the 1968 Democratic Presidential Convention; prohibition, Al Capone, and Elliot Ness; International Harvester; Lake Michigan; O'Hare International Airport; the movie The Blues Brothers; and home of the future Barack Obama Presidential Center.
Think Indianapolis 500, Notre Dame University, and a town called Santa Clause.
The name of its capital, Des Moines, is French for The Monks. This state is the first to hold caucuses during each presidential primary cycle. Think farming: corn, pigs, and soy beans.
Think Wild West, as in Wichita and Dodge City. According to Wikipedia, "In response to demands of Methodists and other evangelical Protestants, in 1881 Kansas became the first U.S. state to adopt a constitutional amendment prohibiting all alcoholic beverages, which was only repealed in 1948." Home to Leavenworth military prison. And no, the famous Kansas City is not in Kansas; it's in Missouri. Go figure!
Think bourbon whiskey, KFC (Colonel Sanders was a Kentucky Colonel), Louisville Slugger baseball bats,
Kentucky bluegrass, moonshine, coal, bluegrass music, and tobacco.
The name of the capital, Baton Rouge, is French for red stick. Think New Orleans; Hurricane Katrina; Mississippi River; Cajun people, food, and music; Dixie Land jazz; the Battle of New Orleans and Johnny Horton's hit record of the same name.
"The rain in Maine stays mainly in the plain." No, wait a minute, that's Spain, not Maine. Over a 15-year period, I made some 75–100 trips to Millinocket, a paper-company town in the center of the state near the end of the Appalachian Trail. I even climbed to the top of the mile-high Baxter Peak along the knife-edge. Think lobster, moose, potatoes, rugged coastlines, forests, hunting, and Mount Desert Island. One informed local told me that when on the top of a mountain, you could see so far, it took two of you to look! While long-term residents are properly called Mainers, the term Maniacs is also used.
I lived there briefly, twice, both times in suburban Washington DC. I love the state's flag. Think Baltimore and its Orioles baseball team, Chesapeake Bay and crabs, Andrews Airforce Base (home to Air Force One), Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and a town called Accident, a resident of which is called an "Accidental".
I've flown in and out of there more than 200 times, for two reasons: to service a computer company consulting client, and to change planes to Bangor, Maine, to service another client. Think Boston, proper English, the Kennedys, Harvard, MIT, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, Woods Hole, The Mayflower, witches of Salem, Paul Revere, and the Bee Gees song, "(The Lights Went Out In) Massachusetts".
The state whose main part's shape is a glove, and that has a second non-adjoining part called the UP (Upper Peninsular), whose residents are known as yoopers! I canoed the Au Sable River and snow-skied at Traverse City. Think Detroit (which, when pronounced in the original French, is day-twa, which sounds far more sophisticated) and the US auto industry; Henry Ford Museum; Greenfield Village; Great Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Superior; Kellogg's Cornflakes; and Isle Royal National Park.
Think the 3M company; Minneapolis/St. Paul; source of the mighty Mississippi River; original home of Cray Super Computers; Duluth; and International Falls, where each winter, for more than 100 days, it gets colder than a witch's tit! Lake Wobegon is the fictitious town for the long-running radio program, A Prairie Home Companion.
I drove across the southern coast and spent a night. Think Mississippi River, Civil War battle of Vicksburg, Oxford and William Faulkner , Ole Miss University, and Tupelo (birthplace of Elvis Presley).
Think St. Louis and its Cardinals baseball team, the Gateway Arch, Branson, meeting place of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, Kansas City, Mark Twain's boyhood home in Hannibal, and the Ozarks.
I've visited the Bozeman and Billings areas a number of times. It really is Big Sky Country! Think Crow and Cheyenne tribes and the Battle of the Little Big Horn with General Custer, northern and northwestern entrances to Yellowstone National Park, Three Forks, July 4th rodeo at Livingston, ranching, and wide-open spaces. Montaña is Spanish for mountain.
Think Omaha (home to Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway), Union Pacific Railroad, Gallop Polls, beef, corn, and soybeans.
Spanish for snowy. Home to Las Vegas (sometimes referred to as "lost wages") where one can have a drive-through wedding, and then drive to Reno for a quickie-divorce. From there, I took a helicopter to the western rim of the Grand Canyon. Think desert, Colorado River and Hoover Dam, desert, Valley of Fire State Park, desert, Area 51 and UFOs, and the quaint state capital of Carson City.
The "Live free or die" state. Think Mount Washington and the White Mountain National Forest, Manchester, Nashua, no sales tax or personal income tax, the first primary in the U.S. presidential election cycle, and Dartmouth College.
Think Atlantic City and its casinos and Boardwalk, Newark Airport, western New York City suburbs, Princeton University, Rutgers University, Trenton, former Bell Research Labs in Murray Hill, American Revolution and George Washington's crossing of the Delaware River, and Thomas Edison (the Wizard of Menlo Park).
This was the 47th state to join the Union, and it was the 47th state I visited. Coincidence? I think not! Think desert, Native American tribes (including the Navajo), Los Alamos and atomic bombs, Carlsbad Caverns, Roswell and UFOs, White Sands, Santa Fe, and a town called Truth or Consequences.
If you want to visit a busy place and to sit and people-watch, Manhattan is the place to be. Just like in the movies, it's never dark or quiet; the police, ambulance, and fire sirens do run all night! Think New York City (whose metro area has a population about the same size as my birth country!), Long Island, the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts, Lake Placid and the winter Olympics, Hudson River, Hyde Park (FDR's home), Niagara Falls, and West Point.
Think tobacco, Raleigh/Durham and the Research Triangle, Biltmore (the Vanderbilt estate), a town called Cherokee, Nags Head, Duke University, the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, the movie "Nights in Rodanthe", and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
I refer to this state on a regular basis when in meetings. When a speaker asks if there are any questions, I sometimes say, "Yes, what's the capital of North Dakota?" Of course, my question has nothing whatsoever to do with the topic at hand! The scenario is borrowed from the movie "The Muppets Take Manhattan", in which a hostage-rescue plan is described, and the speaker asks if there are any questions. Think Fargo, the Great Plains, energy (natural gas, oil, and coal), Native American tribes (including the Sioux, the Blackfoot, and the Cheyenne), sugar beets, and honey.
I once spent a most enjoyable day at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus. Being an old farm boy, I just had to check all the livestock exhibits to see if they'd been judged correctly! However, when I came to a huge area with 5,000 rabbits, after looking at the first five or six, I couldn't see how judges could pick one over the other. Think tires/rubber, Cleveland and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Olivia Newton-John's recording "Banks of the Ohio", the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Kent State shootings, Cincinnati, Toledo, and Lake Erie.
Oklahoma was created specifically as a home for Native American tribes, and is currently occupied by 39 of them. Unfortunately, many of them were forcibly relocated from as far away as Florida, Delaware, California, and present-day Ontario, Canada. (For one such sad relocation example, see Trail of Tears.) Unlike other states that have Indian reservations, each tribal area in Oklahoma is considered a Nation. Think the musical Oklahoma!, Tulsa, Oklahoma City and its infamous bombing, and serious
Think Oregon Trail, ranching, ponderosa pines, potatoes, Portland, Bend, forest (for lumber and paper-making), high-tech companies, the Columbia River, and Nike.
As I was getting ready to leave Australia for Washington DC, news broke about the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown. When I looked on a map of the US, I found that location was not too far from where I was headed, which wasn't a pleasant thought. Think Philadelphia, Quakers, Pittsburgh, Penn State University, Standard Oil and John D. Rockefeller, the Amish in Lancaster County, steel, and a town called Jim Thorpe.
The state's official name is a mouthful: State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. For quite some years back in Australia, my only knowledge of this term was as the chicken breed Rhode Island Red. Think Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Providence, Newport and sailing, The Breakers, and the movie High Society,
Think Myrtle Beach, Charleston and Fort Sumpter, Hilton Head, tobacco, cotton, an assembly plant for Boeing's 787, and Clemson University.
During a very pleasant motor home trip, I visited the Badlands, the Black Hills with Mt. Rushmore and Chief Crazy Horse, Deadwood (the final resting place of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane), Rapid City, Ellsworth Air Force Base (which was an active SAC base at the time), Custer State Park and its huge bison herd, Wind Cave National Park, the Mammoth Site at Hot Springs. And if you drive along Interstate 90 Highway, you'll soon get sick of, or intrigued by, seeing a sign for Wall Drug every mile! (Surprise, it's in the town of Wall.) I understand that the Corn Palace is worth a visit.
One year, I took my family on a trip to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge (Dolly Parton's amusement place) and the Great Smokey Mountains. Think Nashville and country music; Memphis, Graceland and Elvis; Mississippi River; the Oak Ridge Boys; the Tennessee Valley Authority; Oak Ridge; and Jack Daniel's.
Think Dallas/Fort Worth, the TV series "Dallas", President Kennedy's assassination, oil, cattle ranches, Houston we have liftoff, LBJ, Judge Roy Bean, briefly an independent country (created in 1836 just like my home state of South Australia, it's "sister state"), and The Alamo.
Settled by the Mormons, and home to salt flats where world land-speed records have been set. Think Salt Lake City, Sundance Film Festival, skiing, spectacular rock formations and National Parks (I visited Arches in 2017), Brigham Young University, the Osmonds, and the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Think Burlington, skiing, Lake Champlain, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Senator Bernie Sanders, maple syrup, and dairy farming.
The first state settled in the US (1607), and my home state for the past 37 years. It has supplied the most US presidents, eight, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Woodrow Wilson. Also, home to my good friend John (and his wife Molly), long-time reviewer of the essays in this blog. Think Shenandoah River, CIA HQ at Langley, the Pentagon, Richmond and the Civil War, Norfolk Navy Base, University of Virginia, and Arlington National Cemetery.
I've visited Seattle many times. Think Olympic Mountains, Microsoft, Boeing, Spokane, forests, Mt. Rainer, Space Needle, and the eruption at Mt. Saint Helens. Unfortunately for Washington state, too many Americans confuse it with Washington DC!
It has lots of things to see and do, especially outdoors. "West Virginia, Mountain Mamma, take me home, country roads" indeed! Think Wheeling, coal mining, Harpers Ferry and John Brown, and Appalachian music.
Think Milwaukee and beer brewing, the Green Bay Packers football team, Harley Davidson motor cycles, Oshkosh and its airshow, Senator Joseph McCarthy, cheese, milk, butter, Evinrude and Mercury marine engines, and Briggs & Stratton engines.
After visiting Yellowstone National Park, in Cody I rafted and took in a rodeo. I also spent time in the Grand Tetons and Jackson Hole. Think cowboys, Laramie, and Cheyenne.
The inhabited territories are as follows: Washington DC; Puerto Rico; the US Virgin Islands (USVI) of St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix; Guam; American Samoa; and Northern Marianas. I've done most touristy things in DC. I've visited Puerto Rico many times, and flew through there early in 2017 on my way to St. Croix in the USVI. Since then, both were heavily damaged by Hurricane Irma.
I have yet to visit the states of North Dakota and South Carolina, and the territories American Samoa, Guam, and Northern Marianas.
By the way, the capital of North Dakota is Bismarck.
I'll finish off with a little conundrum: If Mississippi wore a New Jersey, what would Delaware? Answer: Idaho, Alaska. And if you are having trouble understanding that, here's the English version: If Miss Issippi wore a new jersey, what would Dela wear? I don't know, I'll ask her.