Friday, May 26, 2006

On Being from Missouri

I have lived in Missouri my entire life. That gives me the right to say some things about Missouri that people who don’t lived here can’t say.

Just because I live here, that doesn’t make me a “Missourian”. In fact, there is no such thing as a “Missourian”. We aren’t really from  here. We just happened to live  here.

I’ve always admired people who live in Oklahoma, Texas, or California because they can proudly and rightfully say that they are Okies or Texans or Californians. There is a distinct culture behind those words. People know exactly who they are and what they stand for.

Being from Missouri, however, simply means that I live in Missouri. In has no significance beyond that. There is no defining culture that we can associate with.

Missouri isn’t simply a diverse state; it’s a downright fragmented  one. There are two large cities: St. Louis and Kansas City. People from St. Louis don’t like the people from Kansas City. People from Kansas City don’t like the people from St. Louis. People who live in neither city don’t like anybody  who lives in a city.

Well, I’ll take that back. Everybody has an allegiance to one of the big city’s sports teams. Somewhere down the middle of the state — probably right along Highway 63 — there is a line that separates the Royals fans from the Cardinals fans. And it separates the Chiefs fans from the Cardinals fans. I mean, the Rams fans. Whatever.

Another line of demarcation is the Missouri River. It splits the state in the other direction. There are mountains to the south (if the Ozarks can be called “mountains”) and there aren’t  mountains to the north. Nobody from north of the river likes anybody from south of the river. And the people south of the river don’t care.

The city names in Missouri are funny, too. Did you already notice that one of the largest cities is actually named for a rival state? Who’s idea was that? Oh, well. Half of Kansas City is in Kansas, anyway.

Even though the largest cities are St. Louis and Kansas City, neither of them is the capital. That honor goes to — anybody? — that’s right, Jefferson City. Who woulda thought? It was named after the president that bought the state from the French. (The name “Missouriopolis” was first proposed for it. In a rare move, wiser heads prevailed.) It has the distinction of being one of the few state capitals that isn’t served by an interstate highway. Now, there’s  an honor that needs to be passed around.

Other cities are named for other states, too. It’s like they just couldn’t be original. There’s both a California and a Florida in Missouri. And there’s a Nevada, too. Except that they pronounce it Nuh-VAY-duh. Nobody knows why.

Some cities were named after exotic places like Paris and Versailles. (Don’t even ask how they pronounce that.) They just couldn’t think of anything better to name them.

Heck sometimes they’d just give up naming cities. Halfway is, well, half way between Buffalo and Bolivar. Ten Mile is ten miles from Macon. They might as well have named them “We’re almost there”.

We haven’t had our fair share of famous people originate from Missouri. Well, there was Mark Twain. But he didn’t want anyone to know who he was, so he didn’t use his real name. When he wrote his famous books, the non-anthropomorphic star wasn’t the town in Missouri, it was the river — the river that is named after another state! Sheesh.

Oh, yeah, and Harry Truman was from Missouri. Of course, he was a failed businessman who was used by the political machinery of the time to become a senator. Then he accidentally stumbled into the presidency. He was barely re-elected once and then he saw the handwriting on the wall and decided to get out while the getting was good. He was replaced by a Jayhawk from Kansas.

It’s hard being from Missouri. Easterners call it “flyover country”. Westerners think we’re somewhere near Pennsylvania. Northerners think we’re a Confederate state. Southerners call us Yankees.

Of course, I can say things like that about my state, but you can’t. After all, I am a Missourian. Whatever that is.

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