Monday, October 11, 2010

Favorite Town, or Town I Would Most Like to Visit, In Every State?

This is sort of my own internet game, though the idea came to me because one of my co-workers was trying to win tickets online to some kind of show, participation in which contest required one to make a short statement about his favorite town in New Hampshire and why it was thus. My co-worker, being unable to think of a favorite town, asked me for help, and, not wanting to think too long, I came up with a solid, if obvious choice, which she proceeded to use (she did not win the contest). I thought it would be amusing to consider the question with regard to other states, and make a record of it (No, I admit, I really did have that thought). Major (as in pro-sports size market) metropolises are not eligible for recognition here. These are going to be provincial towns as much as possible.

Alabama--Montgomery. I've never been to Alabama and don't know much about it. I know Montgomery is the capital and that F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald had a house there, and that's about it. Still, that is enough to give me the impression that there must be some vestige of elegance there. The other major cities--Birmingham, Selma, Mobile--still conjure up very negative connotations, without much, if any sense, of redeeming qualities about them.

Alaska--Never been, naturally. Fairbanks? I have a memory of reading back in the 80s that the girls at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks were rated the ugliest of any college in the country, which actually made me consider going there for a few weeks, to give you an idea of how bleak the chick situation at home was looking at the time. It's also large enough and so rigorously isolated as to make, I would think, for a very intense impression of the Alaska experience.

Arizona--I don't know. Probably one of the university towns (Tucson?). Word identification for Arizona for me: desert, cactuses, rocks, poor and exploited Mexican underclass, Route 66, national parks, really spectacular looking girls especially in the Phoenix and Tucson areas that are especially not well situated however to be picked up for a traveler's fling by strangers passing through town.

Arkansas--Nothing in Arkansas much excites me. Little Rock seems like one of the blander of the state capitals that has a substantial population. Even the university town (Fayetteville) doesn't really tempt me, though I'm sure if had a more definitive sense of what the typical Arkansas babes look like, I would be more raring to go.

California--I would be feeling a lot more confident about my list if it were 1950. I think of Berkeley, Santa Barbara, Monterrey, Salinas, but the impression is that these are somehow irretrievably altered, either by sprawl, or excessive wealth, or overmanipulation by tourist industry interests. Hollywood sort of counts as a smaller city, doesn't it? And Glendale and Pasadena and all those famous towns in SoCal. This state is too hard.

Colorado--Boulder is consistently rated the most militantly health & fitness-obsessed municipality in the entire country, and Colorado Springs is supposed to be something of a right-wing take on this same ethos. I'd probably stick to the National Parks if I went there.

Connecticut--The first state on the list I've been to. The problem is I can't think of what my favorite town is. Greenwich and Litchfield are reassuringly and handsomely well-preserved, but I don't have any particularly prized memories of them. The same, to a slightly less degree, can be said of East Haddam and Mystic. I went to a wedding in Waterbury once, but remember nothing about the town other than that there appeared to be an unusually high number of active Catholics there. Hartford and New Haven I found to be not as bad as anticipated, but still not places I would eagerly look forward to hanging out in again. The position is still open.

Delaware--Another state I have lived very close to and passed through probably 100 times but have spent hardly any real time in. I stopped at a Wawa in Wilmington recently when I went down to Maryland. It looks to have become somewhat less ghetto since the 70s & 80s; whether that is an improvement or not I suppose depends on the attitude of the reader. I'd be willing to check out Dover sometime--I've never been to that part of the state. New Castle is supposed to be like Annapolis--both are in the top 5 cities in America for preserved 18th century buildings I think--so maybe I'd like to go there sometime.

Florida--I am partial to Sarasota even though it is entirely artificial and overbuilt. I have pleasant memories of going there however. I also liked St Augustine, though I wish I could go sometime when it was about 1/10 as crowded as it was when I was there, which probably never happens. I like the central part of the state where the orange and grapefruit groves are quite a lot also, though there are not any particular towns which stand out. I would still like to go to Key West sometime too, even though I know it's a tourist trap and the people who live there hate outsiders. I've come to accept that I'm probably going to be relatively unpopular pretty much everywhere I go for the rest of my life, so I'm going to learn to revel in that.

Georgia--I've only passed through on I-95 en route to Florida. Savannah seems to play off that New Orleans kind of we're-wild-and-eccentric-and-we-have-awesome-and-challenging-food-too-vibe that I actually find kind of a turnoff (i.e., I'm feeling warned in advance that I'm not really cool enough to hang there), and unlike, say, New York, there doesn't seem to be anything to do there that doesn't require acknowledging someone else's coolness and eccentricity, which I hate doing. The state is quite large, so there are probably a few dusty crossroads still around that evoke the past of Flannery O'Connor and Walker Percy and people like that. I am aware obviously that was largely a bad past but the memorably evoked literary aspects of it appeal to the imagination more than the modern commercial and residential landscape.

Hawaii--Waikiki Beach, baby. That was the place back in the 40s so it's got to be cool right? Barring some unforeseen development, like one of my children moving there, I don't see myself ever going to Hawaii. Being forty and still having never been to Spain or Greece or Turkey yet, among myriad other interesting places, it's not high on my list of priorities.

Idaho--The stereotype in the east is that this state has more than its fair share of antisocial and uneducated white supremacist types. Ketchum, where Hemingway killed himself, is part of a posh resort area. I don't know enough about it.

Illinois--Haven't seen much of it, but I did like Oak Park (outside Chicago) a lot.

Indiana--Haven't seen much of it, either. The north seems better than the south. I liked Notre Dame when I visited it.

Iowa--Haven't been. Iowa City and Ames have a lot of book-loving, journal-keeping, memoirist types. I'd probably like them.

Kansas--No idea. You're supposed to look at the wheat, aren't you?

Kentucky--Nothing jumping out here either.

Louisiana--Natchitoches. I thought this place had a full on old south vibe going on, but I may be confusing that with Natchez, Mississippi.

Maine--Portland, of course. I liked it better in the 80s before it was "revitalized", and began to attract self-conscious hipsters with various personal missions--it's not 'my' city anymore, goddammit--but it's not like it won't always be important to me. Runners-up include York, the Kennebunks, Belgrade Lakes & Augusta, the Freeport/Brunswick/Bath area. The far north, Presque Isle and Caribou and all that, aren't terribly exciting in themselves, but at the time (1988 or so) they felt remote & not really a part of the world everybody else was living in, which was an interesting sensation.

Maryland--Annapolis, of course. The runner-up is Middletown on the Eastern shore, because its tiny downtown is kind of old & shabby, and when I stopped there for gas one freezing night on the Annapolis-Philadelphia run, there was an attractive artsy-looking girl working inside at the counter whom obviously I still remember many years later. This gives you an idea of what I think of most of Maryland too.

Massachusetts--Concord. One of the true all-time all-American towns. Only 16 miles from Boston but a very great deal of it feels and looks nothing like a suburb, which it is.

Michigan--There is actually a lot of cool stuff in Michigan. Some rarely-visited island National Park lands in the Great Lakes, the U.P., the Henry Ford Greenfield Village in Dearborn, which I know is probably considered kitschy by hipsters, but I would probably enjoy it, Battle Creek, the Keisler Archaeology museum in Ann Arbor (I don't know if this museum is any good, but they once lent out to my wife an enormous box of multimedia materials, games, reproductions of artifacts, slides, books, etc, on ancient Greece, so I have an association with them), Saginaw.

Minnesota--Duluth (wish the Eskimos could have outlasted the Packers for the NFL's small city slot--talk about frozen tundra; in my youth much-maligned as America's answer to Novosibirsk), Sauk Center (Sinclair Lewis's Gopher Prairie, the fate of the [female] protaganist of which story I too sadly identify with), Mankato (more earnest, library-going, memoir-writing, Midwestern good girls of my fond imagination), Grand Marais.

Mississippi--Oxford and Jackson both interest me because of the literary associations. Jackson I picture still as a sleepy old style southern capital--looking at the map every important two lane highway in the state still converges on it from, doubtless, the surrounding cotton fields--but apparently it is more like Atlanta now, a modern administrative center full of parking garages which is apparently and alienating outside business hours. I would probably go to see Natchez if I ever made it down there. I'm not a big music fanatic so I probably would be able to resist the temptation to hunt down authentic blues.

Missouri--I have been to Hannibal (Mark Twain's hometown), which does have the great location on the Mississippi River, and I enjoyed seeing the sites there, but the town itself is pretty dead. Most of Missouri that I saw seemed quite dead actually, including St Louis itself.

Montana--After my research and post of a month or so back regarding the changes in various states' largest cities, I've adopted Billings as one of my places I keep an eye peel for news items on, since there are a number of things about that are very different from typical American cities (its geographical setting, its being--at about 90,000 people--the largest city for 500 miles in every direction, its wholly natural and uncontrived western/cowboy character). I was especially disturbed therefore to see that one of the American soldiers accused of murdering civilians for sport in Iraq--it may even have been the leader of that group--was a native of this city.

Intermission. I'm at the point in the post now where I'm no longer interested in going on. But I will, for a while anyway, to try to complete the set.

Nebraska--Red Cloud. Where the Willa Cather historic site is. As you know, I liked My Antonia. I don't have any other emotional connection to Nebraska.

Nevada--I would still kind of like to see Las Vegas, though it can't see it interesting me past age 50, so I'm running out of time. The other four cities in Nevada--Reno, Carson City, Henderson, etc--I feel more or less the same about.

New Hampshire--On the original question which 'inspired' this whole exercise, my reflexive, two second response was "Portsmouth". I'll stick with that. New Hampshire has lots of sober and responsible citizens. Cities that could in any way be described as lively, on the other hand, are in exceedingly short supply.

New Jersey--I was in Rutherford once and found the old downtown part of it at least surprisingly attractive and compatible to my despondent mind. I have never been to LongBranch, but it is the birthplace of at least three well-regarded writers that I am familiar with (Dorothy Parker, Norman Mailer, & the critic M. H. Abrams) so I am curious to see how this phenomenom might have come about. I was in Princeton once. The school looked genuinely beautiful to my easily awed and manipulated senses, but nothing happened to induce any kind of intense emotional response on the occasion so my memory of it is rather vague.

New Mexico--I've been to Santa Fe--I flew out there, and it's the only place west of Missouri I've managed to get to. It seemed O.K., and of course there is another St John's College there which helps you feel somewhat at home, but on the whole I think I would need more than a week to get used to it. I will say that when I was there I felt incredibly healthy, I presume from walking around a lot in the thin air, and my skin cleared up and my hair turned blonder, so maybe if I had hung around and lived for a few years as this physically improved person my life would have taken a wholly different turn. The population of Los Alamos is frequently said to possess the highest mean IQ of any city in the United States. And while I confess to not being much of a science guy, I have always found the Manhattan Project and the atomic energy researches to be of somewhat greater interest than most of the other stuff. So I might be curious to go there too.

New York--I'm still looking for it. It was long one of my stranger convictions that upstate New York, in contrast to almost everywhere else, was dotted with reasonably attractive women who would be interested in having sex with me after a very short term acquaintance, and that my only real task was to find them, which, however, I never managed to do. This song does a excellent job expressing something of the feeling I was overcome with.

North Carolina--I have some OK memories of Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, et al from my childhood. We went there because at the time it was still quaint and not horrendously overbuilt like the Jersey shore was, but I don't think that's the case anymore. I haven't been either to Asheville or the Raleigh/Durham area, though both are rather insistently hyped as being cool places so much as to make even me wary of them.

North Dakota--Minot. I'm all about the geographic center of North America.

Ohio--I've been to Dayton. It was pretty crummy. I've also been to Toledo and Akron, which were even worse. I'll need to get out among the people for this one.

Oklahoma--Good question.

Oregon--My perception of the crowd in Portland would lend itself, if I let it, only too easily to a prominent role in my waking fantasy life.

Pennsylvania--On the surface the depressed towns in Eastern Pennsylvania look at least as bad as those in Ohio, but, perhaps because it is roughly my native area, they don't seem so bad to me. I have only liked Bethlehem, and Scranton was another one of those cities I marked out as potentially holding romance for me within its limits. When you say such things of course people always want to point out that the women are 500 times better looking in say, Santa Barbara. To which I say, of course they are, but what good is such hotness to us if we haven't a prayer of possessing it? Which we haven't. The percentage of women in Scranton who are somewhat attractive is not very high, but it is not impossibly low, either, and formerly at least there was a pretty solid middle class Catholic population base, which, though unconscious of the fact I must have sensed it, is within the socio-cognitive-economic range wherein I can at least pray to compete. In short, the co-ordinate where acceptable attractiveness, education, etc, and approachability intersected in decent quantities I always perceived to be higher for me in Scranton than in most cities; which naturally put me in a light-hearted mood whenever I happened to stop in there, even though nothing ever came of it.

Rhode Island--Pawtucket used to give me a similar vibe as Scranton. Which indicates I guess that I am more comfortable around people of a slightly lower social class (i.e. non-professional, intelligent but under-sophisticated) than that which I have mistakenly spent most of my post-adolescent life trying to ape the forms of.

South Carolina--Columbia. I've heard there are a lot of well-groomed, professional and driven babes with a hard-partying past there. Even if they are hardly my type and are in fact would probably be kind of scary in their impeccably dressed out self-assuredness, I confess myself intrigued.

South Dakota--Sioux City. I have no idea why. Just a feeling.

Tennessee--It will take a lot to dislodge Gatlinburg from the #1 position. I'm not saying it can't be done. But it will take a lot.

Texas--My romantic image of Texas is the endless flat, treeless, tumbling tumbleweed, long way from nowhere Last Picture Show kind of scene. The areas around Abilene, Amarillo, that sort of thing. I know they're supposed to be boring as hell, but if I'm going to Texas I want space, I want boredom, I want bleakness, and then, maybe, catharsis will not require such a high and difficult degree of agitation and excitement to be achieved, which seems to me to be at the crux of all of our problems in life.

Utah--Utah is probably another National Park state, although Salt Lake City seems like it might be weird enough to be worth hanging out in for a day or do if one knew where to go.

Vermont--Brattleboro. I love Brattleboro. There's no pressing reason to--it's on the river, and has some pretty old buildings, and the same pizza and sub shops and blues bars and falafel stands as every other wannabe hip town in New England--it's just my place. I own it.

Virginia--I've never liked northern Virginia very much. I have a soft spot for Williamsburg, as we used to go there quite a bit when I was young. My father worked on some archaeological excavations there during the summers with Ivor Noel Hume, who is evidently well-known in the field and the author of many books. Supposedly Hume, or somebody, offered him a full-time position down there but my mother refused to move, or so the story goes. So I could possibly have grown up there, which I'm not sure I would have liked. Charlottesville seems like it would be reasonably pleasant. On the way home from Tennessee I had dinner in Staunton, which was not exciting, though they were trying to create an illusion of vitality at least. As it is only about 20 miles from Charlottesville there were a lot of UVA types hanging around in the gourmet pizza bar/restaurant we went to (Here I was going to reveal one of my big travel tips regarding finding non-chain places to eat off the highway, which can be tough, especially once one gets out of the Northeast. However I forgot that most people have GPSs or internet access in their cars which are perfectly capable of addressing this problem should it arise. My tip on further consideration was weakly conceived anyway).

Washington--What is up there that I would like? Those Pacific Northwest states--Washington and Oregon--seem to be somewhat similiar to upper New England in that they have a mix of coffee and carbon emissions and fresh greens-obsessed earth people hives along with a somewhat more disaffected and longer-rooted white working class. It has decided possibilities. One associates Seattle as having the more pointedly ambitious and purposeful population of the two major metropolises, though perhaps under a more relaxed and politically and environmentally engaged veneer than we are used to having to deal with in the east, while one imagines Portland as having more people who are primarily interested in the depth of their being with simply being cool, with political and especially financial concerns subverted to a certain extent to the attainment of the previously stated goal.

West Virginia--As I believe I have written elsewhere, I twice went to basketball camp at the University of West Virginia at Morgantown, and I kind of liked the place. I went to camp another time at the aforementioned University of Virginia, but evidently they didn't take the basketball players anyway near the parts of it where the ghosts of Jefferson and Edgar Allan Poe can doubtless be channeled by an active imagination, because I don't have any memory of it being nicer than WVU (and that isn't because I played terribly either; I had much better game at UVA than at the other place). The food was better at West Virginia and I liked the dorms we stayed in better too. I also remember more cute girls from the West Virginia camp (obviously they were housed and fed in a separate building), though I have no reason to believe that was really the case.

Wisconsin--Madison, though I don't know much about the rest of the state. There was a Madison-based poet, William Ellery Leonard, who was active most prominently in the 1910s, whom I am fond of who often used the city as a setting for his work.

Wyoming--Wyoming is probably the state, along with Hawaii and maybe Idaho, in which I have the least general interest. However, I have no doubt that it is beautiful, and that I would very likely be taken with it if I ever made it out there.

End of Post.

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