Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Frugal Traveler reflects on "The Center Cut"

The Sunday New York Times travel section featured Frugal Traveler Seth Kugel's final reflections on his six-week trip from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Fargo, North Dakota.  As Kugel said, he turned the more typical coast-to-coast journey 90 degrees, which took him through "a large swath of the nation that we coast dwellers often dismiss as flyover country."

I earlier wrote this blog post on Agricultural Law, focusing on Kugel's ruminations regarding all he learned about farming.  In this post, I want to focus more specifically on the Frugal Traveler's reflections on rurality.  Here are some quotes, some that use the word "rural," others that do not.
I suspected that spending most of my adult days in New York City ... had left significant gaps in my knowledge of America, not to mention unfair biases about the 10 heartland states I would be visiting ...  
My suspicion turned out to be true. Vague notions of the region were replaced by what I gleaned from museums and historical markers as well as from residents’ stories of their great-grandparents’ struggles as settlers.
I appreciate his expression of appreciation for the hard work the settlers did--hard work that contributes considerably to how we feed ourselves and, indeed, how we have done so for hundreds of years now.  If you need a reminder of that regarding the country's mid-section in particular, go read some Willa Cather.  (Take your cue from this, perhaps).

Speaking of Cather--and of immigration--Kugel is in touch with the role of immigrants then and now.  He writes: 
Of course, like New York City, the rural Midwest was the place many Europeans migrated when they came to the New World. There’s just been much less turnover, so more cultural relics have endured. My first clue came in the form of “Dutch letters,” S-shaped pastries for sale at the Downtown Farmers Market in Des Moines.
Later, Kugel writes of a detour to a new immigrant destination in Iowa--my term, not his.  Not far from the "New Holland" of Iowa, Pella, Kugel sought out an ethnic restaurant (again, my term, not his), which brought him to the 
unsigned La Frontera grocery store and into the back-room restaurant, which was crammed with Mexican concrete workers on their day off. As had become routine on this trip, I was leaving a state sure I had only just scratched the surface. 
Kugel also writes:    
Rural architecture also intrigued me. I stopped more than once to shoot picturesque barns and the grain elevators that tower with alarming incongruity over otherwise flat landscapes. And I couldn’t get over the old cars and rusty machinery that dotted many people’s lawns. “People are very junky in the Ozarks,” said Fred Pfister, a Missourian who had helped me find a real-deal fiddle jam. “They save everything because they think they might be able to cannibalize it someday.”
Those are Kugel's only uses of the word "rural," but he hits on lots of other rural themes/associations (e.g., religion and conservative politics, the latter illustrated by shocking anecdotes)--and a few legal issues, too--like here, where he writes of the huge annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, in the shadow of Mount Rushmore :
I didn’t expect to learn all about motorcycle lawyers, a specialty I did not know existed (they are needed because after accidents, the justice system tilts against two-wheelers, I was told).
Don't miss readers' comments.  It seems Kugel's journey and his musings on it really got under the skin of some folks--both rural and urban.  

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