Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lost in Middle America

It is day one of my cross country journey from Wichita, Kansas to Asheville, North Carolina. The first part of the journey is a familiar path along Highway 400 in Kansas, past Augusta, Beaumont, Fredondia, and on to Baxter Springs where the old Route 66 briefly cuts into Kansas before veering south into Oklahoma.

I choose this route not because it is quicker. It's not. In fact the route though Kansas City along I-35 and then east on I-70 saves an hour on this 17 hour trip. But I wanted to stop in Joplin at Sandstone Grove. This 35,000 square foot Mansion, just off I-44 as you enter Joplin from the south, is an interesting mix of outdoor sculptures, water fountains, and home accessories of all nature.
Garmin's direction finder took me along I-44 east until Springfield, then onto Route 60 across southern Missouri through the small towns of Middle America. These small towns like Cabool survive on a variety of activities including farming and tourism. My first day's journey came to an end half way thourh Missouri at Willow Springs. This example of Middle America is home to less than  2,147 inhabitants, 97% of whom are white. According to Wikipedia, " The racial makeup of the city was 97.02% White, 0.37% African American, 0.84% Native American, 0.28% Asian, and 1.49% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.07% of the population." Let's see, in real numbers, this means that Willow Springs hosts 80 blacks, 18 Native Americans, and 8 Asians, along with 21 Hispanics.

It is hard to make conclusions about any snapshot of a city. Stereotypes often interfere with our ability to see life clearly. Willow Springs is not the cast from the movie Deliverance any more than the blacks, Indians, Asians, and Hispanics are outcasts, intoxicated, Chinese restaurant owners, or gardeners. No Willow Springs is a hard working community where I imagine people get along a little better than in most cities because they have too. Friendliness is not a foreign commodity. It is part of the soul of Middle America. A place where change doesn't come as quickly as elsewhere, but where American values remain as strong as ever.

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