Strange New Respect For Flyover Country
Novelist Curtis Sittenfeld worried about leaving Philly for St. Louis. There are Republicans there, and people driving SUVs, and stuff. But now:
The much vaunted Midwestern friendliness is, in my experience, more evident not among people you know, but among those you don’t. It may take a year and a half to be invited to a dinner party, but the checkout clerk at the grocery store greets you as warmly as your grandmother. Eventually, my husband and I made friends with people who are mostly transplants like us, or in some cases a half transplant-half local couple in which one spouse lured the other back — because St. Louis is, you know, such a great place to raise kids.
Six years after we arrived, we have two daughters, ages 4 and 2, which gives me the authority to answer, definitively, the question of where people in St. Louis are when they’re not in a restaurant at 9 o’clock on a weeknight: we usually eat dinner about 5:15, and by 9 o’clock I’m getting ready for bed. But somewhere along the line, I started to really like living here. In fact, I would be happy to stay in St. Louis forever.
For one thing, it’s so easy. If I complain that I had a hard time parking, what I mean is that there was no space waiting for me directly in front of my destination and I had to drive another 50 feet to find one. If I say a restaurant is hard to get into, I mean that when I called on Thursday, they had no reservation open for Saturday night at 7:30. I work from home, but my husband’s commute is 20 minutes in “bad” traffic and 10 minutes otherwise.
That’s something my wife Julie and I discovered after we left New York City for Dallas, though we didn’t really notice it until we returned to NYC to visit friends after three or four years, then wondered how on earth we’d ever managed to live there. If you had said to us, as Brooklynites, “One day, you will be minivan-driving people in Dallas, and you will be grateful for it,” we wouldn’t have believed you. Kids change everything, and in ways you can’t really anticipate. It really takes the experience of going shopping with toddlers and infants and the whole stroller thing to appreciate the gift of a good parking space — or the gift of a minivan, for that matter. And the gift of a public culture for which niceness is the basic stance.