This is a concept we’re all familiar with. Yet like other important ideas, it deserves re-evaluation from time to time.
Take this road trip I’m currently enjoying–the Southern Experience Tour–a drive down to and through the South and Appalachian regions of our country.
Immediately after leaving the borders of my own state, before even getting to the South, I was struck by this idea of stereotypes.
Go ahead and note what comes to mind when you hear: Iowa.
Fields? Farming? Politics?
Chances are, it’s something vague and brief.
We don’t consider Iowa to be very “much.” (Nor do we most other places.) This is the make-up of a stereotype. It’s supposed to be brief to accommodate the moment we give it in passing thought or conversation.
But even at 70 mph, Iowa wasn’t passing by in a moment. Nor was it consistent in what it offered. Then there were all the people and signs of human activity draped all over the state.
It all combined to reveal how woefully inadequate a stereotype is. If I remember correctly, my exact thought was: stereotypes are small. The world is big.
Iowa is big. It’s an enormous chunk of land with countless individuals living their lives within–characters like Brandon, the Iowa cashier at the first gas station stop I took.
This lesson of stereotypes would continue when encountering surprisingly rocky Kansas and hilly Oklahoma. The characters continued as well.
Driving my car through the darkness, yawning as Friday’s end neared, I finally made it into Kansas City, Missouri. Only I had to go to adjacent Kansas City, Kansas. (Does this confuse people? I’d ask my host, who simply responded, no.) I procured my Kansas City host the same way I’ve arranged lodging for several of my stops on my southern journey. I used Couchsurfing.com, the travelers’ social network pairing those on the road with those able to lend a room (or couch). The host gets to host someone from another part of the country (or world) and enjoy the fruits of discussion. The guest gets to stay free of charge with a local who can immerse the outsider into the locale.
For someone looking to write about the lifestyles of the people in each of the places I’d visit, Couchsurfing.com is perfect–and will continue to be featured throughout these articles as a main facilitator for several of the visits I’ll have throughout.
As a stopping point on my way to Oklahoma, I wouldn’t be afforded time to immerse into the locale of Kansas City–except through the home of my host.
He was an attorney, a political radio show-hosting attorney, a dog-loving, political radio show-hosting attorney:
Conversation at night was limited due to the late hour. But in the morning he talked at length about his pets, and I caught this character on video.
After breakfast, I offered him a copy of my book. Not to be outdone, the generous man gifted me a picture book he received at a recent book event.
Refreshed, one travel-friend richer, and with new reading material in hand, I drove the remaining distance to my first true destination of the journey: Tulsa, where I’d stay with my old friend Will and his family.
On the way, Kansas defied (and confirmed) some stereotypes of its own:
Then Oklahoma did the same:
Arriving at Will’s home in Tulsa Saturday the 23rd, I hadn’t much time to chill. Though great to see my old friend, we had to get ready for the ball. Will’s friend Jimmy was getting married this night.
“Is it okay if I bring a friend along?” Will had asked Jimmy.
“Sure thing,” said Jimmy.
So I cleaned up and tossed on my one set of “church” clothes I brought along for the trip, and I joined Will and his wife June.
The wedding was similar to those in all parts of the country. Interesting location, though: the German-American Society Center; a strong German lineage in this city, said Will.
The wedding began:
A short service was followed by the reception. And here is where my introduction and interaction with the South truly started.
I got to dance with a Southern bride.
Sheepish to go out there and shake it freestyle to all the typical, fun-loving wedding dance tunes, I was hoping to get my feet wet with a couple’s dance.
I had learned that the bride and groom (apparent in their first dance) knew a thing or two about tango.
But did people there know salsa and bachata? I wondered.
Immediately after asking the bride if others did, the DJ played a bachata I adore. The groom off socializing and offering merriment, I asked the bride if she would honor me with a dance:
My Southern Experience tour started off on the right foot.
And it has since meandered along filled with scenes, experiences, and interactions as varied as the lessons on humanity and life have been abundant. As excited as I was to dance with the beautiful bride, am I to continue sharing future articles from my tour.
Next time, I share all about the city of Tulsa.
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