A Trip to the Midwest Reinforces Why We Live Here

All right, some people aren’t going to like this, but let’s get real, the Pacific Northwest, Seattle, and more specifically, our own Bainbridge Island, have it all over the Midwest!

Ouch. We know that’s a bit of a broad brushed statement and a definite cut if you’re a fan of Iowa cornfields, flat landscapes, and grazing cows, but it’s probably a reality for many of us who might have previously lived in our country’s mid-section and migrated to the West and Northwest.

Image by Kevin DwyerWhen I say the Midwest, we’re basically talking about that huge swath of the country that stretches from roughly Nebraska to Ohio and includes the aforementioned Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. That’s a lot of real estate and a lot of diversity of land and culture in a region of broad shoulders, the Big 10, and the once high-flying American auto industry.

We have Amazon, Microsoft and one of the nation’s most celebrated technology corridors on the Eastside, not to mention Starbucks, Grunge Rock, the Space Needle, and, of course, Pickleball. They have some of the countries biggest cities (did I mention Chicago?) and old-line industries, like steel making and ore mining, and, of course, agriculture, as well as many great cultural icons and Image by Kevin Dwyerinstitutions. The Fermi lab is home to one the world’s largest particle accelerators, and who hasn’t heard of The Bean, the huge public art sculpture in Chicago’s Millennium Park. And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Prince (he of Purple Rain and many other legendary rock songs) was born and raised in Minneapolis.

Ok, but when it comes right down to it, what really begins to differentiate the Midwest from the Northwest are a couple of key factors: notably culture and weather.

Go to a wedding in say, Milwaukee, and people are likely to be dressed up. Guys in suits and ties, women in fancy dresses and gowns. Attend a wedding in Seattle, or on Bainbridge Island, and people are likely to arrive in more casual attire – guys in shirts, slacks (maybe jeans) and women in sun dresses, or skirts and blouses.

The Midwest is a tad more formal and buttoned down, while we North Westerners are more casual and laid back. We also tend to be less religious, we would suspect, but we have no hard and fast data to back this up, other than there is a long-standing trend around here in less structured forms of worship. Depending on where you live, we here in the left corner of the country are a bit more liberal in our thinking and in our politics than some areas of the broader Midwest, which tends to have a more conservative bent. It’s that red v blue state thing, but I’m not going to go there.

What is obviously different about our regions is the weather. I lived in the Midwest for several years and the winters are long and the summers can be hot and muggy. In a fact, we recall a Midwest joke that goes something like this: how many seasons are there in Wisconsin? Three: July, August and Winter.

We, of course, have lots of gray weather that makes some of us go slightly mad, but we also have mostly mild winters, and fairly long summers with almost drought like conditions prevailing. We also have incredible scenery and two mountain ranges – the Cascades and the Olympics – that are jaw-dropping – as well as Mount Rainier, whose visage is awe-inspiring on a clear day, especially when your riding the ferry.

A number of these factors (as well as the fact – one supposes – that we do not have a lot of bugs and you can sit out on your deck most summer nights without swatting mosquitos) have attracted a lot of people to our region, making it very popular for new residents and tourists alike. Yes, we, too, are now beginning to tackle urban problems, such as homelessness, increasing crime, and horrific traffic that have befuddled the Midwest for decades.

Image by Kevin DwyerAll that being said, the Midwest is still a nice place to visit, especially in the late fall. We took a recent trip there to visit family, attend a wedding, and check out the beginnings of the fall colors. We had a wonderful time driving on some backcountry roads in Wisconsin and rural Illinois with little traffic, and a landscape dotted by field after field of cornrows. We’re not sure we’ve ever seen so many ears at one stretch. Some of the corn is of the sweat variety, meant for eating, while other corn being grown is meant for livestock, or used to make ethanol for cars and trucks.

We visited Western Wisconsin for several days before heading southeast towards Chicago. We took a day or so to drive through America’s Dairy land, and saw neatly appointed farms and the aforementioned row after row of corn. What were missing were the cows. In fact, we saw few, if any, recognizable dairy cows. Weird. Maybe we took the wrong roads!

Image by Kevin DwyerChicago, the City of Big Shoulders, is one huge metropolis. It’s also extremely dense – housing and population wise – and has some challenging traffic to say the least. But what is cool about the home of the Bears, Cubs, White Sox, Black Hawks, and Bulls, is Downtown Chicago and the famous Loop. Thanks to my Image by Kevin Dwyerniece who arranged all of this, myself and other family members took a fascinating architectural tour of the Loop and waterfront on a boat that navigated the Chicago River and Lake Michigan.

You really can’t get a feel for how big the Chicago skyline is until you view it from the water and sail just off of Lake Shore Drive – home to some of the priciest high-rise condos and apartments in the world. We hit the tour on a beautiful fall afternoon, with blue skies and just a hint of breeze blowing. What did we expect, this is the Windy City after all!

Image by Kevin DwyerAs we were viewing the city’s impressive skyline off shore, we swear we could hear Frank Sinatra singing “My Kind of Town”. The buildings are tall – really tall – with the former Sears Tower (now under new ownership) stretching to 1,729 feet – including its radio tower – and the John Hancock Building, on the other side of the Loop measuring in at 1,030 feet or 100 stories.

Image by Kevin DwyerThe tour included up close looks at other iconic structures, such as the Wrigley Building, and the Merchandise Mart – one of the largest buildings in total square footage in the world. There also was the Trump Tower, located on the bank of the river that is the city’s third largest building. How it nailed down that distinction is a whole story unto itself.

Image by Kevin DwyerChicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland and many other Midwest cities are great places to visit – and perhaps to drive through and catch some fall colors – but truth be told, we wouldn’t want to live there. We’ve found that the Pacific Northwest is a pretty nice place to settle down and call home.

Ok, it’s time for a double-tall skinny latte at the Marketplace coffee shop and a slice of toast from Blackbird Bakery.

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