Every now and then I start thinking about what my life would be like if I had made different decisions at certain points. One choice that still boggles my mind is the one I made in 7th grade when I dropped out of the school’s football program in order to participate in mock trial. Honestly, what 12 year old boy quits football to play lawyer and sit inside trying to read a bunch of legal jargon!? It’s not that I disliked sports and I probably would have really liked football. All those movies about it certainly insist that I would have learned a thing or two about life if I had stuck with it.
I’m not even joking with you. This decision honestly confuses me. Why did I do that? What did I miss out on? Would I be any different than I am today if I had? Football wasn’t the only thing that got swapped out for something else along the way. I liked running track just fine in middle school, but for some reason didn’t want to do it in high school. Back in elementary school I started competitive swimming and kept on doing that until I went off to college, in 7th grade I decided to stop playing the viola, and few years later I walked away from the piano after two years of lessons.
Then there’s one of the biggest decisions I ever made—the decision to keep living in Iowa. See, my family moved down to Florida my sophomore year of college and as soon as they were settled, I started receiving regular encouragement to move down to the Tampa area too. To be totally honest with you, I seriously considered it from time to time.
Of course Tampa wasn’t the only place I considered transferring to. Having your family suddenly move so far away kind of removes a big anchor you always felt to a certain area. Sometimes I’d toy with the idea of moving up to Wisconsin. Then for no particular reason, I spent a period of time looking up schools in Vermont to transfer to and then immediately started looking for areas I might like on the West Coast.
Ultimately, there are a lot of reasons that I decided not to move away. The amazing girlfriend who ended up becoming my fiancée is a BIG one of those reasons. But no matter how my life might have changed if I had moved away, there are five valuable lessons I never would have learned if I hadn’t lived in the Midwest long enough to realize them.
Lesson 1: Generally speaking, we take parking for granted.
We have some of the best parking EVER in the Midwest. For real, the office building that I work in is within five miles of a college campus and about a five minute drive to a commercial airport and our parking lot is never full. The place looks like it could have had an even bigger parking lot but instead of creating more empty spaces, they elected to put a pond with a short trail around it. The house I’m currently renting comes with a two car garage, but unless it’s going to snow I park on the street because it’s more convenient.
Even in more concentrated areas, the parking isn’t bad. I used to work as a booth attendant for a parking ramp and on multiple occasions people visiting from Chicago would look at the amount they owed and say, “Woah! Is that all?” If they had someone in the car with them, they’d give them a nudge and add “Man, you’ll never find a rate like that in Chicago!”
Of course major cities like Chicago and Minneapolis are in the Midwest too, but the vast majority of Midwestern space is occupied by smaller cities or rural communities and if you’re traveling between major cities, you’ve got long stretches of open road to break up the heavy city traffic. Not like Florida where you can drive from Tampa to St. Petersburg without realizing you’ve traveled into another metropolitan area. And if you’re driving from St. Pete to Orlando you can look forward a continuous four lane, bumper to bumper river of cars.
On the whole, parking options might not seem like a big deal but easy access to it helps promote a more relaxed driving culture. Every time I visit my family in Tampa, I have to psyche myself up mentally before driving anywhere and not a week goes by without another story showing up on the news about someone getting killed in a road rage altercation.
So really, Midwest parking advantages are saving lives.
Lesson 2: Seasons really are pretty great.
During the winter months, my dad will occasionally call and ask, “So! What’s the weather like up by you?” I’ll tell him that it’s close to -15 with the wind chill and he’ll say something like, “Ha! It’s like 75 here and I’m sitting by the pool with a cold beer!”
Ok sure, I’ll admit, this does spark some momentary envy when I’m using the dust pan to clear the snow off my windshield because I somehow managed to lose my scraper, but that envy passes pretty quickly.
I mean, winter can be a blast if you know how to do it right. The morning after a big snowfall will always look like magic, no matter how old you are. Sure, it only looks good for about a week before the dirt from the street starts to get everywhere but even the gross roads are only temporary. It’s all about how you choose to entertain yourself during the winter months.
Besides, winter is only one of four totally distinct seasons and the best part of the seasonal cycle is that literally everything cycles with them—activities, food, drinks, you name it! Seasonal drinks are seriously some of the best things ever. Sure, if you live in Phoenix, you could buy a winter lager, but it’s never going to taste as good as it does when it’s sipped after trudging inside from a long walk in the snow with your dog.
Put vodka in your lemonade wherever you live, but it will only taste the way sunlight feels if you’re enjoying it on the first warm day of the year.
Lesson 3: Basements are amazing
If you’ve spent your whole life living in the Midwest, basements just seem like a natural part of any house. But sadly, many Americans are living basement-less lives. In Florida for instance, basements are really rare because the ground is so wet that you’d have to pump basement out at least twice a week if you had one. Also, sinkholes are a pretty big problem down there and setting your house deeper in the ground from the very beginning is just asking for trouble.
It’s not just Florida either, a lot of southern states forgo basements when designing houses and coastal areas go without them as well. They are really missing out. I mean, finished basements are the best parts of a lot of houses. It seems like the natural place to set up a man cave or home office. It’s where kids have sleepovers and the portion of your house that you spend the most time making awesome.
When you go about decorating your house, you usually have to stick to a specific theme or color scheme, but you can throw all that out the window when you’re deciding what to do with your basement. If you’re super nit-picky or REALLY in to decorating, you can try out a different theme in the basement. Or you can use it as a place to put decorations that your fiancée says are too “tacky” to be a part of the house, like a mounted deer skull or a plastic statue of a gargoyle clutching a pint of Guinness your buddies talked you into stealing from a bar on Halloween.
Lesson 4: Sports are WAY better in the Midwest.
Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. You’re going to find die-hard fans for any team no matter where you go. But sports are always going to feel a bit more personal to Midwesterners. Again, take a look at Florida. While my family lives in Tampa Bay now, they are still Green Bay fanatics with only a vague half-hearted interest in how the Buccaneers are doing.
Most major cities like Tampa are home to people who moved there from other places with only a slight percentage of people who actually grew up and stayed there. Sure it’s kind of cool to go watch a football game at a bar and see pockets of people wearing gear for almost every team that’s currently playing, but it’s nothing compared to visiting any local bar in Wisconsin when the Packers are playing.
No joke, I’ve watched a few games at this bar in Sturgeon Bay where free green and yellow Jell-O shots were given to everyone at the bar every time the Packers scored. Things like that foster a real sense of community between people all over the state. It’s a shared interest that exists totally outside the divisions of religious beliefs or political views. And as an added bonus, it gives people something to talk about besides religious beliefs or politics.
Even in states like Iowa that don’t have big professional teams, sports bring people together in a way that nothing else can. It’s practically a state-wide holiday anytime Iowa plays Iowa State.
Lesson 5: We have some of the best opportunities for photo ops.
Anyone who lives here knows that the Midwest is way more than just fields. The Midwest is the place to be if you’re trying to win the best Instagram award. If your selfie game is strong enough, bring it to the Wild West backdrop of the Dakota badlands, the teaming forests of Minnesota’s Boundary waters, and the Great Lake beaches in Wisconsin.
Duck face your face off next to a buffalo on a Great Plains Conservation Park. Take a dumb picture with of your feet hanging off of an inner tube as you spend an afternoon floating down the river with friends. Or put a filter over the photo you took of that bald eagle flying by (Seriously, the Midwest is probably the best place to see bald eagles doing eagle things). Just don’t bother going to Nebraska. Once you get past Omaha that place sucks.