I just returned from a road trip from Texas to Illinois, crossing through Oklahoma and Missouri on the way. Much of this trip took us along Route 66. As any seasoned road-tripper knows, one passes ancient gas stations and Greyhounds. (We called them Road Dawgs when I worked there.) Truckers and trains. Red barns in various stages of beautiful decay. Yawning green pastures dotted with all forms of newly born animals. Fruit stands selling local plums and peaches. Waterways with names like Honey Creek and Boggy River. And of course, classic roadside stops like Stuckey's and Love's whose lore and reputation precede them. All in all, a far cry from life here in Botoxed Big D. (Oh, she is beautiful in her own way. Don't get me started about the Texas sky and sunsets. Still. The heartland is different.)
This road-trip scenery made me wonder at all the interesting lives being lived across rural America. The young farmer who fights a war of loyalties between staying with the decades long, maringally profitable family farm or leaving to pursue his own dreams. The rural housewife, feeling her days of fresh ingenue wilting, who wishes she might have other places to buy a dress in her size than Price Barn. The solitary truckers, so many truckers, whose job it is to haul the stuff you and I buy and have come to assume will be on the store shelf when we need it. The fruitstand sellers who sit in one place and watch America zip past them daily, regularly meeting city-slickers who stop there for the whimsy of buying a homegrown tomato.
All of this scenery reminds me of a scene I wrote a long time ago where a man says to a girl in a bar, "You are always more interesting when you are from someplace else."
Clearly, I still think that's true .
Heartland America is where the honest stories must be. And doesn't it make you want to write a story about her the way John Mellencamp can write a song?