Somewhere, over the rainbow, a blog is born. A blog for Kansas. A blog for America. A blog by a reporter with a difficult-to-pronounce last name. But most importantly, a blog that is AMERICA'S ONLY PLACE dedicated to the vital intersection of politics and Sunflowers. The Heartland gods nod in wise approval.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Pickup Man (A Kansas-love story)

So I'm driving down 14th Street this Friday night, heading back to the office to get some stuff before I leave for the Republican National Convention tomorrow, and I'm straining my eyes to see what I think is a Kansas license plate belonging to a Mini Cooper in front of me. I pull up closer, and sure enough -- Kansas plate, Johnson County tag. And not only that, but the driver appears to be an attractive young woman.

I hang into the left lane and pull up next to her at the stop light.

I roll down the passenger-side window. If this sounds like a desperate action by a man who has no dating life whatsoever right now, you're right -- but the driver is clearly a Kansan and I'm thus obliged to say hi, I rationalize. Besides, everyone who has ever heard the Joe Diffie classic "Pickup Man" knows that attractive young women love it when guys in pickup trucks shout at them.

I met all my wives in traffic jams,
You know there's something women like about a Pickup Man-- Joe Diffie

She sees me roll down my window, and guided in part by my frantic pointing, she rolls down hers. "I'm from Wichita!" I shout. "I saw your Johnson tags!"

"Wow!" she shouts back. "Thank you!!! I just moved here!"

I could see the light starting to turn green. "Do you do any of the Kansas groups out here!?!" I asked.

"There are Kansas groups!??!" At this point we're driving down 14th Street, side-by-side.

"Sunflowers are everywhere!!!" I shout, hearing a car honk behind me. "See ya!!" I shouted, pulling into the far left lane and speeding ahead.

Now sure, I would have loved to have gotten her e-mail, but even I recognize that only pickup-driving weirdos would do something like that, and there just wasn't time anyway. I'll be sure to check the personals the next couple weeks for a "Me: Mini Cooper. You: Dodge Dakota. Let's make those sunflowers bloom"-type ad.

But it won't happen. And that's not the point anyway. The point is that in this instance, because I saw a Kansas license plate, I felt perfectly comfortable starting a conversation with a total stranger on a busy city street from my driver's seat. (Of course, this may be becoming a habit. Check here.) When you've lived in a place like Kansas and you've moved to a place like DC, that origin is an instant bond of shared experience, common cultural assumptions, and likely overlapping perspectives on the foreign, coastal land we now share.

It's the sort of thing I expect to see all week at the convention -- lots of happy hellos of recognition as all the Midwesterners (in this case, "Red" Midwesterners, the ones from Bush Country and proud of it) will talk about New York and what an odd place it is, even while they totally enjoy the whole experience and secretly envy the place a little bit. Are there weaknesses in the Midwestern character that get exposed when transplanted to a coast? Sure -- a certain passive-aggression, a "we're not that important" mentality that can fester into populist resentment, all that will at times be apparent on the convention platform this week, as some of the harshest language used will be reserved to defend flyover folks who feel encroached upon by Hollywood, New York and Washington, justifiably or not.

But as someone going on three years in D.C., I gotta tell ya, origin from "flyover" America is a bond to cherish. The most fervent Rock-Chalk chants every March can be heard in Alexandria, Va. At the Democratic Convention last month I saw Dan Glickman drive off in a Lexus with Sedgwick County tags -- this from a man who has had no reason to keep a Kansas affiliation (other than his imaginary Senate runs) for the past decade. When you're from a Plains state and you're out East, there's always that part that's an outsider. But when you see a fellow-traveler, you're halfway toward making a friend. And while lots of folks who live near oceans think they have this country under control, the flyover folks are never far off, rising like four-year cicadas in the election cycles, colored both red and blue.

You're going to see that celebrated in part at the GOP convention this week -- admittedly for political ends, but the Democrats could stand to learn from that. Stand up, ye stereotype-at-your-own-risk products of Middle America, driving Minis and pickups through cities of gold. And watch out, New York City.