For about a year and a half we lived in Missouri, smack dab in the middle of the American Central Midwest. This, I can assure you, was culture shock to the extreme. As a vegetarian and flex vegan, Missouri was a whole new world, culinarily speaking. And not a good one. More like a Mad Max wasteland world, where everything was barbecued or deep fried, and nothing came with vegetables, despite the fact that they were being grown all around us.
In Missouri, we checked out Branson, of course, and St. Louis. Now, if you’re in the market for a solid heart attack, we’d suggest dining in St. Louis. Go literally anywhere. But St. Louis has some healthy options too. You could walk around the zoo, which is free. And St. Louis has a massive park (that houses the zoo, conveniently) and a nearby free science museum. All of these attractions are well worth a visit.
Indiana: Corn, Literature and More Corn
Indiana has some perks worth checking out. For one, Kurt Vonnegut, my favorite writer of all time, hails from Indianapolis. Sure, he spent most of his productive years elsewhere, but the midwest doesn’t have shit to claim, so we’ll let them have it. Indianapolis is now home to the Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library, which is pretty sweet, to tell the truth. You can go right in, have a tour, buy some themed gifts or attend some of their events. They really are doing an awesome job of sharing Vonnegut’s vision. So, that’s something the midwest has going.
Indiana has an awesome downtown area. We checked out The Garage, an eatery for everyone with tiny stalls selling everything from lobster rolls to Pakistani to cheap margaritas and soup. We loved the downtown. We also checked out the Indiana State Museum, which at $17 was well worth it to see the throngs of taxidermies animals and era-by-era cultural items. Indiana has a lot going on back in the day, including being trampled flat by mammoths. True story.
Illinois: The Cornhole of America
Illinois has a few things to offer the intrepid tourist eager to see real America. I hear Chicago is nice. I went once. It was cold, wet, and everywhere we went a Sheik came up to us and said, “you probably shouldn’t be here.” Apparently south side Chicago is not where I’m meant to be? No joke, that happened more than once as we were looking for a well-known philately shop. I missed the downtown, the skyscrapers and the views of the great lakes because we ran out of gas and decided to leave after the third person in an hour told us to get out of there. So, we did.
Cahokia is one of my favorite things in the midwest. This, at one point, was the largest native city in the United States. Now we know almost nothing about it, or the people who built it. All we have left are these huge mounds that you can walk around on. We climbed several, looked out at the ol’ Mississippi and enjoyed the views. I can see why they picked that spot. Endless flatlands for crops or grazing and the river for fish and transportation and trade. Still, very little is known about them, and most school-aged kids haven’t even heard of it.
The midwest has some pretty cool parks. Not Yellowstone or Niagara, but still. They try. One of my favorite things about living in Missouri for a year and a half was watching the farming community do their thing. I have to assume this is a labor of love, because they aren’t making a profit. Everything I read about farming suggests it’s all but a starvation wage after investing in everything needed to keep the farm active. Still, I can see the appeal of farming from a job-satisfaction standpoint. You work hard, hands in the soil, and you see real results. We watched the field near our house go from snow-covered to sludge to ribbed for seeds, to sprouting and finally to fruition and harvest. It was a thrill to watch the machines roll through and see real live farmers in coveralls out there checking the plants. I suppose if you’ve always lived near fields it wouldn’t be that exciting, but corn, soybeans and yarrow grew nearby and it was stunning.
We made trips to Minnesota, Colorado and Kansas in addition to our Illinois, Missouri, Indiana trips, but I’ll write about them later. For now, that’s the midwest as we saw it. You’re welcome to it, especially in harvest season when the sky turns grey with little tiny specs of husk and ear finely chopped and ready to clog your lungs.
If you missed our American Road Trip adventures, you’ll find more including routes on the Road Trip page.