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State By State (26+27): Nebraska + South Dakota

We had to undertake a little detour on our way from Iowa City to Wakonda, South Dakota to go through Nebraska. The name of that state just sounded to good to my ears to let that chance go by. Maybe that’s because of the eponymous Springsteen album? (I gave it the first complete listening in years, and it wasn’t that great.)

South Dakota brought me, among other, more pleasant things, my most disturbing encounter with American ultra-conservatism so far. Until then I had only heard about people like that, here I got to meet them in person. Listening to religious talk radio and accidentally being present at an extremely patriotic spectacle (more about that later) added to my impression that South Dakota is one of the most right-wing states in the Union. Nevertheless we had a great time in the “Mount Rushmore State”, as you will see in my next posts.

Since we didn’t manage to take a photo of the state line sign (for the second time after Ohio, and I can’t remember why), here’s a nice and pretty typical road picture instead.

State By State (25): Iowa

Iowa is one of those states that Americans from other parts of the country love to make fun of, mostly on the grounds that it is boring, flat and full of corn fields (the “Fields of Opportunity” from the state line sign, I suppose). As a matter of fact, even Iowans joke about their state, and nobody does it more eloquently than the writer Bill Bryson, author of famous books like “A Short History of Nearly Everything” and “A Walk in the Woods”. When I happened to read the first lines of “The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America”, one of his lesser known titles, in a book store in Vermont, I just had to buy the book on the spot. Since then Tish and I often entertained ourselves in the car by reading to each other from the book. Sometimes I had to laugh so hard, I could hardly keep on driving.

Bryson starts out his book with a ten page ramble on how boring his home state is. There’s plenty of clever lines like this one: “To reach anywhere of even passing interest from Des Moines (The capital of Iowa and Bryson’s home town. AS) by car requires a journey that in other countries would be considered epic.” We sure enjoyed the funny read, but I must say that personally I liked driving through Iowa a lot. For one thing, it’s not nearly as flat as Bryson and everybody else always says. Plus I find corn fields much more pleasant to watch than strip malls (Einkaufsmeilen) and gas stations, which is all you get to see from the road in large parts of, say, New Jersey. Having had to spend large parts of their life driving through corn fields obviously causes people like Bill Bryson to have a different opinion …

(Written in Hamburg, Germany, August 6, 2012)

State By State (23): Wisconsin

Time for some political talk again: Some weeks after the sad turnout of the referendum on gay marriage that we had to witness in North Carolina, we happened to be in Wisconsin, when that beautiful state was the site of yet another depressing vote that attracted strong national attention. What had happened was that some scary republican governor, who goes by the name of Scott Walker (which of course in itself is an offense to the real Scott Walker) had been trying, among other things, to deprive the public workers in Wisconsin of their right to collective bargaining (Tarifverhandlungen, more or less). This caused a stream of protest, which lasted thoughout the year 2011 and eventually lead to Walker having to face a recall election (Referendum über den Verbleib im Amt). But instead of taking advantage of this comfortable opportunity to get rid of this creep, the Wisconsinites confirmed him in office, making him the first governor to politically survive a recall election. Another chance for a positive political signal in these dreary days gone by.

Apart from that disappointment, our short time in Wisconsin (home of squeaky cheese and the great Marvin Dykhuis!) was great. Tish’s show in the little town of Fort Atkinson, where our new friend Bill Camplin does a great job at running the “Cafe Carp”, gave me the chance to meet the wonderful writer Bill C. Malone in person, author of what is probably the best book on country music ever written (“Country Music USA”) and of many other titles (check out his latest one on folk musician Mike Seeger).

With Bill C. Malone and his wife Barbara in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin

The concert at the festival theater in St. Croix Falls was easily one of the most enjoyables on the tour: great audience, beautiful theater and Tish in excellent shape. And the stage there was definitely the biggest one that I had been singing on so far.

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Here’s Scott Walker with his phantastic version of Jacques Brel’s “Jackie”:

(Written in Hamburg, Germany, August 4, 2012)

State By State (20/21/22): Michigan, Indiana + Illinois

“Pure Michigan” – what is that supposed to mean?

Michigan, our second state in the Midwest, saw a wonderful Tish concert at „The Ark“, a great club in Ann Arbor. For the following day we had planned a trip to nearby Detroit, but then we literally forgot about it and hit the road instead. Most people I talked to told me that we didn’t miss a lot, but I would have preferred to find out myself.

Like with West Virginia or Maryland, we didn’t get to know Indiana at all. All we did was drive through its northern part for about an hour. Our stay in Illinois, on the other hand, lasted for three days, but it was strictly confined to visiting Chicago, so I don’t have a lot to say about Illinois as a state either. At least we took decent pictures of all three state lines …

State By State (19): Ohio

This was bound to happen at some point: We missed out on the state line sign, both on our way into Ohio and on our way out. The first time I was asleep, the second time I was on the phone. And Tish as the driver was rather concentrating on the traffic than looking out for state signs.

Sign or no sign: We finally managed to leave the Northeast and enter the Midwest, a part of the USA that I had barely visited so far. Our first stop was Cleveland, which is not known to be the most exciting city in the world, but we had a good time, picnicking on the grounds of our cheap motel.

State By State (18): Vermont

The last state in New England that we had not seen!

Vermont – for some reason that name has always struck a chord with me. Maybe it is because of the way it sounds? Or because of the Sinatra song „Moonlight in Vermont“? I really don’t know.

Anyway, I strongly insisted that we include Vermont in our trip, although tourwise there was no real need to go there. and so we spent a day and a half in the “Green Mountain State”, mostly just driving around and enjoying the beautiful landscape. From what I saw,Vermont is one of the prettiest states, it doesn’t seem to have an ugly spot in it. Everything is rural, green and hilly – and reminds me a lot of the nicer parts of Germany.

As for the moonlight – well, we didn’t really take the picture in Vermont, but in northern Massachusetts, about 20 miles south of the state line. But I’m absolutely sure that the moon looked the same from Vermont.

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Since I couldn’t remember much of the Sinatra song „Moonlight in Vermont“, I listened to it on Youtube during our stay in Vermont, and had to find out that it is rather dull song. So instead let me introduce to you a very different homage to the state: „Moonlight on Vermont“ by the immortal Captain Beefheart & his Magic Band. My brother and I used to listen to this a lot around 1981, so maybe that’s what started my fascination with Vermont.

(Written in San Francisco, CA, July 17, 2012)

State By State (16+17): New Hampshire + Maine

Another fuzzy picture from us. Or maybe you just need new glasses?

And the states just keep on coming … We didn’t get to see much of either New Hampshire or Maine. The highlight of our short drives through New Hampshire was vsiting with our friends Michaela and Nick, who we got to know, when they were residing in Hamburg a few years ago. They now live in a cute little house in the town of Dover. Sadly we forgot to take pictures when we had lunch with them.

Maine is known to be the most beautiful state in New England, but unfortunately we only visited its Southern tip. Portland, where Tish played a very nice show at “One Longfellow Square”, is a pleasant town, of which, once again, I got to see more than Tish, due to my running in the morning.

I spent my morning in Portland, Maine running around the Back Cove and enjoying the view of the town