Visitors to America never seem to see the “true” U.S. They hear our jokes about rednecks and laugh along; they vaguely know we have lots of corn fields but other than that the middle of America is a vast mystery. To dismiss the vast middle and bottom end of America as loosely populated and dull is to miss some of the most beautiful aspects of America; the rolling green hills of Illinois, the sunflower fields of Missouri, and the ponds and rivers that seem to go on and on.
A visitor to the Midwest should take the time and go on a summertime road trip. Ideally, they will know someone in the area, and will be able to stay at a typical Midwestern house and experience typical Midwestern hospitality with lots of food and ice tea drunk on the back porch while the fireflies wink in the fading light of the sun.
I experienced this in St Charles, a small college town not far from St Louis. St Charles is significant for being the starting point of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition, and has a charming, old-fashioned downtown along the river. Like most other “prosperous” Missouri towns, St Charles is well situated on the Missouri River, and once benefited from the river trade.
It is worth the effort to drive away from the river towns and into the forgotten, dilapidated countryside of Missouri. Northeast Missouri in particular is such an agricultural wonderland that the solitary and hard-working Amish have migrated to such counties as Adair (population: 12, cows: 500). Northeast Missouri is worth exploration, if not for the novelty of seeing an Amish buggy pass by on the country road, then for the grand, beautiful, abandoned Victorian mansions that dot the landscape. You can drive for hours to a small town in the middle of nowhere, miraculously complete with an old-fashioned ice cream parlour. One of the greatest joys of exploring northeast Missouri is a homemade ice cream on a hot summer’s day, in the cool of a shop forgotten by time, as fields of corn bask in the sun around.
Some say that the South is just as dull as the Midwest, but people who say so have clearly never been to Savannah, Georgia. Savannah has a well-deserved reputation as one of the nicest cities in the South and indeed America, with a lovely downtown possessed of grand old mansions overhung by dense trees to block out the boiling Southern sun. No visitor to Savannah is ever disappointed, and it is probably one of the last places to find a true Southern belle.
This list is perhaps 1% of all the Midwest and South have to offer. The vast expanse of mid and southern America, the forgotten aspects of the country known primarily for Hollywood and New York City, is impossible to fully embody in words. It is best explored by drifting through the small towns, driving on the endless roads through endless green fields, and allowing time to slip away as the fireflies come out at night and everything begins to cool.