I Hear America Singing

Thrillist just posted a list of the “Best Damn Thing in Every State.” Normally I don’t care for these types of lists, but given that I am always being asked what states and places are my favorites (I probably could rank the states if I wanted to, I guess), I thought I’d offer my own list of the best thing in each of the 50 states. (Er, D.C. will be the 50th and Puerto Rico the 51st, as I’ve never been to Alaska). I’ll introduce this one with the song I cited for the prose poem that closed out my book…..

Alabama: Civil Rights landmarks. Amazing stuff happened here.

Alaska: Um, Brandon Dubinsky is from there, and he played for the Rangers for a while. Also, I like salmon.

Arkansas: The Arkansas Ozarks. They are weird, they are beautiful, and the folklore is amazing.

California: Uh, that it exists? If I have to choose one thing, I’ll take Sonoma County.

Colorado: Mountain passes. That people bicycle over. With 3 foot snow banks on the side of the road.

Connecticut: New Haven(ish). They invented the hamburger and the New England IPA here, and fire their pizza with coal. Also, I hear Fuel Coffee Shop is pretty great.

Delaware: The Cape May-Lewes Ferry will take you to Cape May. When the best thing about your state is that you can take a boat to New Jersey, you may want to re-evaluate things. (In fairness, Lewes is pretty nice, too.)

Florida: Cuban food more diverse than it is in Cuba.

Georgia: The Old City, Savannah. The most beautiful city in America, by my estimation.

Hawai’i: In truth, I haven’t been here in a while. But I’m going with the Kalalua Valley, Na Pali Coast, Kaua’i.

Idaho: Kootenai Falls, and the wilderness that surrounds it.

Illinois: Chicago’s North Side.

Indiana: Bosse Field in Evanston. It’s the third oldest operating ballpark in America (behind Fenway and Wrigley), and it’s on Don Mattingly Way. I mean, come on.

Iowa: Amazing towns peeking through the sea of corn. I like Pella in particular for its multiple smokehouses and bakeries.

Kansas: It’s hard to dispute Thrillist’s selection of Joe’s (formerly Oklahoma Joe’s). It might be the best barbecue in the country. I might add the Cozy Inn in Salina, though. Except for Lockhart and maybe El Reno, Oklahoma, no town smells as much like its iconic restaurant as Salina does of grilling cozies.

Kentucky: Horse farms with bourbon distilleries dotted among them.

Louisiana: Wow, a tough one. Food, jazz, more food. I’m going to say, though, that it’s the culture unique to the rest of America that is its real attraction.

Maine: Small fishing villages that are still fishing villages rather than tourist traps. A piece of old New England still lives and breathes Down East.

Maryland: Yeah, I love crabs, and the Eastern Shore is where Jen and I spent our honeymoon. But Assateague Island is magical in a way few other places are.

Massachusetts: America. It was sort of invented there. (the seafood shacks on Cape Cod, if you’re going to be a stickler.)

Michigan: Cherries. It’s hard for me not to say the Upper Peninsula’s pasties, smoke fish, or wild rice, but those cherries, freshly picked, in a cobbler…..

Minnesota: The Mall of America . . . uh, yeah. The North Shore of Lake Superior . . . actually, yeah. It’s spectacular.

Mississippi: I’m tempted to say Faulkner, but I’m in agreement with Thrillist on this one. The blues. If you’ve read my chapters on Mississippi, you’ll know what I think about the subject.

Missouri: Kansas City. Even if the barbecue wasn’t amazing, it’d be maybe the most under-rated city in America.

Montana: No argument from me on this one. Glacier National Park might just be the most beautiful place in America.

Nebraska: Oregon Trail wagon ruts. I just found them to be viscerally enthralling.

Nevada: Lotus of Siam restaurant. As some of you may know, I prefer the Las Vegas in New Mexico, and as such I was tempted to say Lake Tahoe. But that restaurant. It’s a national treasure in a dark strip mall.

New Hampshire: The White Mountains. Even if they did try to steal my wedding ring.

New Jersey: Asparagus. Seriously. It’s the best in the nation, and I look forward to it’s harvest every year.

New Mexico: This is such a hard choice. I dream of green chiles. Kasha-Katuwe is unbelievably gorgeous. I’m going, though, with the people there. In no state did I experience such a spiritual connection to those I came across. If you’ve read my book, you know that the place healed me.

New York: Uh . . .  me? (Really, though, I can’t choose. It’s my home and I love too much of it.)

North Carolina: Asheville. There’s an ever-expanding list of world class beer within striking distance of gorgeous, wooded mountains.

North Dakota: Thrillist is right to laud Theodore Roosevelt N.P., but I’m going with the wildflower fields in the north-central part of the state. Some of them look like Provence, but they are all enchanting.

Ohio: Hungarian food. Why the rest of America hasn’t caught onto the wonders of paprika is beyond me.

Oklahoma: Yes, Thrillist, the onion burgers are great. But the chain link fence that has been turned into a defacto memorial in front of the “official” memorial to the Oklahoma City bombing victims is one of the great pieces of organic, pathos-driven art in the world.

Oregon: Sea stacks. The wine is amazing, the beer is just as good, and the dungeness crab and oysters are unbelievable. But those foggy beaches with clusters of sea stacks are enthralling. California’s PCH is rightly famous, but Oregon’s may be even lovelier.

Pennsylvania: Alleghany National Forest. Pennsylvania only has one national forest, but it happens to be one of my favorites.

Puerto Rico: Lechon Asado in Guavate. Crispy skin, succulent meat, loud music, mountains. Temptations of temptations.

Rhode Island: The Providence food scene. Not Newport mansions.

South Carolina: Charleston is worth every minute you spend in it.

South Dakota: Wow, Thrillist, we’re syncing up now. Yes, the Badlands. Magnificent.

Tennessee: Shiloh. It’s a different kind of battlefield. Read my chapter about it to see what I mean.

Texas: Lockhart. The place smells like smoked brisket. And the stuff making the smell is serious, serious business.

Utah: Thrillist went with my fifth-favorite Utah National Park. That’s cool– Arches is wonderful. But Zion is a different sort of wonderful. That’s the place to go.

Vermont: Beer. Contrary to popular belief, you definitely can go wrong with a Vermont brewery. But most of the time you’ll go so, so right.

Virginia: Lynchburg College. Sure, Thrillist go it sort-of-right by going with Shenandoah National Park (it’s better to include all of the state’s portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway). But LC is my alma mater, and like so many who went there with me, it’s a special place.

Washington: So very difficult to choose. But for the sheer quality of Syrah that may just be the world’s best– along with the strangest winery district in the country– I’m going with Walla Walla.

Washington, D.C.: The National Zoo is free, and it has pandas, lions, and elephants (among other things). One of the country’s great public treasures.

West Virginia: The New River Gorge Bridge. I waxed Hart Crane upon seeing it. It’s a spectacular bit of engineering.

Wisconsin: Charcoal-fired bratwurst in Sheboygan. Attacking hearts for centuries running.

Wyoming: Yellowstone is the first national park, it’s enormous, and it is full of wondrous nature. But it’s also likely to be idiotically crowded with, well, idiots. To the south are the Grand Tetons, which– aside from the lodges and the ferries– are almost certain to be less populated by tourists complaining that there aren’t escalators and McDonalds around (seriously, this happens in Yellowstone) and more by outdoor enthusiasts looking to take on one of the great trails in the park.

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