The Heart of America - Your three- part guide to the most exciting destinations in the US
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Saturday 05 February 2005
The East and West coasts act as a kind of insulation, allowing the heartland of the US to develop in a quintessentially American manner (and, it must be said, to vote for an arch-conservative president). Happily, these are porous boundaries, which is why on the lands stretching out for hundreds of miles on each bank of the Mississippi you will find people who still count themselves as African, Scandinavian, Italian, Polish and Indian - often, in the case of the Midwest's amazingly cosmopolitan cities, in the same street.
Scenically, much of middle America is as flat as a pizza or a naan. You can see just how flat from the top of one of Chicago's skyscrapers, or - upside down at ridiculously high velocity - on the world's finest rollercoaster in Ohio. Climatically, too, much of the heartland seems unfit for human habitation; the Midwest, in particular, is implausibly cold in winter and absurdly hot and humid in summer - when you can also expect excitement in the shape of tornadoes straight out of The Wizard of Oz.
This is the America that gave the world symbols of global uniformity: McDonald's (as first franchised in Des Plaines, Illnois, 1955) and the Holiday Inn (opened Memphis, Tennessee, 1952). So why do I keep going back? Because the heart of the US is also where the skyscraper was invented and where Frank Lloyd Wright flourished; because in South Dakota, where a mountain (Rushmore) became the symbol of a new nation, Native Americans are at last reclaiming their heritage; and because, like most people, I travel to meet people. And the folks from Mississippi to Michigan are even better characters than you find on TV.
Simon Calder, Travel Editor, The Independent
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