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Mendon Musings

Driving almost 4,000 miles across 14 states last month, I was struck by how similar yet different everything is.

For example, an interstate highway looks pretty much the same in Massachusetts as it does in Maryland – including the types of buildings along each side of the road.

You do, however, pass miles upon miles upon miles of nothing but cornfields in southern Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. After a day, you almost long to see a factory or a school or a chain restaurant, just to break up the monotony.

People are pretty much the same in different states, too. Oh, there may be a more southern way of speaking. I had the accent, not them, they said. But generally, folks had the same concerns: Is North Korea going to bomb us? I need to get my kids ready for school. Did you see the eclipse?

By the way, it's pronounced "eee-clipse" when you're down South. We got to watch "the totality," as local TV called it, in a townwide festival near the Tennessee/North Carolina border. "Can you make it do it again?" a little girl called out after the sun re-emerged from the moon's shadow. Everyone around us thought that was cute.

Our Massachusetts license plate drew some attention. While stopping to get gas, the man at the pump next to me commented, "Massachusetts! I bet you voted for Hillary." He seemed amazed when I told him the part I lived in went solid for Trump and we had a republican governor. My answer kind of deflated his preconceptions of us all being uber-liberals. Most people I met were not stereotype rednecks.

I was particularly struck by the economic growth in Tennessee and North Carolina. Every city seems to be in a building boom, with new houses and businesses going up on every spare piece of land. The cost of living is less down there, and one of the biggest growth industries is getting Northerners to retire there.

I never realized that Tennessee has no state income taxes and absurdly low property taxes (less than $1,000 a year on a $400,000 home.) Or, that seniors in some southern states don't have to pay the "school tax" portion of property taxes.

If you like variety in your food, a barbecue down South doesn't mean hot dogs and hamburgers. It's brisket or ribs or pulled pork. There's the Midwest style in Missouri and Tennessee, but the North Carolina style is much more vinegary. Sweet tea (that's iced tea brewed with a ton of sugar) is the standard drink.

There are restaurant chains that we don't have here, like Steak 'n Shake. Their shakes are almost a meal in themselves.

Outside of the Northeast, I noticed that people are friendlier and more polite. Compared to them, Northeasterners almost seem downright cold and hostile to strangers.

These are just random thoughts after a long journey. It's good to be back home.


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