Phil Gulley: Flyover Country

A few places to cross off your list before ever visiting.

It’s June in Indiana and time to go on vacation, so in the interest of Christian charity, I thought I would mention several states you might wish to avoid. Let’s begin with Texas. My wife and I recently traveled to San Antonio to see our son. We weren’t all that eager to visit the place, but we missed our boy and decided that seeing him was worth having to spend four days there. We stayed in the Menger Hotel, four stories above a gift shop full of gaudy trinkets advising us not to mess with Texas, an odd message to send to visitors. We’ve entertained many guests in our home and have never greeted one by warning him not to mess with us. That, in a nutshell, is the problem with Texas—the bluster, the swaggering, the huffing and puffing. Texas is the bully on the nation’s playground who thumps his chest and knocks the books out of Rhode Island’s arms.

We visited the Alamo our first day in San Antonio. The tour guide went on and on about the Texan heroes who fought so valiantly against the Mexicans. I hated to rain on his parade, but I felt I should point out that all of the heroes he was talking about were from out of state. Stephen Austin (Virginia), Jim Bowie (Kentucky), Davy Crockett (Tennessee), and William Travis (South Carolina) were elitists from back East who had to come save Texas when it picked a fight it couldn’t win. The tour guide didn’t care for my suggestion that the bravest men to ever set foot in Texas weren’t Texans. He didn’t want his myth clouded with facts.

Most every year, Texas threatens to secede from the union and go its own way, getting our hopes up, only to stick around and dash them to pieces. Have Texans not noticed the shortage of people pleading with them to stay? I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of one good reason for Texas to remain in the United States and have found only one: If the Lone Star State leaves, Indiana will have the dumbest legislature in the nation, what with Mike Delph tweeting a thousand times a day and Eric Turner allegedly using the Statehouse to ensure buckets of money for his family. But that’s a distinction I’m willing to bear. So go, Texas. Take the Alamo. Take Rick Perry and Ted Cruz. Just leave.

Texas isn’t the only state you should avoid this summer. When our sons were little, my wife and I took them to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore. Going on vacation in South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore is like spending a week with your ex in order to see your children. It’s worth it, but just barely. Why they stuck the monumental sculpture way out in South Dakota is beyond me. Upstate New York is a pleasant area, and a lot closer to most Americans. They should have put Mount Rushmore in Buffalo, next to Niagara Falls. A tourist two-fer.

“Going on vacation in South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore is like spending a week with your ex in order to see your children.”

We visited Niagara Falls the year after we went to South Dakota. We saw the falls from the American side, and then crossed the border into Canada and promptly fell asleep. I’ve vacationed there three times and each time slipped into a coma-like slumber due to boredom. If one morning we woke up and Canada was gone, no one would notice until suppertime. It’s the Ambien of nations—one dose, and you’re out like a light.

Part of the reason Canada is so boring is because of its low crime rate. Say what you will about murder and mayhem in the United States, it keeps us on our toes. There are more people who die from lawn darts in America each year than are murdered in Canada. My wallet, stuffed with $20 bills, fell out of my pocket while we were in Ontario a few years back, and 10 Canadians hurried to return it to me. Where is their initiative, their entrepreneurial spirit, their desire to get ahead?

Ohio is the Canada of the United States. When Mr. Ed and Wilbur came up with Indiana’s new tourism slogan, “Honest to Goodness Indiana,” I thought it was the worst tourism slogan in the nation. Then Cleveland unveiled its new slogan: “This is Cleveland.” Apparently, people kept confusing Cleveland with London or Paris. On our way to Niagara Falls, we drove through Ohio and spent the night in Cleveland. Had I realized narcolepsy was the city’s primary pastime, I would have taken the long way around through Kentucky. One of Cleveland’s top destinations is the Lake View Cemetery. That’s right, a cemetery. Said one Ohioan boasting of the place on a tourism website, “There are graves so old that the writing on the flat rock is worn off.” Ah, the Magic Kingdom. Bring the kids.

Another state I would cheerfully eighty-six is Florida. My family and I went to Panama City once for spring break and visited a roadside attraction to watch a Burmese python eat a crocodile. If ever you talk to anyone who’s been to Panama City, they always say the same thing: “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.” If you wouldn’t want to live somewhere, why would you want to visit there? That’s like saying, “I wouldn’t want to jam a fork in my eye every day, but I do enjoy it now and then.”

It might be hard for you to imagine any state worse than Texas, South Dakota, Ohio, or Florida, but that’s only because you forgot about South Carolina, where we’ve vacationed four times. The first time it was over 100 degrees. A hurricane hit during our second visit. On our third trip, we stayed in a beach house overrun with cockroaches. And on our fourth visit, I was bitten by a tsetse fly and almost died. Now here’s the point I want to make: The heat, hurricane, cockroaches, and biting flies were the highlights. That’s how bad South Carolina is. Oddly enough, everyone I’ve met from South Carolina has been unfailingly kind, not to mention devoutly religious. The Bible says God chastens those he loves. God must really love South Carolinians.

This year, we’re not leaving Indiana. The little woman and I will head to our farm in Orange County, where the people are humble, the landscape inviting, the tombstones crisply lettered, the snakes few and modest in size, and nothing untoward ever happens. Best of all, the nearest Texan is 668 miles away in Texarkana, which sits astride the Texas-Arkansas line. That makes Texarkana the finest city in the Lone Star State, since half of it is actually in Arkansas. I’ve been to Arkansas three times and would happily move there—if it weren’t so close to Texas. 

Illustration by Ryan Snook

This column appeared in the June 2014 issue.