Midwestern nod meets East Coast furrowed brow

Somewhere in a less concrete castle, there were crowds of football fans gathering for tailgates yesterday in the early hours of the morning. In between the rivalries, at least in my midwestern state, there is a commonplace camaraderie that seems to make less sense in the East.

The explanation of this camaraderie looks like a few examples of common gestures you’ll see if you ever take a tour of the state where Field of Dreams was filmed. My dad is a genius when it comes to this cultural dance. He’s got creases all over his face to prove it. Name the location – gas station, mechanic shop, football game – it doesn’t matter, if you let your gaze wander to meet his eye, you’ll probably hear him say, “Hi, there” or “How we doing tonight?”

It’s not necessarily an invitation to a conversation as much as it is a declaration to neighborhood. Because in Iowa, everyone is your neighbor – I guess that can be figurative and literal. The state stretches out across corn fields (true to stereotype) and everyone kind of bands together in the ‘middle of nowhere.’ I grew up watching my dad extend this simple kindness to everyone he met and it never seemed strange. If he needed to call someone on the phone after he came in from chores at night, it would go something like this: “Hi, there. This is Dick Nichols, how we doing tonight? …… Oh, okay well good. Is Randy around at all?”

I don’t know who taught him this dance, but I think a lot of people in Iowa know it and dance it well. On the highway or the gravel road, it looks like the two finger wave – whether you know the person driving the other car or not. Everyone is going somewhere and the two finger wave is a kind way to support them on their journey. On the streets or the grocery store or at the library, it might just be a friendly smile and a nod of the head – a simple affirmation that meets a person exactly where they are.

Of course, no one from Iowa thinks about these things. They probably don’t even know there is a dance of camaraderie that outsiders might think strange. It’s just the way life is. Quite honestly, if Iowans knew I was philosophizing their mannerisms and speaking meaning into their customs, they would say, “You think too much.”

And I probably do.

But, when you move from the ‘middle of nowhere’ to a city like New York or Denver or Austin or any city, really… you realize the customs and traditions and nuances of your childhood are not universal. I don’t know what Iowans mean when they say, “Hello” or when they give a friendly nod, but I do know that people here don’t do that.

I know that when I make eye contact, people sometimes seem startled. I know that when I smile or nod or say, “Hi, there” people appear confused. I know that the city has a different dance.

Iowa doesn’t have it all figured out. They have their own set of issues, to be fair. But, as I shrug into Brooklyn like a sweater (it’s already becoming one of my favorites), there are some things about being an Iowan that I don’t want to lose and the midwestern nod is one of them.

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