I travel a lot. Since it’s for work, not pleasure, the destinations aren’t necessarily places I would have chosen on purpose. They’re more ordinary places, places where people live and work, and where work sometimes makes them attend seminars. As a result, I have found myself in such hot spots as Houlton ME, Greenville MS, Grand Rapids MI, Birmingham AL and Archbold OH (motto: Our Town is So Small We Couldn’t Fit the “I” on the Sign. Much less the motto.). Some of these trips involved multiple travel modes- a two-stop plane trip followed by a long, lonely ride in a rental car, with the occasional pack mule, kayak or Sherpa thrown in. GPS directions for Houlton were available for either car or snowmobile. There was one trip to a section of Alaska so remote that the last part of the trip involved the kayak, but I passed on that one.
On one of my first trips to the deep South, I struggled to find something in common with my home state of Connecticut, other than that all our manufacturing businesses had moved there. I know, because I recognized them on my drive from the airport. I decided to use a guessing game as an ice breaker- first to guess what state I’m from wins. (A nifty fridge magnet in the shape of the Constitution State. Connecticut, in case you didn’t know, either.) Fifteen Southern bankers eyed me up and down, as if they could tell by looking.
“Well, you are surely a Northerner,” one finally drawled. I figured I’d given that bit away as soon as I’d opened my mouth. I nodded.
“Indiana!” he proclaimed triumphantly.
“Indiana? Huh? Didn’t we just agree that I’m a Northerner?”
“Ma’am, you’re in Mississippi. Everything is north of here.”
Point taken. They went on to call out various random states until they’d used up all forty-nine, including Mississippi. All but Connecticut. No winner. When I revealed the answer, they shrugged as if my little state was so insignificant as to not even enter their minds.
Day 2, different class, same results. Started again with Indiana, but ended when they moved up into Canada. No winner again.
By the third group I’d decided to narrow down the options.
“Where I’m from, there’s a nor’easter going on right now.” I shrugged my head up and to the right for added geographic emphasis. “And even though you’re all in shorts and flip flops-which by the way, takes ‘business casual’ to a whole new level- it’s still March and there’s snow there.”
One person flew out of her chair in excitement. “Indiana!”
I sighed. “Nor’easter! North. East. East.” I bobbed my head. They peered at me apprehensively. Finally someone’s high school geography brain clicked in.
“New England,” he stated confidently. Apparently many of my fellow Americans harbor a belief that those six little states up there should just join up into one big one. They obviously don’t know New Englanders. And don’t tell Maine it’s little. I waited.
“…Maine? New Hampshire? Vermont. Massachusetts. Rhode Island? No? New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland…”
“Whoa, you missed one. OK, my state is south of Massachusetts, west of Rhode Island, and east of New York.” One banker’s eyes lit up triumphantly. “Long Island!” he crowed.
I tried not to roll my eyes, but decided I was taking my damn magnets back home with me. “ I am a Connecticut Yankee. Connecticut,” I told my deep South bankers.
“Oh, ma’am, don’t you be callin’ yourself a Yankee.”
“Because we kinda like you, and we don’t like Yankees!”
My husband’s suggestion for an ice breaker had been “We won, you lost. Get over it.” I was beginning to seriously consider it.
“When I was a kid, I thought Connecticut was an island,” observed one banker. I asked why.
“Cuz when you looked at it on a map, the word was way out in the Atlantic Ocean!” True. The word was usually too big to fit on the tiny state. “So, what would we know about Connecticut, anyway?”
I thought about our relocated manufacturing base, but went with where Bill Clinton and George Bush attended college. Where Bush was born. No, NOT Texas.The submarine base. First state with a constitution, Yeah, no one there knew that either. Just outside of New York City. Famous people lived there.
Kevin Bacon, David Letterman, Meryl Streep, Michael J. Fox, Dustin Hoffman, Martha Stewart…
“YOU KNOW MARTHA STEWART??!!” The class sighed reverentially.
Of course I do, because everyone in Connecticut lives on the same street. I decided to keep her pending move to New Jersey to myself.
“She knows Martha Stewart,” they smiled to each other.
I was in.