A Walk On the Lighter Side: Charlie Berens's "The Midwest Survival Guide."
31 January 2022
Lest you think all I do is read lighthearted sociological works on the workings of bureaucracy, I'm taking a small break to tell you that my whole household has been enjoying Charlie Berens's new book The Midwest Survival Guide: How We Talk, Love, Work, Drink, and Eat...Everything with Ranch.
I was trying not to like Charlie Berens, because, let's face it, I was a little bit jealous that he's making his Wisconsin/Midwest shtick pay. I have been talking like a 60-year-old Wisconsin farm lady since I was 18 (or, as a former college roommate said upon seeing me again, after it had been a few years: "Oh...there's that accent!") and it has never made me a dime.
But, fine, I give in. I like Charlie Berens. My kids like him too; we've all enjoyed his videos like this one: Midwest Voice Translator. (And also: Midwest Meets East Coast.)
So when I saw he had a new book out, I thought I'd take a look through it. And now that I've brought it home, everyone is reading it and enjoying it, right down to the 8-year-old CRjrjr, which I didn't really expect.
Berens is funny. Here's some of the stuff from his section on driving in Wisconsin, and I'm here to tell you, it's right on.
"Long Drives. There's not a whole lot of walking to the store, school, or job when living out here--there's just so much space. It'd take most folks six hours to walk to work...A Midwesterner is prepared to drive an hour to get to the closest Olive Garden. And this isn't a sixty-minutes-sitting-in-traffic kinda thing. This is driving 70 mph for 45 minutes. East Coast in-laws will stare in wide-eyed amazement when you pass the thirty-minute mark when driving to a nice dinner out and will eventually break out with, 'Where in the heck are we going?'...
Rule 2 [of Driving in the Midwest]: Landmarks = GPS. Ask how to get somewhere, don't expect street names and route numbers. We don't really know how to use those. We can visit family or a best friend once a week for a decade and have zero idea what street they live on. Instead, Midwesterners depend almost entirely on landmarks. 'Over there by the railroad tracks, right off the main drag' or 'Go ten minutes that way and take a right just past the second Dairy Queen. If you pass the three bars by the church you went too far.' Street names are usually just some goofy name a developer added to the universe. It's kinda illusory. But that railroad track is a real and permanent thing." [pp. 75-79.]
It's good stuff. And I'm not just saying that because I'm "Midwest Nice."