Donald MacGillis: Needed: a new name for 'flyover states'

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PITTSFIELD — Residents of the nation's interior often take unkindly to the term "flyover states" to characterize their part of the country. This is understandable since the phrase inevitably suggests there is no good reason to land anywhere between New York and Los Angeles — an insult to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio and the Meredith Wilson museum in Mason City, Iowa, honoring the "Music Man" composer. It's time to come up with something better.

The defining feature of most of the nation's midsection is its flatness. This is something that drivers on the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90) are made aware of every time they pass the sign in Becket announcing that they have reached the turnpike's 1,724-foot high point and that I-90, which runs neatly between the Adirondacks and the Catskills, will not attain that elevation again until deep into South Dakota.

Northern Illinois, where I was born, is so flat that engineers in the 19th century were able to reverse the flow of the Chicago River between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi. Try that with the Columbia River or even the Housatonic, for that matter. But finding an acceptable new name for the region that emphasizes its uniformly low elevation is tricky. "Pool-table America"? "The Nation's Doormat"? Nothing to rally around there.

River flow might provide an entirely different approach. How about "The Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio Rivers Drainage Area"? Hydrologists would probably go for it, but as a nature-based moniker it lacks the brio of "Tornado Alley." And that won't work because much of the country's middle never experiences a twister.

In a nod to all the region's wheat fields, "America's Breadbasket" might fill the bill. But that reduces an area with a vast array of farming and industrial products to just one. And it doesn't help that bread itself is usually loaded with gluten, now the asbestos in our foodstuffs.

So how about, simply, "The Heartland"? It would play to the notion that people in the midland states have bigger hearts, are warmer and more welcoming than coastal denizens,. Unfortunately, it also carries the connotation that the brains of the nation's body are located elsewhere, in places like university-clogged Boston.

That city gets away with calling itself "the Hub of the Universe." Could middle Americans ever come up with such an audacious brand for themselves? Probably not — "Minnesota nice" would get in the way. Back to the drawing boards.

Donald MacGillis is a former Eagle editorial page editor and executive editor and is chairman of the Eagle's advisory board.



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