The People of the Heartland

The People of the Heartland

Driving from Northern California to Western Pennsylvania last week, my wife and I looked out over the vast unpopulated spaces between the coasts of our country.

“It makes you think,” said Annie.

“About what?”

“About all the American visionaries and inventors that came from the heartland.”

“Like who?”

“Like… Jackson Pollock.”

“He came from the heartland?”

Cody, Wyoming,” she answered brightly, her Parisian lilt bouncing off the car windows.

I’m always wondering where she comes up with these facts. But they always turn out to be true.

“And Patricia MacLachland, who wrote Sarah, Plain and Tall.”

“Where did she come from?”


“How do you know that?”

“I read it somewhere.”

We drove a little farther. Maybe an hour. Maybe ten. “Wow,” sighed Annie as we plowed through another rainy cornfield.

“Wow, what?”


“What about it?”

“This is Malcom X country.”

“Malcom X? Nebraska?” I shook my head incredulously.

“And Marlon Brando. And Fred Astaire. And Darryl F. Zanuck.” Annie leaned back in her bucket seat, closing her eyes. “It’s these wide-open spaces. They make you dream.”

We crossed the Mississippi, visualizing Huck and Tom making mischief on their raft below. In Ohio, we drove past the birthplace of Wilbur and Orville Wright. “These grassy plains, they make you want to soar,” Annie rhapsodized.

Both Annie and I grew up in big cities – Paris and Los Angeles, respectively. For both of us, cities represented dynamism, competition, creativity, and innovation. Yet we can’t help reflecting that so many new voices in the arts, sciences, and industry have come from farmlands, ranchlands, coal mining towns, and factory towns.  Robert Fulton, Eli Whitney, Henry Ford, William Faulkner, Chuck Yeager, Pearl S. Buck, Alexander Calder, Gloria Steinem and countless others sprouted not from the asphalt and noise of the metropolis but from the fertile plains of the agropolis.

Just an observation. The older I get, the more I learn how useless is arrogance.