Out Of The Armchair: County Collecting In Missouri

Last year I visited every county in Tennessee. This year I visited all 114 counties in the less-than-great-but-moderately-decent state of Missouri. With Tennessee I made a point to avoid interstates and really get the feel of each county — this time I didn’t bother with that to the same extent. Nor did I need to, as Missouri’s counties blend together, whereas each Tennessee county is a little unique.

Missouri map 1

In my own judgment, I would say that Missouri could be divided into three distinct regions: the southern mountains, the northern corn fields, and the eastern river lands. Each of these has a major anchor city: Springfield, Kansas City and St Louis.

“But what about Columbia and the eastern Ozarks and –”

I’m not trying to crunch census numbers. I’m talking about geography. And anyway, Columbia doesn’t have a metro area like Springfield does, especially if you include Joplin.

Springfield is “the Queen City of the Ozarks”, Kansas City is very much a corn-and-steers city, and St Louis County is literally defined by three rivers. Columbia is the dead-center of the state, and they have a thug university where you’ll get stabbed, but otherwise it’s the middle of nowhere.

Missouri map 2

There are subtle differences in the architecture in each region, if you’re inclined to pay attention to something like that. I found this very interesting. The eastern river and southern mountains had the architecture that looked the most like “The South”.

The eastern river region could be very hilly, especially in the north. This is where Mark Twain is from, and Tom Sawyer described caves on the side of the river. Twain’s hometown of Hannibal made a big show of how Tom Sawyer-y they were, but you could tell the architecture goes back to the 1940s. Clarksville however looks exactly like how Mark Twain described Tom Sawyer’s village. It had a gorgeous old main street leading to the river, and on the hillside above it were old antebellum houses.

But if you go one county west of the river, and it’s totally flat.

In the southern part of this region, it’s mostly flat farmland. The Ozarks sort of butt against the Mississippi River south of St Louis, but then they cut away further south. Southwestern St Louis County in the lower slopes of the mountains, and the rest of the county is pretty hilly. Jefferson County directly to the south is considered entirely to be in the Ozarks, but I don’t think that’s totally accurate. But as with Appalachia, there can be some debate about where mountain ranges actually begin or end. On I-44 heading into St Louis, you will go downhill for some 20 or 30 miles as you leave the mountains.

missouri map 4

missouri map 3

The Ozark mountains are mostly plateaus, so it often doesn’t feel like you’re in the mountains. Then you’ll come upon these huge vistas and realize they put the highway on the edge of a cliff. It was nighttime when I got to Branson, but it seemed like the entertainment strip was on top of a narrow ridge you could easily fall off of.

It seemed like Springfield was very spread out, that you didn’t have the mass of sprawling suburbs like in most cities.

Another thing that stuck out to me is that the Ozarks are mostly divided into two plateaus. Generations ago, geographers took the effort to make this distinction and map everything out. Today I doubt very few of the locals are aware of this. As I drove through, it seemed that the farther west into the Ozarks, the more flat and less wooded the terrain became and the more ranches I saw. But it’s not like I could draw a map. This knowledge that was so painstakingly synthesized by our ancestors has been lost with the advent of the highway system.

The northern farmlands have the most historic connection to the old Confederacy, particularly along the Missouri River and the broader area around Kansas City. The Civil War in Missouri was absolutely insane. Eventually the federal government just decided to evacuate and burn down four counties for no reason. Learning about it made me realize how Civil War history tends to focus on the Atlantic states.

Suffice it to say that I don’t have any sympathy for bleeding Kansas. Those red-legged bastards got everything they deserved. I hope Donald Trump rounds up all the Somalians and Aztecs and dumps them in Kansas so that they can feel the strength of our diversity.

In western Missouri between the Ozarks and Kansas City there was some really nice “Big Sky Country”. It looks like what I always imagined Wyoming looks like. There were definitely more cattle and horse ranches than corn. I guess this is point in the Heartland states that “the Old West” and cowboys begin, like a prelude to the Southwest. Having driven through Oklahoma earlier this year, I would definitely consider it to be Southwest.

The northern towns weren’t as run-down and forgotten as those in southern Illinois, but they were a strong competitor. There were still some absolute treasures I very much wish I had grown up in, even though this part of the state seemed the most economically depressed.

I made it to Iowa. I drove three miles in, pulled over, and got out with the car still running. I then stood upon Iowa soil, contemplated what it means to be in Iowa, reached down to feel Iowa, and then went back home.

Then another time I just missed my exit and ended up in Iowa by mistake.

I really hate that I grew up in Generic White Suburbs in Mid-Size City, USA and attended Your Community Mega-Church with Standard-Issue Broken Family. I would give anything to have grown up in Chillicothe, Missouri with a nuclear family. I would trade the last eight years of Orthodox Christianity and have remained a dumb evangelical if I could have had that childhood.

Like if instead of whoring around with another pastor’s wife at a missions conference, had my Baptist pastor father moved to Chillicothe, Missouri, and then my mother homeschooled us (and if she didn’t have an IQ barely above your common negro) and took us to the park on Highway 65 and always cooked dinner with fresh ingredients from the farmer’s market and didn’t buy into the low-fat diet the FDA was pushing. And we could all walk to the local community Baptist church and sing beautiful old hymns instead of soft rock worship pop and we would only use the King James Version. And I would have had the normal emotional-social development everyone else got, and so I wouldn’t have been at odds with all the other children.

It probably would have cost me ten IQ points (I firmly believe that childhood trauma positively affects IQ), and I wouldn’t be an Orthodox Christian today or have a blog or do anything noteworthy with my life beyond selling insurance to farmers, but I would trade everything for that.

Notable small towns in Missouri that I particularly liked:

  • Clarksville
  • Ironton
  • Glasgow
  • Chillicothe
  • Fulton
  • Pacific
  • Camdenton
  • Sainte Genevieve
  • Rolla
  • Lebanon
  • Adrian
  • All of Jefferson County

And probably some more that I can’t remember. It was a lot of night driving, and the interstate is just a lot of franchise restaurants anyway. So I’m not saying that Sikeston isn’t worth noticing — just that I didn’t notice it beyond the sign on the road telling me which gas stations are available.

So this was a lot less rewarding than my Tennessee travels, but I’m not from Missouri, so I don’t really care. I’m a transient migrant here to absorb their resources and move on.

I also found that there were a lot of potentially interesting things I skipped because I was hurrying along to finish before sundown. So I feel like, while I saw a lot of hills and fields, I didn’t really see Missouri. I am probably over-thinking this point.

This realization bothered me so much that I went back to see several cities in the southern river counties that I had glossed over on the interstate. It turns out that Sikeston isn’t worth noticing after all.

Is Missouri part of “The South”? No, not at all. In fact, the bootheel was supposed to be part of Arkansas, but the people complained that they have more in common with the people further north up the river.

I make a point to pay attention to accents. Throughout Missouri people had a bland American accent, even in the southernmost part of the mountains. Then a mile across the Arkansas state line the people have the thickest southern twang. It seemed that in western “Big Sky” Missouri people might have had a variant on the stereotypical redneck/cowboy accent.

Missouri had slaves because they had fertile farmland, not because they had old aristocracy and landed gentry and hard-knucked mountain men. I mean, yes, they had some of that for sure, but it’s not the same. You can’t quantify culture. Delaware also had slaves, and no one except the US Census considers that to be “The South”.

Missourians don’t even have the right to work. Despite being heavily Republican, Missouri is also heavily union. Even in rural Ozark counties, you will see signs in people’s yards saying “Proud Union Home”, as though a lack of agency isn’t a mark of shame. The South is mostly Celtic-descent, and Celts hate authority.

Missourians largely don’t care about college football. For months I looked forward to Mizzou playing Tennessee so that I could be a jerk to my co-workers, but when the time came, almost no one cared.

Furthermore, you can buy liquor at gas stations, which is insane. Whereas the South historically and to this day has a lot of dry counties. I asked someone at a gas station what time they quit selling beer, and he said he didn’t understand the question.

Another major difference between Missouri and the South is that the South doesn’t have race riots.

However, Missouri is definitely the Bible Belt, even more so than the actual Southern states.

People here aren’t bad drivers — they are asshole drivers. They do this thing where if you’re going too slowly, they’ll get on your tail and flash their lights at you, as though that makes me want to do them any favors. They will ride your tail and flash their brights even if it’s pouring rain at night and they could easily pass you.

One time I watched eight people run a red light just because they could. You’ll miss your exit on the interstate because no one will let you over. I hate them all. They deserve their Muslims.

My theory is that it’s the descendants of the Germanic immigrants. Germanic people are bitter and self-absorbed. The mid-Atlantic is the most grumpy region for the same reason.

I had barbeque all over Missouri. I mean, it was maybe half a dozen places, but they were from various regions. There was some of the worst barbeque I’ve ever had, and a few that were extremely decent. My guess would be an 80-20 split between the horrific and the passable. I’m told that Kansas City barbeque is “90% garbage and 10% out of this world”, which is about what I would have guessed.

The gas stations were mostly owned by White people. Back-country North Carolina was full of Hindus and Aztecs, but I didn’t see many of those in rural Missouri. The White flight suburbs of St Louis County are definitely full of Hindus and Moslems, but I see almost no strip mall Mexican restaurants in St Louis County.

Despite all of my Missouri travels, while I’ve been through Kansas City, I never actually went to Kansas City. The internet says that there’s a zoo and some kind of off-brand SeaWorld. There’s some history and music museums that are probably glorified tax scams like most non-profits. I don’t know why museums exist in the age of Wikipedia.

There is also, and this isn’t even me being racist, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. That’s what it’s called in a day when the president won’t even use the phrase “Black people” because it sounds too outdated. Are White people allowed to call the museum by its name? Will you get stabbed for saying it? Currently KC has the fifth highest murder rate in the country. Do White people there look over their shoulder and then whisper, “I’d really like to tour the n-word baseball museum”? Because you know that Blacks don’t care about that history anymore than they care about Robert Johnson or Chuck Berry. Black history — and any Black music older than a couple months — is for White people.

The Mormons have a bunch of stuff in KC, but I’ve always thought it was dumb how Protestants will tour the Vatican and marvel at its beauty. So I make a point to not care about what the Mormons did in Missouri.

KC sounds like Memphis Midwest. I’m pretty sure I would just wander semi-drunk around downtown trying to see if the barbeque is worth anything and listening to local musicians pretending to keep alive a dead genre for White tourists. And then months later I would decide to make a second visit to see the museums, but all I would do is spend $30 on a plate of soul food for White tourists at the same restaurant I went to the first time and then walk around downtown heavily buzzed listening to live music by failed rappers who realized they could make a career singing R&B cover versions of CCR songs. Again, just like Memphis.

While on the subject of music, for those of you who know what I’m referring to, bebop was a misguided movement that should have never happened. There were exactly two musicians in it worth anything: Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk. Everyone else was a hack selling noise to stupid White people who thought it was exotic. Some things never change.

*****

Where should I visit next? The most logical choice is Illinois, but I’ve already been there far more than I ever planned in my life. Illinois is a mass of empty land, and occasionally there will be a little woods or stream or town where you can buy crack and get shot.
I was sort of working on North Carolina before I moved to Missouri. I had half of the Appalachian counties.

I really want to do Arkansas, Louisiana and Kentucky, but each of those would require taking a week off of work and saving up several hundreds of dollars.

I probably won’t do another county collecting excursion. This one left me kind of disappointed. It reminded me of graduating college, that you have all this information you planned to horde, and when it’s finally over I didn’t even attend my graduation or pick up the diploma for several months.

Actually, I think I’m going to quit this blog altogether.

I turn 30 in less than a year. I think I should leave Blair Naso in my 20s and in this decade. I’m out of things to say, and I’ve slowly lost interest in this blog. I rarely write it anymore. Occasionally I’ll have a burst of inspiration and write eight articles in a few days, and then I’ll space them out over several weeks. But really, I don’t think about this anymore. If I ever publish a book, I’ll try to let you guys know.

I might publish another blog post about the above thought on how, looking back almost a decade later, my conversion to Orthodox Christianity was because I couldn’t fit with the evangelicals and because of childhood  trauma  and not because I took a courageous examination of truth at any cost.

There’s a line from Bojack Horseman where the racehorse in the movie says, “People confuse greatness for goodness.” Sometimes people on the internet tell me I’m a good person, that I’m a real Christian. And maybe I’m better than average, but you don’t want to grow up to be like me. I’m bitter and lonely, and I spent the last ten years trying very hard to not be bitter and lonely, and while I’ve gotten slightly less bitter, I’m even more lonely.

Don’t be a Blair Naso. I type this in the dead of the night because I can’t sleep. I have no internet. The room is totally dark aside from this computer. I live in a slum far away from home. The only family member I talk to is my mother, and that’s mostly because I feel bad for her. I write this blog because I’m bored with life, and people think I must be some kind of guiding light to save America and deliver truth in a world that accepts either no truth or a substitute for truth, but really I’m just a directionless millennial bleeding out from emotional wounds. My hobbies are driving around rural highways alone in the dead of the night and texting racist memes to my friends. I’m not a prophet. I’m not courageous. I’m not a culture warrior. I’m a bitter, lonely, racist alcoholic with a small internet following.

I don’t know what you should do with your life. I don’t really know what I should have been differently with my own life, as all of this seems to have been inevitable. But don’t be an Austin.

6 thoughts on “Out Of The Armchair: County Collecting In Missouri

  1. Hey, Blair;

    You do your thing; you have to be comfortable with yourself.

    However, your blog is interesting, and you usually have thought provoking things to say…….nothing wrong with making people think.

    Best of luck to you & peace be with you- you’ll figure it out.
    ________________________________

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  2. The ground view tour of the state is fascinating. I feel like I might want to visit Missouri now.
    I went to St. Louis in 1998 for a conference. I found it hard to connect with the locals. They seemed very insular. But maybe that was because I was from out of state, and wearing a suit. Or maybe it’s because all my companions were Chinese. I thought St. Louis was pretty run down and boring, except for the museum and the arch.
    The art of Bebop lies in it’s impromptu creative expression. But you’re right, not many could pull that off very well. Don’t forget Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong were also included in that genre. They were quite good.
    The value of your blog (and your life too, I might presume) is that you’re a truth teller. Your viewpoints have weight because of your authenticity. This is incredibly rare and desperately needed. But you’re right, feeling like an outsider is not healthy. I think if you traveled abroad, you might find that Life outside of North America, or at least something more interesting and deeply meaningful. I might suggest south-east Europe, or north or west Africa might appeal to you. There are also Christianized areas in the northern middle East. Maybe it’s time for you to find a brand new life…

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  3. Go with God, Mr. Naso. If you do decide to hang up the hat, know that your writing has touched us deeply, and has done actual good in the world. I believe there is a redemptive element in your suffering. Be at peace, my friend.

    Like

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