If You’ve Heard of “Mesaba,” This One’s For You

There is no getting from New York City to Sioux City, Iowa, (aka, “Where I Grew Up,” and “Yes, the airport code really is SUX”) without passing through the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. I love walking past the gates where my flight from NYC lands and fantasizing about jetting off to somewhere new. Last week, I strolled past queues of passengers bound for Shanghai, Tokyo, and Amsterdam. Sigh…

But past the exotic locales seen in the big terminals, we find the real Minnesota-ness of MSP’s Terminals A & B. Any big city transplant who originally hails from towns like Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Rhinelander, Wisconsin; or Bemidji, Minnesota, will smile knowingly with me at their mention. Terminals A & B, my friends, are where the puddle jumper planes take off. The destinations get progressively less exciting. And the Midwestern-ness, progressively more… er, Midwestern. If you’ve ever heard of Mesaba Airlines, you, too, dear reader, are from the Midwest.

It’s a brilliant place for people watching. I like to guess at people’s stories; their reasons for travel. A true Midwestern farmer type would never “waste money” to fly from Minneapolis to somewhere accessible by car in a mere 5-6 hours. Over Christmas, the terminals are packed with 20 and 30-somethings who fled the small towns for the big city: they (ahem, “we”) can be identified by their in-vogue wardrobes, high-heeled shoes (women), effective use of hair product (men), and intellectual liberal-leaning reading material (all around). They have a point to prove.

The other young refugees returning to the motherland for Christmas are those who fled single-digit winter temperatures (Europeans, I’m talking Fahrenheit) for warmer, greener pastures. You will recognize them by their Arizona State sweatshirts, their vocal and frequent complaints about winter driving, and their annoying commentary about how warm it is in wherever-they-just-flew-in-from.

I’m progressively acclimated to the Midwest as I step first, into the Minneapolis airport, second, into Terminal B, and finally, on board the plane. Boarding that 50-seater bound for Iowa is a vastly different experience than hopping on any plane on the east coast. People smile, first of all, even when you sit in that empty seat next to them. The vocabulary is different on these flights, too. Just try asking for “seltzer water.” And I overhear chatter about things like the price of corn and cattle futures, things I had forgotten existed after so many months and years away.

Most people want to talk, for better or worse, often for the duration of the 45-minute flight. I’m usually traveling this route on three hours’ sleep, but when I can push through my New Yorker cynicism and exhaustion, this can be absolutely lovely. More than once, I’ve met someone who knows my family back home, or have been so touched by my conversation that I felt compelled to introduce my fellow traveler to my family upon our arrival in Sioux City. This time around, that was Shirley. More on her soon.

It’s funny, it’s sweet; sometimes endearing and sometimes eye-roll-inducing, but you know what? It’s home. And it is what it is, so you might as well embrace and enjoy it. I ran into a cashmere-clad couple waking down the jet-bridge in Sioux City last week carrying a Dylan’s Candy Bar tote among their Vuitton carry-ons. I stated, more than asked, “You’re from New York?” We discovered we had been on the same flight from LGA. The woman sighed with as much urban exasperation and snobbery as she could muster, “Yeah, it was like a cross between a day care and Noah’s Ark. Babies everywhere. And the dogs… It was all ‘two-by-two.’”

At LGA, I probably would have joined in the rant, especially while proudly whizzing through the expert traveler security line. But her sarcasm and negativity just seemed a little out of place at Sioux City Gateway. This is the Midwest, after all. It softens us up a bit—or, at least, it should. I just smiled and wished them a merry Christmas.

It turns out that simple friendliness has become as exotic as Shanghai and as sought-after as sashimi in Tokyo. I’m going to stash a little bit in my carry-on to smuggle back to my big glamorous city. I hear Midwestern kindness is this season’s “new black,” and it will certainly warm things up a bit. Isn’t that why we all left in the first place?


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