I road tripped across the Midwest for spring break. What I got? A nice experience.

Canvassing the Midwest by car over spring break, without imposing any lessons and values.

Kate McCarthy

My boyfriend and I planned a spring break road trip all semester, right down to the finite playlist of carefully chosen tunes. Our itinerary: Des Moines, Iowa to Kansas City, Missouri to Dodge City, Kansas and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Setting out on our first day of the drive, we made fun of ourselves as “city slickers” and I lambasted his dead-giveaway clear frame glasses. As a San Francisco-to-Minneapolis transplant, I was afforded the opportunity to see parts of the country I’d never been exposed to before.

I wanted to absorb every detail of the small towns visited without veering into condescension and elitism. It’s too easy to christen yourself a hero for traipsing through Kansas farm areas and solemnly deciding to see those people as equals — reinforcing your arrogant elitism in the process. I’ve always loved the 30 Rock episode where Liz Lemon is bent on engaging with the “real America” — rural areas, where she supposed that people were truly good. By the end of the episode, Jack Donaghy has shown her the truth: there is no real or better America. People are equally terrible everywhere. That’s just the race of humankind.

We didn’t encounter anyone terrible. In Iowa, we ran out of gas (truly a moment of Tom and Daisy Buchanan carelessness), but a farmer generously sold us some. We had pleasant conversation and then parted ways with smiles all around. In Missouri, two older musicians took me into their conversation at a table in the Blue Room Jazz Club. I found myself wanting to ask for opinions on the presidency and what it’s like to live in an area typically considered a “flyover state.” But I kept my mouth firmly shut when these queries bubble up because they are not exhibits to be ogled or poked at. A trip like this doesn’t have to be a forced learning experience.

I want to pass through towns with no preconceived notions coming in and no judgments going out. As a student on a weeklong vacation, I don’t want to be a scavenger looking for intrigue at the expense of other’s lives. There’s a way of engaging and observing without reinforcing an idea of “otherness” that is dangerous to our country right now: no elitism, but also no romanticizing about these areas and what they might have to “teach me” about folks. We’re all just cycling through.