Oct 7, 2012
Arrogance in Geography
A long time ago I had a conversation with someone I had just met. This person told me where she was from in Georgia and when I didn't recognize the name of her hometown, she couldn't believe it.
Now let me make something clear. When I was ten years old, I had a final exam which consisted of being handed a blank map of the United States. I had to label the map with every state, every state capital, every major city, and natural features like rivers and mountains. Spelling counted. I got the highest score in the class. In fact, my score was so high my "reward" was being forced to grade to other students' test. (The teacher didn't want to bother to grade the tests herself. So she picked out the tests of the handful of students she knew would do well, graded only those tests, then made us grade everyone else's test using our own corrected tests as a key.) That is not a performance I could repeat today ------ not unless I had a chance to study for it.
But, the point is, if the person I was talking to had come from a major metropolitan area (say, population half a million or more), I would have recognized the name. I'm not saying the place she named would qualify as "Podunk," but expecting everyone in the United States to have heard of her hometown was an absurd act of self-importance.
When it was clear that I wasn't going to suddenly have heard of the place just because she kept staring at me in disbelief, this woman then went on to say something that might as well not have been in English for all I could comprehend it.
"It's the home of the masters."
"Home of the masters?" I puzzled. What the hell is that supposed to mean? Our alien overlords? A bunch of rich people who rule the country, and I don't know about it? (Would explain this arrogant, young woman's attitude though.) I expect every decent sized town has masters, mistresses, servants, janitors, plus plenty of middle-class.
At my continuing blank look, the woman explains, "It's a golf tournament."
At this point, she's lucky I didn't make some impolite noise. Golf tournament? Why the hell should I know the name of a golf tournament? If you had pressed me on it, I might have come up with the name of "Jack Nicklaus" as a golfer though I couldn't have spelled it. If you'd waited for me to think about it a while, I might have suggested someone named Palmer though I wouldn't have been absolutely sure whether he was a golfer or a bowler.
Golf tournament? If you took the Grand Canyon and put the Marianas Trench underneath it and then drilled a hole from the bottom through the Earth's crust into the mantle that still wouldn't equate to my depth of indifference to any profession where adults play games with balls.
By now the woman I was speaking with had given up. Obviously I was not going to acknowledge having ever heard of her precious hometown's existence no matter how important and, apparently, famous she thought it was. I'm convinced she thought she was talking with a complete ignoramus.
I promptly forgot the name of whatever golf game she was talking about. But, as I continued to know this woman for a few years, I did not forget the name of her hometown, Augusta, Georgia.
But the "masters" part was something I did one day make a connection on. It was back when Tiger Woods was first everywhere, and I couldn't avoid hearing about him even though I tried. Then "masters" came up in connection with Augusta, and I remembered what she'd said. Today I know five facts about the Masters:
1. It is indeed in Augusta.
2. All the golfers I mentioned have won it .
3. The winner gets an ugly green jacket.
4. Women still don't play in it though they finally decided to let women join the club that puts it on. (It took until 2012 for them them to figure out women don't have cooties.)
5. Some guy name Bubba just won it.
I wouldn't remember that last one, but "Bubba" is such a Southern name. (I don't remember Bubba's last name even though Bubba's from here --- a fact I was informed by a guy who was in awe as he listed all these sports stars that are from the Pensacola area as I stared at him blankly.) So I know five facts about the Masters and that's five more than I ever wanted to know.
Fast forward eight or nine years from that first conversation. I'm visiting some friends in Georgia. We're going to some place called Stone Mountain. I get there, and I express surprise at the sight of people carved into the mountain. My friend looks at me, her mouth hanging open in shock..........how could I not have known that Stone Mountain was carved with the figures of famous Confederate heroes?! She proceeds to tease me about my extreme ignorance.
Since I was a guest, I didn't want to disillusion her by saying the entire time I had grown up in Mississippi, I'd never even heard of Stone Mountain. It wasn't until I moved to Florida, that I ever heard the name. And then what I heard about it from maybe three people was there was an amusement park and they do a nice Christmas light festival. Nothing about any carvings.
Had this person somehow confused Stone Mountain Theme Park with the Mount Rushmore National Memorial?
As I stared at this resident of Snellville, Georgia, I recalled that previous conversation with another woman from Georgia........
Maybe it's just people from Georgia? Or maybe what they say about blondes is true?
Personally, I've traveled to most of the 50 states (sometimes just passing through or an airport layover, but it still counts on my lifetime state list). I never assume when I'm talking to someone during these travels that they've heard of Pensacola. I do assume --- if they're from the United States ---- that they've heard of Florida. But, nowadays, with the younger generation's grasp of geography, one day I could be proven wrong on that assumption. However, so far I've been safe in assuming that people have heard of Florida. And more people than I think not only have heard of Pensacola, they've been here. (After a while I noticed a trend: most of the people I've met who've been to Pensacola were in the Navy or Marines. Naval Air Station Pensacola is one of the Navy and Marine's major training bases.)
I love Pensacola. Well, not the climate so much, the humidity's a bit much. But it's still a nice place to live. We have some of the most beautiful sand & swimming beaches in the country with water warm enough you can get in the Gulf for most of the year. Pensacola was even the very first European settlement in what would become the United States of America --- Pensacola predates St. Augstine and Jamestown. It is also the home base for the Blue Angels, the Navy flight demonstration squadron. But I don't expect other people to know any of that.
So I have this piece of advice. Unless you live in a major metropolitan area and are talking about a landmark as famous as the Statue of Liberty, stop being offended that everyone in the country hasn't heard of your home or what it has. I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but though it's very important to you, it's simply not that important to the rest of us.
For more of my observations from traveling in the United States, read "Secession & Separation or When We Can't Stand Our Neighbors." If you want to find out more about Pensacola, take a look through the Archive.