My father used to tell the same four or five jokes, over and over, and even though his kids could easily recite them from memory by the time we were six, we’d still laugh at his punchlines just so we wouldn’t hurt his feelings. Anyway, one of the lamest jokes he ever told was about Ohio… it went something like,
“Do you know how ‘Ohio’ got its name? Well, one Indian* was taking a walk one day when he bumped into another Indian. He was surprised, and said, “Oh!” And the other Indian said, “Hi!” Finally, the first Indian said “Oh!” and kept on walking.
I said they were jokes.
I never said they were good jokes.
The reason I bring this up is because I want to talk about Ohio, who we are, lots of deep stuff like that. This is a great state. I grew up here. And, every four years, the United States cares what we do on Election Day. But … I’ve often wondered … when someone says, “Ohio” to a person from another state, what do they immediately think?
Here’s what I’m talking about …
If you say “Florida” to me, I get a mental picture of alligators, oranges, old people and Mickey Mouse.
If you say “California,” I think of the Hollywood sign, earthquakes, mudslides and the cover of the National Enquirer.
Iowa … cornfields.
Alaska… polar bears, glaciers and Sarah Palin.
Texas … cowboys, armadillos and line dancing.
Hawaii… pineapples and Jack Lord.
Vermont … maple syrup and skiing lunatics.
You get the idea. But I really do wonder what out-of-staters immediately picture when someone says “Ohio.” Now, I’m not talking about Cleveland … at least when someone living in Wyoming hears “Cleveland,” he or she might think, “Oh yeah! Rock and roll and sports teams that always lose.” But c’mon … say “Ohio,” and what you’ve got is a blurry mental picture of nothing special. Unfortunately, I think this wonderful state I live in has always suffered from something of an identity crisis. We share our state bird, the cardinal, with six other states. Our state flower is a red carnation (a sad little flower that always makes me wonder who died). Our state fruit is a tomato (which, I’m sorry, is just wrong) and our state gemstone is “Ohio flint” (you know, so you won’t confuse it with “Illinois flint” or “Massachusetts flint"). Oh no ... forget diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and all those other gemstones. The man of my dreams will be getting down on one knee and handing me a ring made out of FLINT. (And if I’m lucky, maybe he’ll buy me a pair of gravel earrings to go with it.) I mean … flint? Okay, if THAT’S where the bar** is, then I would like to propose we change our state flower to “Ohio Dandelion” (because we don’t want anyone confusing our dandelions with those crappy weeds growing across the border in Indiana.)***
This lack of having something unique that makes us stand apart from our 49 sister states is, I believe, the reason why we’ve almost always had ugly and/or boring license plates, and I’m not talking about those attractive special plates we pay extra for, like the ones with the kitties and doggies. I’m talking about our standard-issue license plates that most of us end up with…it's almost always red, white and blue, has no picture on it, and says something like, “Birthplace of Aviation” because the rest of the U.S. probably wouldn’t know that unless we decided to constantly remind them.**** Of course, then … would they really care? Would we really care if they did care? Who cares?
This is the plate that's currently on my car:
(Wow! What a difference!)
But to give those folks in Columbus a break, there’s just not a whole lot they can put on there. Our state tree is a buckeye, but when you say “buckeye” to somebody from Nebraska they think, “Oh… yeah … right … football.”**** Nobody thinks of a goofy tree with useless nuts hanging off of it, but hey, that’s our state tree because it’s the best we’ve got, apparently.
Beautiful Ohio… it’s just a really nice state that just doesn’t exude a whole lot of personality. If all 50 states were girls who got invited to a dance, ours would be the pleasant, round-faced girl with glasses in the corner serving up the punch and cookies … but only until the presidential election rolls around, of course. Then her fairy godmother shows up, waves a magic wand and turns Dowdy Miss Ohio into the loose-legged prom queen who’s holding the winning lottery ticket. EVERYBODY wants her. At first she’s flattered and giddy from all of the sudden attention, but by the end of the evening she’s begging the class president and the head of the football team to go away and leave her the hell alone. “You’re suffocating me! I’m sick to death of you! Can’t you two please go annoy some other girl?” They do go away … but in five minutes they’re both back for one more “why you should sleep with me instead of that other jerk” spiel.
So, while I know a lot of you feel the way I do – sick of all the political ads, tired of the name-calling and just wanting the whole tiresome evening to be over … don’t wish it away too quickly, fellow Ohioans. Once that clock hits midnight on November 6th, we turn back into pumpkins.
But at least that’s better than being a tomato or a nut.
*I know this is politically incorrect ... I'm supposed to say “Native American” (my apologies to all Native Americans reading this), but my Dad didn’t know the meaning of “politically correct.” Hell, nobody from his generation did.
**The closest bar to me is at 305th and Lakeshore. Just in case you needed to know that.
*** For a list of all our state symbols, songs, etc., go to http://www.netstate.com/states/symb/oh_symb.htm
****Actually, there is a rather pretty (albeit boring) "Beautiful Ohio" plate that eventually became a no-cost alternative to the yawner hanging off the back end of my car, but by then I was stuck with ol' red, white and snooze. Figures.
***** Go Bucks! Thank goodness you guys are winning, because in Cleveland you’re all we’ve got and you don’t even play here.