49 States – the good, the bad, the ugly

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After some 79 posts from around the country, it’s time to rate the states! It’s all entirely subjective, but that’s what happens when there’s only one person writing this blog. No food stuff till next week when I discover cooking in a Tagine!

Rating 49 states – after years of road trips and living in too many places

Alaska is the loose end. Haven’t been there. Not sure I’ll go, but there’s still a chance. We’ll see.

But everybody else? I’ve been there, though sometimes so briefly it barely counts. 40 minutes in North Dakota (North Dakota is hard to add to your list. You need to want to go there).  An hour in Wisconsin (again, Wisconsin’s not on the way from anywhere to anywhere else – you need to grab a corner of it somewhere). West Virginia – just crossing through the panhandle on I-81 – barely counts. So on the following list, I’ve mentally crossed them off. So here we go:

Most Personable States!

“Personable” here means outgoing, friendly, engaging, positive, with interesting personalities.

1. Maine. Hands-down winner, at least here on the Midcoast. This surprised us when we came here 3 1/2 years ago, but what a pleasant surprise – and the bulk of this positive energy is from Mainers born-and-raised here. Kudos to Maine – we love you! No one else comes close.


Maine: Jerry and Gordon culling oysters – just to be helpful. That’s more than personable.




2. Georgia. Rural Georgia can be catch-as-catch-can, with some irritable redneck-y elements, but greater Atlanta (which now goes on forever) is full of smiles and friendly folks, black and white and everyone else.


Panhandling Braves fan, Atlanta. All smiles.

3. Nebraska. Yep, especially central and western Nebraska, just beautiful country where people seem happy, even proud, to live. Stop in North Platte, Oglala, and Scotts Bluff for a night or two, you’ll have to agree.

4. Minnesota. Minnesota is renowned for its “niceness,” and in Minneapolis and St. Paul it’s still plentiful. But the state comes up a bit short on “outgoing” and “engaging.” Some sort of regional deference or shyness prevails, I believe.


Most Ornery States!

“Ornery,” to me, is mean-spirited, short-tempered, sarcastic, abrasive, or just plain  hostile. Here we go, the most ornery first:

1. Massachusetts. Again, a hands-down winner (loser). Mostly the eastern half. I can’t begin to total up the number of truly obnoxious, negative, sarcastic and nasty-tempered people I’ve encountered there. Let’s get out of there and go to…

2. Washington (state). *Sigh.* I’ve covered this before: the grumpiness problem is mostly west of the Cascades, where at least it can be contained. See my posts here, and here, if you need a dose of depressiveness.

3. Tennessee. Especially the eastern two-thirds. Some real crazy, paranoid, evil-eyed gun-toting dudes on the loose, super unfriendly. Knoxville and Chattanooga are exceptions, but they’ve both been the site of firearms massacres in recent years. You never know.

4. Missouri. I’ve had terrible luck meeting friendly people in Missouri, except that one time south of St. Joe. Don’t know why. It’s weird but true.

Least Claustrophobic!

1-3: South Dakota (most of it), lots of New Mexico, eastern Montana, and all the western Great Plains States. Huge sky, spread your wings.

SDakfieldsSouth of Pierre, SD: Not claustrophobic.

Most Claustrophobic!

1. Massachusetts. Too many trees, too few views, cramped, crowded, suffocating, no open spaces (except down toward the Cape and islands). Don’t like it.

2. Connecticut. Same problem – very few open spaces.

3. Pennsylvania. Trees and coal mines, not many open views, and why is it always raining when I go through it?

Fastest paced!

This has actually been measured by various tests over the years – how fast people walk, talk, drive, eat, and so on.

1. New York. Mostly New York City. I can’t keep up with them – on foot, or in conversation.

2. Massachusetts. Again, mostly the eastern half. Very close second, but actually stressier than New York, I find.

Slowest paced!

1. Georgia. I’m going with Georgia first, but only outside of the Atlanta metro area. And I’m going to add in Alabama and Mississippi, which are just as mellow and relaxed. There’s just no rush down here to do anything.

2. Iowa. This is a hard-working farming state, but there always seems to be plenty of time to get the work done. We’ve spent some time in Iowa City, and it’s pretty laid back.

3. New Mexico. No rush, take your time, the incredible variety of natural beauty will always be there. With a large Spanish/Latino population, a bit of the manana attitude lingers on.

Best restaurants!

1. New York. No question about this – especially New York City, which has the best food in the country and possibly the world.. I had the pleasure of eating at Lutece once, proclaimed by Julia Child and others as the best restaurant in the United States! It’s closed now, but I feel fortunate to have been there. Now the only problem with New York City restaurants is that they’re in New York City. Shame.

2. Maine. This is nuts and horribly biased, and no one else outside of Maine would ever agree with me, but here in the Midcoast it’s astonishing what great restaurants there are. Suzuki, Long Grain, Thomaston Cafe, Slipway, The Landings, Park Street Grille — all top notch! Suzuki deserves a Michelin star.

Worst restaurants!

1. Utah. Good luck finding a licensed restaurant outside of the cities. Boring food, everywhere we ate.

2. Arkansas. Outside of Little Rock, again the licensing problem. When we’ve gone through there, we eat Mexican, which is always reliable.

Most beautiful drives!

1. New Mexico: Santa Fe north to Costilla. Take Routes 84 to 68 to 522 up through Espanola and Taos and northward through the Sunshine Valley. When the Canyon Road (68) rises sharply up to Taos Mesa, the enormous view will knock your socks off.

TaosMesaPart of the most beautiful drive – Rte. 68 south of Taos looking over the Rio Grande Gorge.

Most horrible, ugly drives!

1. Texas: Dallas southeast to Port Arthur on various state and county highways. We saw endless stretches of abject poverty and gleaming white Baptist (usually) churches every few miles. Port Arthur itself is a virtual ghost town, with abandoned homes and shops everywhere. Incredibly dispiriting that all the money is in the churches.

2. Alabama: Huntsville east to Scottsboro via Route 2. This is about a 25 mile stretch of classic American sprawl in decay – roadside enterprises mostly shuttered, abandoned homes, junkyards, you name it. Driving this, we kept sighing, desperate to break free of it.

Prettiest states!

1. New Mexico. Spent 7 years there, saw it all, it beats all.

2. South Dakota. Yep – rolling prairie for miles. Inspiring, rejuvenating.

3. Maine. With few exceptions (like The Airline) it’s flat out gorgeous here.

Plug-Ugliest states!

1. Massachusetts. Sorry, Bay State, you seem to be tanking everywhere.

2. Texas – the southeast part. See “Horrible, Ugly Drives”, above.

3. Indiana. This is a tough call, because southern Indiana can be quite nice with its rolling hills. But central Indiana, especially east of Indianapolis, leaves me cold. Messy, down at the heels, very sad and forlorn.

Look, my regular readers know that occasionally my tongue gets fetched up in my cheek, and that it’s best not to take any of this too seriously. For instance, vis-a-vis Plug Ugly States, I’ve seen scenery in Massachusetts that’s breathtakingly slightly above average, and in Indiana, because I like the look of corn growing, there are cornfields that are pretty okay to view.


There’s much more, of course – like best (worst) drivers, best (worst) climate, smartest, dumbest, and so on, but I’m in enough trouble already. I’ll leave that for someone else.

There it is.







Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.