As the Boeing 747 touched down in Minneapolis-St. Paul, returning me — and nearly all of my worldly possessions, stuffed haphazardly into three separate suitcases — onto American soil for the first time in over 12 months, I was unsure what to expect.
Fanfare? A welcoming committee? Simon and Garfunkel singing either “America” or “Homeward Bound?” Was anyone in the crowd of passengers shuffling wearily toward customs aware of this monumental moment in my life?
Regrettably, nobody was clued in on the significance of the occasion, so neither trumpets nor Paul Simon greeted me at the gate. Instead, a female Transportation Security Administration agent stood by, pointing everyone in the right direction. As she turned to face me, I expected a sullen acknowledgement of my existence — perhaps a curt nod or a half-hearted “Good afternoon, miss.”
Instead, something strange happened.
She smiled. She looked me in the eyes. And she said, very pleasantly and with a Minnesota twang, “Hi! How ya doin’? Welcome home.”
In that moment, I felt both unequivocally welcome and unequivocally home.
Having grown up primarily in the Midwest, like most students at the University of South Dakota, I had grown so accustomed to the friendliness that accompanies life in the Midwest that I took it for granted — a realization that came to me only after leaving this environment for places where niceness among strangers is, at best, a rarity and, at worst, considered borderline abnormal.
As young adults, we have a tendency to overlook certain things until they’re no longer available to us. A prime example is the availability of “free” food in our parents’ homes — formerly just another facet of life, it is now generally a sacred part of coming home rivaled only by access to laundry machines and not having to wear flip-flops in the shower.
I did not realize how nice it was to be surrounded by friendliness — often even helpfulness — among strangers until I was surrounded by people who, although great in their own ways, were unlikely to pull over when I had a flat tire to see if there was anything they could do to help or let me check out first with my sparse basket of groceries at the grocery store.
Although students sometimes lament that Vermillion is lacking in certain departments, I would argue there is no shortage in these positive characteristics and that in many cases it’s unlikely to find them in the same quantity elsewhere in the world.
So when I stepped off that plane, I didn’t get Paul Simon strumming his guitar and singing about the real estate in his bag. But from the first minute, I was treated to the uniquely affable mannerisms of the Midwest, and after a lengthy time away, that “How ya doin’?” was like music to my ears.