Shhh… The Midwest’s best-kept secret

This post is part of a TNGG series on cities.

This song was released by Atmosphere in 2003. I listened to it. Loved it. But never heeded it’s words.

Growing up around the city lights of Minneapolis and St. Paul, I craved more of the same. I always knew I was destined for college in a big city, like Chicago or New York.  I was never going to be in some podunk Midwestern city that most people don’t even know exists.

I’m entering my senior year at the University of Missouri. Location? Columbia, Mo.

I know, right? What the hell happened to the trigger-happy, bright lights obsessed, overanxious teenager? Well, as Atmosphere’s song tried to warn me, I was taking what I had for granted. Once I started looking elsewhere, I realized that what I wanted was what I already had.

So, allow me to borrow some lines from Atmosphere to illustrate the glories of Columbia.

“The women are beautiful, to me they are…”

“You know what? You have it lucky. There are at least four beautiful women on campus for every one hot guy.” A female friend dropped this knowledge on me as we walked around campus a few days ago. And she’s totally right. Not only does Columbia draw the most beautiful ladies of the Midwest, we get gorgeous gals from Cali to NYC.

Columbia is the perfect wingman because of what it offers for the ladies. Downtown is packed with local fashion boutiques for all kinds of women. The bar scene caters to the female crowd with excellent mixed drinks available everywhere, like the Long Island iced teas at Forge and Vine.

“If you can drink tap water and breathe the air, say shhh…”

Strolling through downtown, you will never exclaim, “oh my gosh, what is that smell!?” and you’ll never think twice about drinking the fountain water at the parks.

It’s refreshing to just lie on the grass, not worrying about what you might be lying on or breathing in. Nestled between campus and downtown is Peace Park, renamed as such because it was a rallying point for anti-war demonstrations during the Vietnam war. Today, it’s used for community events, free concerts, or simply an afternoon stroll. If you find yourself overwhelmed by classes or the eclectic nature of downtown, you’re always a few steps away from serenity.

“Got trees and vegetation in the city I stay…”

From the campus to neighborhoods, trees of all kinds and sizes are an unappreciated staple of Columbia. They bring vibrancy to the MU campus and downtown. The neighborhoods feel like luxurious private communities with the rich array of vegetation and I’m convinced that you can stand anywhere in Columbia and spot a larger number of trees than you are willing to count.

“If only simply for not what we have, but what we don’t…”

Columbia might not have the big lights I craved, but it’s what we don’t have that makes Columbia what it is. It isn’t a place where you’re “tempted by the devil everyday,” but I can always find the mischief I crave. Columbia isn’t “infested with pretentious movie stars,” but we are infested with future stars that are working hard to make an impact.

Columbia doesn’t have the high-class brand-name shops, we don’t have clubs where you can get your freak on until sunrise, and we certainly don’t have thirty-floor buildings with fields of cubicles in them.

I jokingly diss on Missouri, and sometimes Columbia, all the time. All of my friends back home think the entire state of Missouri is a redneck haven. But Columbia isn’t like that. It really is a “secret garden” to those of us who live, or have lived, here. Columbia is an experience – something that can’t be defined by words on a page or pictures in a pamphlet. Columbia is what it is, which is exactly what you make it.

“Cuz I… I have a very special love for this city…”

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