Beacon Benchmark: What is this place?

Note: Beacon Benchmark columns are a way for the B Square Beacon’s writer to give readers some regular behind-the-scenes insight into this website, which aims to serve some of the news and information needs of Bloomington, Indiana.  

On Sunday morning, my wife and I ate breakfast at the Village Deli on Kirkwood Avenue. It is a weekly habit.

The server concluded the order-taking ritual with a friendly, “Thanks, ya’ll.”

Hearing that version of the second-person plural pronoun reminded me of a Blaze Foley lyric from a tune called Clay Pigeons: “Tryin’ to hide my sorrow from the people I meet/ And get along with it all/ Go down where the people say ‘Y’all'”

I don’t guess Foley was thinking of Bloomington, Indiana, when he wrote that line. He was probably thinking about places like Kerrville, Texas, where one year he was tossed out of that city’s folk festival.

I know a little bit about that part of Texas, because for an eyeblink I reported the news  at the Kerrville Daily Times, just before arriving back here in Bloomington, where I attended grad school three decades ago.

Of course, Kerrville and Bloomington have a lot in common, because they are both a part of Greater Appalachia. That’s according to the 11-nations analysis laid out by Colin Woodard in his book, “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.”

Corrected Dave upinarms-map-large
The green-circled black dots are places the writer has lived: Prestonsburg, KY; Columbus, IN; St. Louis, MO; Rochester, NY; San Diego, CA; Ann Arbor, MI; Madison, SD; Pierre, SD; Kerrville, TX; Bloomington, IN.

It might be awkward to think that southern Indiana is closer culturally to the Texas Hill Country than it is to the South Bend area.

But I think Woodard is onto something.

When I look at the division of South Dakota into east and west, I think he got that pretty close to right. Personally, I would mark the boundary between the Far West and Midlands right at Woonsocket—specifically at Jordan Youngberg’s  M-T Corner Diner, which is a smidgen east of Woodard’s line. But it’s possible that Woodard has never chatted with Youngberg over a chili dog at M-T Corner, which might have affected his judgment.

I hope it’s obvious that I’m kidding—OK, maybe half kidding—about the exact longitude where the line should be drawn that divides South Dakota into east and west parts.

But I’m serious about the idea that the concept of place is important to me as a journalist.

It’s not an  accident that this news and information website is called the B Square Beacon. The “square” refers to a geographic place in Bloomington—the courthouse square, bounded by Walnut Street and College Avenue on the east and west, and by 6th Street and Kirkwood Avenue on the north and south.  Its downtown square is one feature that makes Bloomington, Indiana, a different kind of place from, say, Ann Arbor, Michigan, which does not have one.

Just a sense of geographic place can be enough to pique my interest in a topic.  That’s why I gravitate to subjects like local temperature trends or lake water levels, and plot out the data I find. It’s why I like to analyze local election results with color coded maps. It’s why I think it’s interesting to consider where the city’s local elected officials live. I enjoy trying to answer questions like this one: Is Bloomington in southern Indiana?

A sense of place guides my judgment for selection of photos. What I liked best about one photo I took of a Race Across America rider, who passed through Bloomington last Thursday, was the landmark that made it into the shot. The frame includes some evidence that the photo was taken in Bloomington and not some other place along the 3,000-mile route of that race.

If you’d like to read about a topic you haven’t seen covered anywhere else, a good way to pitch it to me is to explain why it will help readers understand Bloomington as a place. Because it looks like Bloomington is going to be the place I call home for the next long while.

 

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