Kentucky. Downtown Bowling Green. Norman Rockwell eat your heart out. This is what America used to look like before we started building Olive Gardens.
I’m visiting town. Taking in the views. Main Street is perfect. There’s a pub on East Main. Pabst Blue Ribbon signs in the windows. The joint is doing pretty good business on a weeknight.
The Capitol Theater sits next door. The marquee bears a neon sign advertising a performer nobody’s ever heard of before.
A water tower stands guard over the city, painted like an American flag. Stars emblazoned on top. Stripes on the side.
The downtown park is magnificent. Big trees. Flowers. The park’s masterstroke is a circular fountain with sculptures depicting naked people spitting water.
As a young man, I hadn’t seen much of America. I was a hick. I had been nowhere. Done nothing. Experienced little. Never traveled.
I was the guy in the bar who sat beside you as you told the bartender about your recent church mission trip to Honolulu.
You would have seen me staring silently into my Pabst as you described the greatest tourist attractions on earth. Meantime, I’d be feeling like the world’s biggest loser. Because I hadn’t traveled anywhere of note, unless you counted Texarkana.
I didn’t come from world travelers. I came from blue collars. Ironworkers. Dropouts. I grew up in hand-me-down clothes. My mother reused her teabags. I inherited my older cousin’s underpants.
All my college-age friends, however, were hellbent on traveling. They were obsessed with seeing Europe. It was all they talked about. Spain this. France that. Italy, Italy, Italy.
Not me. My family was so broke that, for dinner, we went to KFC just to lick other people’s fingers.
Moreover, I didn’t really care about seeing Europe. Oh, I’m sure it’s great. But there was way too much of America I wanted to visit first.
As clichéd as it sounds, I have always been crazy about America.
When I was a teenager, I bought a set of “National Geographic” hardbound books from a garage. Deluxe set. Circa 1959. Each volume featured a different U.S. state.
I lived inside those books.
Without ever leaving my bedroom, I saw the Tetons. The Alamo. The San Antonio River Basin at dusk. The Kauai Volcano. Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. The Apostle Islands. Cumberland Gap. Arches National Park. Crater Lake. The Everglades. Hartford, Connecticut; Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin; Gallup, New Mexico; Salt Lake City; Key Largo.
Those books created an urgency within me to see my own country at eye level. I wasn’t interested in Rome. Nor Berlin. You can have Europe. You can keep your leaning tower of Pisa. I wanted to see the Home of the Brave.
I wanted to stay in a Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino. I wanted to eat crabcakes in Baltimore. I wanted to take a riverboat cruise on the Mississippi.
See dawn in Yosemite. Watch a game at Fenway. Walk the Golden Gate. I wanted to visit Austin, Texas, someday, and touch the hem of Willie’s bandana.
Sadly, I haven’t done any of those things. But I’m not complaining. Because since starting this column ten years ago, I’ve done some cool stuff.
Namely, I have seen parts of this country a lot of people overlook. I’ve met some pretty incredible people.
I’ve seen things that make me so overwhelmingly proud to be American it hurts. Such as the scene I saw yesterday.
I was in an interstate gas station, outside Bowling Green, waiting in line. A little girl was entering the convenience store. The girl was using forearm crutches. She had a hard time walking. Cerebral palsy, maybe.
She stumbled and fell onto the pavement. She was bleeding, but not badly.
Within moments, there were six truckers gathered around the girl. They placed her onto a bench. First-aid kits were invoked.
I wish you could have seen it. Six roughneck blue-collars stood around a child, trying sincerely to make her laugh. Anything to get her mind off the pain. At one point, one of the older men even started singing “There’s A Hole In My Bucket.”
When it was all over, I asked the men why they had helped this girl. Why did they even bother?
I reminded the men that this is America. Don’t they watch the news? Americans are supposed to be a nation of folks who dislike each other. We’re supposed to be enemies. We’re supposed to be at odds. That’s what the TV tells us.
The trucker just shrugged. “I don’t know anything about all that,” he explained. “I don’t watch TV.”
They’re doing okay here in Bowling Green.
David - November 17, 2022 7:02 am
Texarkana counts (twice, even!) 😁
John - November 17, 2022 2:04 pm
Yea! David! One of, if not the only city where you can stand on the down town Main Street with one foot in one state and the other in the other state. 😁😁
kip carter - November 17, 2022 7:40 pm
Union City Ohio/Indiana
Joe - November 18, 2022 2:28 pm
I stood on the Hoover dam which is the border of two states and two time zones.
Ed (Bear) - November 17, 2022 9:37 am
Classic Sean! Loved your piece today! That trucker has the right idea about TV. If we’re left to our own devices, we fair better with each other.
Christine - November 17, 2022 12:39 pm
That’s the real America, thank you❤️
Barbara - November 17, 2022 9:46 am
So very true, if only the world could see what you see, America would not have such a bad wrap
Jocelyn - November 17, 2022 10:17 am
Thanks for the reminder of how cool our land is and how cruel our media is
Mary - November 17, 2022 10:19 am
Loved this. You nailed it.
imcdbw - November 17, 2022 11:22 am
Sean, m’dear, you are amazing. You make your point so subtly but so obviously. I love your heart and mind as much as your intent. Give Jaime a hug for me. She got a jewel!
Sandy Nicholson - November 17, 2022 11:27 am
Thank you Sean for the uplifting columns each day. We are so in need of them. God bless.
Dolores - November 17, 2022 11:31 am
Every once in a while to see a Facebook survey where you’re supposed to check off all the the places you’ve been, all the things you’ve done, make a tally then copy and paste. Honestly sometimes it’s a big fat zero for me.
I wonder the motive behind such surveys. Is it to boast, inflate an ego, to openly scorn the less traveled (only more subtle)? Am I to feel less than, a victim of my station in life? We were poor too, there were no such thing as vacations. But I’m old enough not to be offended at where the Almighty decided to put me. In fact I’m most grateful.
Even with the very few vacations I’ve taken as an adult, the best part is returning home. Just thinking about a trip to Disney or Vegas gives me anxiety, too peopley. So as an introverted homebody I will rely on you to describe the American towns and the fine folks you encounter.
PS I often think the Amish are probably the most well adjusted citizens we have.
Susie - November 17, 2022 12:15 pm
Yes, I agree about the Amish. They are a community that help each other!
Mary Miller - November 17, 2022 11:35 am
Pretty much my point of view. While in NYC friends all wanted to travel to Europe, I travelled to New England. Now living in Georgia most want to travel out west or take a cruise, I’m still happy to travel around the Eastern US. Did the all around once with a tent in a VW in the 70s. Now mostly stay east of the great Mississippi. Now 75 & use a wheelchair and have no regrets. To each his own
Jack H - November 17, 2022 11:38 am
Been reading you for 10 years, and have seen a lot of America!
Ernie in River City - November 17, 2022 11:40 am
Great perspective. But if you ever want to feel really good about the good ol’ U.S. of A., spend a little time in any other country. We’re a mess, but our best is still ahead of us. And thanks to Americans like the fine folks in Bowling Green, I think we can get there.
Melanie - November 17, 2022 11:40 am
Though probably out of print, I would love to know more about the National Geographic book set you had.
Debbie - November 17, 2022 11:54 am
Thank you for sharing the goodness of America. I grew up in a trailer park with a single Mom. I’ve always wanted just the essentials just to see like you great things around me not the over the sea great attractions.
Susie - November 17, 2022 12:11 pm
We are in pretty sad shape as a country; the past 6 years have sucked. But recently, things are looking up. Some are already WOKE and others ARE WAKING UP to the REALITY that we can do better. AND, YES, WE NEED MORE TRUCKERS.
John in Texas - November 17, 2022 2:11 pm
Susie, if you want more truckers then come travel I-30 in East Texas. I don’t know how it is in your neck of the woods but here the interstate is bumper to bumper 18 wheel trucks! Don’t get me wrong I appreciate they supply America with all the things we need and enjoy and most of the truckers are good folks but nose to tail trucks on the highway gets to be frightening.
Susie - November 18, 2022 12:34 am
John, yes, those big trucks are scary, indeed. But most truckers are excellent drivers, as a rule, and they have to be on the lookout for idiots like you and me. Lol
Sue Rhodus - November 17, 2022 12:28 pm
Welcome to my home state..we still try to be all American here. Some folks say we have a funny accent. Some think we are hill billies. But, we still try to have open hearts and love our people and our land.
Come back and see us anytime ! We welcome you 😊
Rebecca Thompson - November 17, 2022 12:44 pm
Sean, our state is full of these types of people. I am not sure why you chose to visit our beautiful state; the BBQ, the beautiful bluegrass, the horses, the bourbon, the corvette museum, maybe just to speak to some cute kids, but we are glad that you were able to witness our beauty and people.
Denise Walker - November 17, 2022 12:49 pm
I think we’d all be better off if we didn’t watch TV.
John - November 17, 2022 2:13 pm
AMEN on not watching tv. At least not the news. 😣
mccutchen52 - November 17, 2022 1:03 pm
I have seen a few things in my lifetime though me being 70 gives me somewhat of a jump on you. I am like you, What I have seen has been here in the States and there is still a lot more I would like visit. Don’t let your time run out. You wouldn’t want Jamie to be standing somewhere and saying “Sean would have really liked to have seen this”
alisonbaird765 - November 17, 2022 1:24 pm
I grew up in Texarkana. It has some fascinating history. I was lucky enough to grow up there during the 60’s and 70’s when Charles B. Pierce was bringing us such cult favorites as The Legend of Boggy Creek and The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Our downtown used to be beautiful and a lot of good people are working hard to bring it back to life. You might want to give it another look someday. My people moved to the area in the early 1900’s from Birmingham/Irondale area. I come from good stock!
Marcia - November 17, 2022 1:39 pm
Proud of those truckers!!
Add this to Bowling Green, KY.
Defensive Coach Tyson Summers, of Western Kentucky University, is leading the team at #1 in defense in all of college football!! That’s pretty huge! Tyson hales from Tifton, GA.
We’re proud of him down here!
sjhl7 - November 17, 2022 1:47 pm
Beautiful as always! Love those truckers! My youngest son is a trucker and they are always ready to help someone in need!
Ed - November 17, 2022 1:56 pm
Its the things we least expect, that warms our heart.
Joe - November 17, 2022 1:57 pm
Kevin kirby - November 17, 2022 2:01 pm
I am from bowling green and proud of it have served as county coroner going on forty years a loving and caring community with great schools and parks good companies located here and place you can be proud to raise a family yes it has grown over the past years but not lost what i grew up with truly blessed to say I’m a resident of b g ky
David - November 17, 2022 2:04 pm
Cathy - November 17, 2022 2:10 pm
WONDERFUL! Being an immigrant, it blesses my heart to read these wonderful stores and gives me hope for America.
Janet - November 17, 2022 2:16 pm
Any time you mosey up to Maryland, come on over to the Eastern Shore (we have great main streets too) and I’d be pleased to make you some crab cakes.
Summer Hensley - November 17, 2022 2:18 pm
I saw a picture of you hugging my little friend Neeta in Bowling Green. A real hug. Wish I had been there too. Bowling Green is about an 1 1/2 drive from our home. KY is the best place on earth, in my humble old opinion. With the best humble, caring, generous people anywhere. Thank you for this story. We need more of these stories. Catch you next time, maybe I’ll get a hug.
John - November 17, 2022 2:20 pm
Sean, you’re right about seeing the USA. I’ve been around most of Europe, South Africa, India, Canada and South America. Landing back on native soil and seeing the sign in the airport that says “Welcome to the United States of America” ALWAYS warms my heart. Seeing “the sights” in other countries is fun but there’s nothing like seeing the beautiful USA.
Patricia Gibson - November 17, 2022 2:51 pm
Amen! I would like to visit Bowling Green one day. Haven’t been to Kentucky
Stacey Wallace - November 17, 2022 3:33 pm
Sean, thanks for the sweet story. As I used to tell my students, “You need to be one of the good people so that the good outnumber the bad.” They still do, no matter what the news says. Love to you, Jamie, and Marigold.
Dee Thompson - November 17, 2022 3:37 pm
Some of the nicest people in the world are truckers! My cousin Roy is a trucker. He would have been helping the child, for sure. / I grew up in Knoxville and we visited Kentucky many times. Beautiful state. Nice people. My cousin Tony lives in Lexington. [Just FYI, if you want to know some fun facts about books check out: https://deescribbler.typepad.com/my_weblog/2022/11/dee-thompson-author.html%5D
Melanie - November 17, 2022 3:44 pm
Words to live by. Maybe it’s time to bring back the bumper sticker “Shoot your television”.
Tim Peace - November 17, 2022 3:54 pm
Sorry I missed the memo you’d be that close…I’d have come down from E’town and said “hello”. 🙁
Sue Dorfman - November 17, 2022 4:02 pm
Thank you for reminding me how caring we are at our core.
Jannie Bryant - November 17, 2022 4:41 pm
I needed this today. Thank you, Sean. God Bless you and Jamie.
Cathy Boswell - November 17, 2022 4:45 pm
Ya’ got me right in the feels this morning. Thanks, Sean. We do live in a great big beautiful country full of great big beautiful people. Y’all turn off the TV and go outside and play!!
Judie Perye - November 17, 2022 5:02 pm
We’re mostly good folks, here in the USA. It’s the awful folks who grab the headlines. As for traveling, I love Google Earth for seeing the USA and parts of the world. I couldn’t afford even the books that showed all the wonders of the world, and when I could, didn’t have the time. Now, as a retired person, I have the time and the resources, but health issues get in the way. Not complaining, just stating the reality of life. See what you can when you can. It sounds like you are doing it right!!! Maybe go to the U.P. and visit Bridget!
lawrence e stirtz - November 17, 2022 5:07 pm
when our family was growing up 3 kids i bought an rv and we traveled to every state except hawaii and alaska i wanted them to see it all at ground level my son later did the same with his family
Robert Lewis - November 17, 2022 5:33 pm
A wonderful commentary on the common man.
Gayla - November 17, 2022 5:53 pm
Thank you, Jamie, and Marigold for coming to Bowling Green, Sean! I disagree that no one has heard of the headliner on our Capitol Theater marquee!
We so look forward to your next visit ❤️
Mary yates - November 17, 2022 7:55 pm
Oh yes, and I believe we caring people are the majority, but not newsworthy. Thx Sean.
Ginga - November 17, 2022 8:11 pm
I loved this story, Sean!! My daughter and my six grandchildren lived in Bowling Green for 10 yrs. One of my grands still lives there in the family home. He attends Western Kentucky University. Two other grands graduated from the same school. I’ve been to Bowling Green several times and can attest to the fact that Bowling Green is a pretty fine place. BTW my daughter and the other five grands are back in Alabama where they lived before their stint in Bowling Green! Enjoy your trip!
missusmux - November 17, 2022 10:03 pm
Obviously, no shame in blue collar. Some of the most down to earth folks are those that keep this country functioning, supplied, wired, plumbed, lit, restored. We stopped watching the news when all that was repeated over and over was covid numbers. Stress level has come way down. We watch selected movies or shows of our choosing, but none of the slanted views of newscasters and politicians. I’d prefer to hear about the important things in life from daily reading of The Word and Sean of the South’s observations. God bless America.
cordellg52 - November 18, 2022 12:23 am
There’s a warm place in my heart for Bowling Green which is where my parents met in 1944 while attending Western Kentucky College High and Western Kentucky Business School. A good place filled with good people who I’m certain were so happy and honored to welcome you into their hearts and wonderful community.
I hope you’ll come back to Kentucky to share all the goodness you share with us, your devoted readers.
Susie - November 18, 2022 12:27 am
Sean, we were in Bowling Green, Kentucky about 3 years ago one summer for the motorcycle races. And just down the street from the track was a store called Shady Ray’s Pawn Shop. We got such a kick out of the name! I wondered if maybe you saw the place there on a corner. Loved that name!! 😂😂
MAM - November 18, 2022 2:53 am
The best comment was : I don’t watch TV. It’s amazing how much better life is without TV. We don’t have one and we don’t miss it a bit. Thank you, Sean, as always, for the GOOD news about GOOD people.
John D. Belcher - November 18, 2022 12:10 pm
I read your column most days, and save all of them. In North Louisiana we have lots of small churches that can’t afford a pastor. The church I attend sends / allows some of us to go and fill their pulpits. In 2 years I’ve been 7 or 8 times , going to go 3 times to Jonesboro and Oak Grove Methodist Church next January. Most times I can find a story of yours to use in my message, I try to keep the messages upbeat and about the love of God and fellow man. Not hard to find those kind of stories in your columns. Most of those folks can’t or don’t use the internet so all of the stuff I use is new to them, but I tell them where I got the story anyway…maybe they’ll go and look it up. It ain’t much but I think I’m being led to do it…I’m not a preacher and never will be, but they keep calling me back so I guess I’m doing OK. Keep writing the stories, I’ll keep reading them. Hope you don’t mind me using them from time to time.
pdjpop - November 19, 2022 1:16 pm
Amen. Amen. Amen.
We need more glue to fix the America that is fractured.
God help us.
Bowling Green sounds like a great American city.
Dave - November 19, 2022 2:16 pm
As I read the comments, I sense and agreement that we should watch less TV and put down our phones to avoid our partisan media. The media isn’t partisan. News media puts out what we reward with clicks and comments. If you want less division, compliment more and criticize less.
Dwana Myers - November 22, 2022 5:35 pm
My husband and I decided to remove our TV in the fall of 2016…best decision we’ve ever made. We took up reading instead and have had many lively and interesting ‘book reviews’ since then. We are happier and do not struggle with fear and anxiety that we see in so many of our family, fellow workers, neighbors and even our church family. We may well be the most uninformed people in the whole of the nation, but, at least, we are NOT un-informed. We found out quickly that the media is NOT our friend…and…still…I’m proud to be an American.
John Kniery - November 23, 2022 2:24 am
Incredible! I’d venture to say the majority of American’s are like that. Still we need to continue to try. Also, let’s turn that TV off!
Jared - December 13, 2022 1:31 am
My home town! If I could live anywhere on earth, it would be here. Not because of the sites the author describes, but because of the people. The people I’ve known all my life. Not everyone is as described…some worse, many even better. As magnificent as the sky, the sea, the mountains may be, they will do nothing to help the little girl who falls down. It’s the people that make a place. Keep traveling and reporting that we are more alike than different.