Gawker’s Worst 50 States

I’ve been following Gawker’s newest series, The Worst 50 States. I’ve been enjoying following this series. In an effort to pin down not only the best states in the US of A, but, more importantly, the worst states, Gawker compiled a Gawker-invented rating system in order to rank our fair fifty. Granted, this rating system consists solely of the viewpoints of those on staff for Gawker, so the viewpoints are just about as biased as you would deem Gawker (Which might be not at all according to you!), but there’s some interesting stuff in there. Yes, they’re focusing on the bad more than the good, those damn pessimists, but all in all, fact or fiction, the commentary on the 50 states is makes me laugh. And, I’ll just throw this in there, I’ve been to 48 of the 50 states and much of every summary they make rings true to me. They’re not done wrapping up the states yet, but check out their analysis of most of the states here.

If you’re inflamed, saddened, or curling over with laughter after reading what’s so bad about your home state, come back here and tell us in the comments how Gawker made you feel.

Study Ranks States By Individual Freedom

Johnny Cash childhood home to become a museum

Johnny CashJohnny Cash is a music legend, and now his boyhood home in the otherwise obscure town of Dyess in northeastern Arkansas is being turned into a museum.

Funds from the Johnny Cash Music Festival on August 4 will go towards renovating the home and creating the museum. Family members will be among those performing, as well as George Jones and Kris Kristofferson. Locals are also raising funds with an annual Dyess Day.

So what else is there to see in Dyess? It was built as an agricultural colony during the New Deal and has an interesting past and lots of historic buildings. It’s also close to some beautiful natural areas such as the Ozarks and the Saint Francis Sunken Lands Wildlife Management Area. More importantly for music fans, being only an hour’s drive from Memphis and Graceland, it makes a cool stop on a musical road trip through America’s heartland.

[Photo courtesy Look Magazine]

A travel guide to the 2011 Oscar movies

Travel guide to Oscar moviesThe 83rd annual Academy Awards are coming up in a few weeks and the Oscars race is on. This year’s nominations contained few surprises, with many nods for Brit period piece The King’s Speech, Facebook biopic The Social Network, and headtrip Inception. While 2010’s ultimate travel blockbuster Eat, Pray, Love failed to made the cut, there’s still plenty to inspire wanderlust among the Best Picture picks.

Read on for a travel guide to the best movies of 2010 and how to create your own Oscar-worthy trip.

127 HoursLocation: Danny Boyle’s nail-biter was shot on location in Utah’s Blue John Canyon near Moab and on a set in Salt Lake City. Go there: Should you want to explore Moab’s desert and canyons while keeping all limbs intact, check out Moab in fall for bike races and art festivals.



Black Swan
Location: Much of the ballet psychodrama was shot in New York City, though the performances were filmed upstate in Purchase, New York. Go there: To see the real “Swan Lake” on stage at Lincoln Center, you’ll have to hope tickets aren’t sold out for the New York City Ballet, performing this month February 11-26.

The FighterLocation: in the grand tradition of Oscar winners Good Will Hunting and The Departed, the Mark Wahlberg boxing flick was filmed in Massachusetts, in Micky Ward’s real hometown of Lowell, 30 miles north of Boston. Go there: For a map of locations in Lowell, check out this blog post and perhaps spot Micky Ward at the West End Gym.

InceptionLocation: The setting of this film depends on what dream level you’re in. The locations list includes Los Angeles, England, Paris, Japan, even Morocco. Go there: There are plenty of real locations to visit, including University College London and Tangier’s Grand Souk. Canada’s Fortress Mountain Resort where the snow scenes were shot is currently closed, but you can ski nearby in Banff.



The Kids Are All Right
Location: Director Lisa Cholodenko is a big fan of southern California, she also filmed the 2002 Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles. Go there: Love it or hate it, L.A. is still a top travel destination in the US and perhaps this year you can combine with a trip to Vegas, if the X Train gets moving.

The King’s SpeechLocation: A prince and a commoner in the wedding of the century. Sound familiar? This historical drama was shot in and around London, though stand-ins were used for Buckingham Palace’s interiors. Go there: It might be hard to recreate the vintage look of the film, but London is full of atmospheric and historic architecture and palaces to visit. If you’re a sucker for English period films or places Colin Firth has graced, tour company P & P Tours can show you around many historic movie locations like Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

The Social NetworkLocation: Another Massachusetts and California movie, this very academic film shot at many college and prep school campuses, but none of them Harvard, which hasn’t allowed film crews in decades. Go there: If you enjoyed the Winklevoss rowing scene, head to England this summer for the Henley Royal Regatta June 29 – July 3.

Toy Story 3 – Location: The latest in the Pixar animated trilogy is set at the Sunnyside Daycare. Go there: Reviews are mixed, but Disney’s Hollywood Studios has a new Pixar parade, to let fans see their favorite characters in “person.” Visit any Disney gift shop to make your own toy story.

True Grit – Location: The Coen brothers western remake may be set in 19th century Arkansas, but it was filmed in modern day Santa Fe, New Mexico and Texas, taking over much of towns like Granger. Go there: If you’re a film purist or big John Wayne fan, you can tour the locations of the original film in Ouray County, Colorado.

Winter’s Bone – Location: Many moviegoers hadn’t heard of this film when nominations were announced, set and shot in the Ozark Mountains in southern Missouri. Go there: The difficult film centers around the effects of methamphetamine on a rural family, but travel destinations don’t get much more wholesome than Branson, Missouri. Bring the family for riverboat shows and the best bathroom in the country.

[Photo by Flickr user Lisa Norman]

Five states where you’re most likely to hit a deer this fall

Leaf-peepers are about to hit the road in force – as they always do this time of year. While soaking in the burning foliage colors with your eyes, it’s only too easy to forget you’re behind the wheel, a situation that can lead to disastrous consequences. There are some states where beautiful foliage and deer prancing on the streets just seem to go together, according to a study by insurance company State Farm. So, if your autumn plans include scoping out the trees, make sure you look out for deer, too.

Here are the five states where you’re most likely to wind up with Bambi on the hood of your car if you aren’t careful (with the likelihood of doing so):

1. West Virginia: 1 in 42 (I didn’t see this one coming!)

2. Iowa: 1 in 67

3. Michigan: 1 in 70

4. South Dakota: 1 in 76

5. Montana: 1 in 82What’s particularly surprising is that none of the states usually considered to be leaf-peeping destinations made the top five, let alone showed high risk of deer collisions. Massachusetts and New Hampshire are low-risk, with New York, Vermont and Maine only showing medium risk. You’re more likely to wash venison off your hood in Arkansas than you are in New Jersey, a state where deer corpses are not uncommon on the side of the road.

Interestingly, the number of miles driven by U.S. motorists, according to State Farm, has grown only 2 percent in the past five years … while the number of deer/car smacks has surged 20 percent. From July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2010, there were approximately 2.3 million collisions between deer and vehicles. The average cost for an incident was $3,013.

[Chart via Terms + Conditions: Insurance Industry Blog]

Related:
America’s best drive: the Beartooth All-American Road
Ten most badass animals native to the US
7 of the craziest, most dangerous, most dizzying hikes in the world (VIDEOS)
The 10 countries with the world’s worst drivers

Pico Iyer: The surprising charms of Little Rock, AR

Who’d have thought that Little Rock, Arkansas, would prove so diverting?

Paris, Rio, Kyoto: We know pretty well what we’re going to encounter (or at least to savor) as soon as we set foot in any of those cities; part of their gift, polished over centuries, is for knowing how to play themselves to perfection and how to give every visitor just what she wants and expects. Such places are the equivalent of the traveling world’s celebrities, used to projecting themselves compellingly even off-screen. But there’s a different kind of charm in those lesser-known towns that will never be regarded as stars, but that can take on almost any role you ask of them: the character actors among sites, you could say. They offer you unexpectedness.

Take — of all places — Little Rock, Arkansas (yes, take it, please, as a New York comedian might say). If I knew anything about the capital of the “Natural State” before I went there recently, it was that it was small, forgettable, and, as one distinguished travel-writer had written to me, “intriguingly forlorn and melancholy.” Bill Clinton started his political life there, I knew, but that seemed the exception that proved the rule; like many people, I had driven through it on the huge freeway I-40, going across the U.S., and like most people I had taken pains not to stay there.

In short, Little Rock was perfectly positioned to disarm and entertain me as well-worn Paris, Rio, and Kyoto perhaps never could. The first two people I met after I left my hotel turned out to be serious students of Buddhism, one of whom knew and had studied under the one Zen master I happen to know in Kyoto. A brawny guy from Memphis stopped me on the street, outside the Arkansas Literary Festival, and asked me which of Graham Greene’s novels I thought his best. Most wonderfully of all, the town I saw turned out to be an unlikely center of irony, and even self-mockery; at the stately Old State House, the proud and distinguished building from 1842 where Clinton had held his victory celebrations, one whole room was devoted to the history of “Bubbas and hillbillies.”

* * * * *

One beauty of a city of surprise is that at first it offers you little at all, or only what you might have feared. I disembarked in Little Rock on a sultry afternoon in early spring, to find that its baggage carousels delivered luggage at a Samoan pace. The person who was meant to meet me was nowhere in sight. I went over to a public phone booth, to see that it had been stripped of its instrument. The same was true of almost every other public phone booth. Finally I did find a phone, but it gave me no dial tone. I found another, and it was equally mute. People were sitting in their molded plastic chairs as if on their stoops along the Mississippi, watching the world not go by.

“Things move slow round here,” said the sweet woman who did at last arrive to take me into town. “Town” seemed at first blush a euphemism: downtown was over almost before we got there. A convention center, a couple of tall buildings and then a wasteland of empty lots and deserted streets, lean black boys in hoodies drifting across the vacancy, past boarded-up stores that suggested that all life was long gone. I remembered coming into Louisville on just such an afternoon two years before; there was the same, aromatic sense of having come upon some broken capital long after the nation’s leaders had absconded with all the cash.

Then, however, I stepped into the Capital Hotel — a gleaming white historical building with an elevator so large that it had once transported Ulysses S. Grant’s horse, it was said (and once the whole state legislature) — and a smooth man in a suit with perfectly waved brown hair approached me. He made me think, somehow, of a saxophonist doubling as a used-car dealer. “I’m Billy,” he said, “and if there’s anything you want…” The next thing I knew, he was showing me around my room as charmingly as if it were his bachelor pad. A walk-in closet. Some Arkansas toffee, free of charge. The menu to the haute restaurant, Ashley’s, downstairs.

I walked out into the night, three hours later, to find the River Market district down the street abuzz. The sound of blues was pouring out of several raucous bars on a single block. Bouncers as wide as they were tall sat on stools on the sidewalk, giving prospective customers the once-over. Good old boys were revving up their Harleys in a nearby parking lot, while teams of young ladies with cheerleader-perfect hair were fingering shrimp in Flying Fish and other of the restaurants with their windows open to the night. The entertainment district stretched across all of five blocks, but it packed into that small area enough tattoos and blasts of metal and versions of Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine” to keep a stadium entertained for a good long while.

* * * * *

Another beauty of a place like Little Rock is that all the sights mentioned in the tourist brochures are within a few blocks of your hotel, and may give you what you never thought to ask for. Next to the great glass structure that is the Clinton Presidential Library is a Clinton School of Public Service and, not far from that, a huge place called the Heifer International Center, dedicated to social justice from Rwanda to Peru. A quaint house near the huge Public Library was selling used books and coffee and knick-knacks. A sleek Ikea-worthy café serving up specialty foods was run by an urbane gent from Delhi (“There can’t be many Indians in Little Rock,” I tried. “Oh,” came the answer, “there are so many of us here!”). In a hippie coffeehouse I sampled, the fliers were advertising “Extreme Midget Wrestling,” coming to town very soon.

Perhaps what I least expected to find in Arkansas was a sense of openness and even mischief. I picked up the local paper to read a piece by someone who presented himself as a “born and raised Southern Baptist,” yet delighted in an appearance by Christopher Hitchens, here to argue that God is not great. A stranger who identified himself to me as “born and raised on the front row of the Southern Baptist Church” asked me if I thought, from my travels, that faith was collapsing around the world. When I said no, he looked decidedly disappointed. A young woman in advertising told me she was reading aloud the latest novel by J.M. Coetzee to her husband. He, in turn, was writing a book on Tolkien.

Some places — Britain, Canada, and Australia are obvious examples — win one over, whatever their deficiencies, by their refusal to take themselves too seriously. Others (dare I mention Atlanta, Houston, or Los Angeles?) seem to be lacking all sense of perspective regarding themselves and their limitations. But I never expected to find Little Rock proudly, and impenitently, in the former category. “The corruption of law and justice has often proved a challenge to Arkansas society,” said a sign in the Old State House exhibition, apparently with delight. The state it was celebrating, it went on, with almost audible glee, has historically been “a magnet for the unlawful.” In a nearby room were a pair of Florsheim shoes worn by the current governor and a cardboard cutout of Bill Clinton, in shades and leather jacket, playing his sax on national television. Downstairs, his running shoes from 1982 were in another display case.

Arkansas politics in the 20th century, I read in yet another room in the building, was “a circus hitched to a tornado” (and I remembered that Mike Huckabee, the guitar-playing Christian who had briefly won the nation’s attention as a presidential candidate three years ago and once issued a pardon to Keith Richards, was also from here). Sure enough, not far away, I found Huckabee’s Guitar Pick and his Duck Call in a case.

On a bright, warm Saturday afternoon, two boys with art-college glasses, who looked as if they should have been at an open-mic event in a grunge café, stood at the center of the entertainment district, wearing placards that said, “There is only one Church in the Bible” and decrying every other Christian denomination. Some frat boys scribbled out a sign — “This guy is a moron” — and placed it next to one of the boy-evangelists, and posed for a cell-phone photo. On the other side of the street, two older men sipping Free Trade espresso and munching on no-fat muffins chuckled with delight. Getting into the spirit of theological debate, one cool-looking character in a two-tone shirt and shades stepped forward to engage the placard-wearers in conversation.

“You not talkin’ ’bout the Kingdom! You believe in Jesus?”

“Yes I do, sir.”

“Then why you think those who believe in Jesus are goin’ to Hell?”

“If you read Romans 8, sir…”

“You sayin’ we believe in Jesus, but we goin’ to Hell?”

The challenger’s three friends laughed approvingly. The Buddhists I met took me to a pan-Asian restaurant in a mini-mall serving Thai curries and sushi under beautifully framed pictures of faces from Mongolia and Laos and Tibet. Nearby, a bridge was lit up like the one across the Bosporus in Istanbul.

“It really wasn’t what I expected at all,” said one of my hosts, a stylish woman in her early sixties with frosted-blonde hair (who was working hard to try to eliminate capital punishment in the state). “There are a lot of people from other places who have found that this is a good place to live.” I recalled the friendly young woman, who volunteered her free time to teach adults to read, pointing out to me the condos in one tall building at the center of town, and saying that they were the priciest places in town (the $250,000 price tag she cited for them would have made them cheaper than the cheapest places in my hometown in California).

On arriving in Little Rock, I had wondered how someone as charming, quick, smooth, and intelligent as the 42nd president of the United States could have emerged from here as if from the forehead of Athena. By the time I left, I was thinking that much of the city along the sluggish Arkansas River was no less supple and surprising. Imagine — though this may not be for everyone — Bill Clinton expanded to the size of a metropolis. You can’t find that in Paris, Rio, or Kyoto. Or even in Washington, D.C.


Pico Iyer is the author of numerous books, including Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk, and The Global Soul. His most recent book is The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.

[Photos: Flickr | cliff1066; cliff1066; eschipul; Afroswede; StuSeeger]