Every few months one of those “how many states have you visited?” prompts appear on social media. I always answer them because I work at home, I don’t have anyone to talk to, and they’re good online conversation-starters.
I also respond to them because I’ve visited a lot of states and I like to brag. Unless I’m missing one, I’ve visited 44 of the 50 states, in fact, with the District of Columbia giving me 45. That’s more than most people I reckon, and if I have a chance to rub something dumb in someone’s face I’m gonna take that chance.
My proudly posting “45!” today was quickly followed up by an interesting conversation: what counts as having visited a state?
I’ve long had a mostly cut-and-dried rule for this. I think you can say that you’ve visited a state if you’ve either (a) stayed the night there; or (b) if, short of having stayed the night there, you have seen or done something of at least moderate consequence. If you’ve seen a quintessential site or eaten a quintessential dish or at least spent enough time in a quintessential city or locale to say you got the vibe of it. Obviously this allows a good deal of subjectivity into the mix.
I do not, contrary to some, believe that you can count airport connections or layovers. Airports are basically the same everywhere. They function like international neutral zones or airlocks into a place rather than constitute a locale in an actual place. Maybe there are some unique airports in some out-of-the-way places, but if you’re in one of them it’s likely either your departure or destination point. You don’t get credit for Georgia by virtue of having a Coke in the Atlanta airport while waiting for your connection to Miami.
Likewise, I don’t count a quick trip across the state line made simply to say you did it. Unless, again, you saw something neat or notable or did something neat or notable.
Driving most of the full length of a state can count, I suppose. Like if you do the whole length of Kansas you have done something, right? And you may have gotten the vibe of the place. Depending on the state and its size I think a drive-through can qualify for “I’ve been there” purposes, but there has to be some caveats.
For example, I don’t think you can judge a state based on a drive-through. You can say you’ve been to Kansas if you’ve merely taken I-70 all the way across, but you can’t say “Kansas sucks” because Interstates are homogenizing and keep you a step removed from anything real enough upon which to base such a judgment. Maybe if you caught US-24 from Topeka all the way over to Brewster before catching back up with 70 you can say a thing or two, but again, that’s sort of a facts-and-circumstances inquiry.
With all of those rules out of the way, here are all the states I’ve visited and my bonafides for making the claim:
Alabama: One of the six I’ve somehow missed. It’s just never come up. Mississippi either, as I’ll mention again later. A few years back I was in Texas for Thanksgiving and had to be at the baseball Winter Meetings in Florida a week later and gave serious thought to canceling my airline reservation, getting a rental car and just driving from San Antonio to Orlando in order to pick up both of those states but that seemed kind of excessive. I have regretted that a couple of times but it doesn’t keep me up at night. Some day.
Alaska: My parents lived there from 1967-1969 — on St. Paul Island for one year and in the tiny village of McGrath for another — but I’ve never had a reason to go. I feel like if cruises ever become a thing again I might take an Alaskan cruise, but I don’t see myself heading up there just to look at Denali or what have you unless I’m living a very different kind of life one day.
Arizona: My first time was through it in a car, camping on top of Mt. Lemmon near Tucson in 2003. Since then I’ve been there for six or seven spring trainings.
Arkansas: I’ve driven from Ohio to Texas and back twice since I met Allison, and that trip takes you diagonally through the whole state, from West Memphis to Texarkana. On the way down the best bet is to stay in Little Rock so I have twice. The last time I stayed downtown, walked around some, got some good catfish tacos and feel like I got enough of a look-see.
California: Between my brother living there, many of my college friends living there, Allison having grown up there, and multiple vacations there, I have spent tons of time in California. If I manage to get my financial life in better order in the next few years I may just move there.
Colorado: I picked up a handful of states on a big, long road trip I took back in 2003. I slept my second night of the trip in Pueblo, drove across U.S. 50 through Salida, over Monarch Pass, to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, up through Delta and over to Grand Junction. I don’t imagine a lot of people from back East can cross Colorado off their list without ever having been to Denver or without ever skiing there.
Connecticut: I made a quick drive-thru as a kid I don’t really count but since NBC Sports is based in Stamford I’ve been there many, many times. I can’t say I’ve seen much beyond whatever you can see in that town and along the Metro North Railway, though.
Delaware: In talking about it on Twitter earlier Delaware became one of the most controversial states for these purposes. Tons of people have driven through it but not many have done much more than that. I managed to spend some time on the beach down near Rehoboth, though, so I am removed from that debate. I’ll admit, though, that given the traffic on the freeways there, there are arguments to be made in favor of counting a drive-through from Philly to Baltimore. When you’ve done that you’ve done something.
District of Columbia: I went to law school there. That’s enough for several lifetimes.
Florida: Too many times to count and very few times that are fond to look back on. Not because of some anti-Florida bias or “Florida Man” stereotyping or anything like that, but because my particular visits were associated with bad things. Twice someone I loved died while we were down there, causing us to leave hastily. Once I was there on a case that was stressful and unsettling. The spring training baseball trips were nice. Overall, though, I’ve done my time in Florida.
Georgia: When I was a kid we had a motorhome and my dad had a lot of vacation time and that meant very long road trips. They were all east of the Mississippi for the most part, which meant for a lot of loops around the south. We criss-crossed Georgia on a couple of those, camping there a couple of times. Apart from driving through on the Interstate I’ve never been to Atlanta, though. I’m a Braves fan because of WTBS, not going to games there.
Hawaii: It’s never come up. It’s not someplace you can just pop into for the weekend unless you live on the West Coast. I imagine I’ll one day take a vacation there.
Idaho: This is one of the ones where I was only there for a few hours but they were a few hours I’m counting. Some of my law firm coworkers and I took a trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to ski and to snowmobile through Yellowstone. We also and got drunk and generally farted around, all with free lodging thanks to the generosity of a client who let us stay at his ranch in the middle of nowhere about 30-40 miles south of town. On a day with no activities, four of us got in a truck and decided to just wander the roads. We headed out northwest from where we were and drove along US-26 into Idaho, following the Snake River. We ended up in Idaho Falls and then looped back north and east and then south until we made it back to Wyoming in time for dinner and some live music at the Stagecoach Bar in Wilson. It was a hell of a day that is probably made better in my memory by virtue of the fact that I can’t remember half of it. Either way, I’m counting Idaho.
Illinois: As is the case for most people, trips to Chicago crosses it off my list, though I have driven through downstate a few times, visited Lincoln’s grave, and all of that.
Indiana: Apart from many drive-throughs, my first baseball Winter Meetings was in Indianapolis in 2009. Back in the 80s I had an aunt who lived there that we visited once. When you live in Ohio you really don’t have much reason to visit Indiana. I imagine people in Indiana say the same thing about Ohio.
Iowa: One of those motorhome trips as a kid took us to Hannibal, Missouri, where my parents had friends. When that visit was over we went up Highway 61 and farted around Iowa for a little while, I think mostly because my dad had never been to Iowa and felt like it’d be a good idea. I remember nothing about it except the campground, which had a waterslide. This barely counts I suppose, but I did sleep a night there. And went down a waterslide.
Kansas: I think Kansas gets a bad rap, mostly from people who just drive through it on the way out west. I did that, but (a) I broke it up with a night’s sleep; and (b) had a lovely experience driving through it, actually.
I had planned to spend the first night of that 2003 road trip in Kansas City, but since I made such good time through Missouri I was in K.C. in time for a fairly early dinner — Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue — and was feeling reinvigorated so I drove on. I crossed the state line, listening to the Royals put a 12-4 smackdown on the Cleveland Indians as the sun set over the surprisingly beautiful rolling grasslands of eastern Kansas. I stopped 180 miles later in Salina, happy to be sleeping in a state in which I’d never slept before. The next morning central and western Kansas proved no less enchanting, with the morning sun burning the fog off of the meandering hills, revealing a unique and surprising beauty. Kansas may not appeal to most people the way oceans or mountains do, but anyone who dismisses it out-of-hand possesses an unreasonably narrow definition of scenery.
Kentucky: Countless visits to basically every part of the state. Easy to do when you’ve spent most of your life living in a state that borders it. I really love Louisville and Lexington has grown on me a great deal too. Allison has a horse, so a lot of that part of the state is appealing to her for those reasons. I said earlier that, if I can figure out the finances, I’ll move to California. If I can’t figure out the finances, there’s a non-trivial chance I’d move to a little bit of property down there once the kids are out of the house.
Louisiana: One trip to New Orleans and it was a sort of half-assed trip due to a freak ice storm that closed a lot of things down (note: New Orleans is NOT set up for ice) and some work-related things. I did have a good meal and some nice cocktails, though, so it wasn’t a total loss.
Maine: One of the last big motorhome trips we took was a giant loop from West Virginia, across the bridge in Detroit into Canada, across Ontario, Quebec, down into New Brunswick, and ALL around Nova Scotia. I didn’t really appreciate the tip at the time but in hindsight it was a fantastic vacation with a ton of good memories. On the way home we took a car ferry from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia to Portland, Maine. We didn’t stay overnight, but we took our sweet time meandering down the coast to New Hampshire. I think the scenery the fact that we stayed off the Interstate makes it count.
Maryland: Was there numerous times when I was in law school. Stayed at some cabins in the forest of Western Maryland on three different trips several years ago. Did the whole Chesapeake Bay/eat crabs thing a couple of times. Ballgames at Camden Yards followed by good food in Little Italy. I think I got it covered.
Massachusetts: Did Boston like a tourist on the way back on that Nova Scotia trip, did it like a sportswriter for the 2013 World Series.
Michigan: Born there and lived there until I was 11. Vacations all over the Upper Peninsula as a kid and to Traverse City and environs as an adult. Go to Detroit a couple of times a year to see friends and do things. I suppose it’s my ancestral home even if I consider myself more of a product of West Virginia.
Minnesota: Those Upper Peninsula wanderings often strayed into Wisconsin and Minnesota. I spent five days taking depositions of auto dealers in some awful law firm conference room in Minneapolis back in 2000. I covered the 2014 All-Star Game there too and got a better impression of the city then. I took an Amtrak train from Chicago to Seattle once, eating dinner on the first night as the sun set over approximately 5,000 of the 10,000 lakes just outside the train windows.
Mississippi: I’ve been to Memphis twice so, theoretically, I could’ve just popped down the street and crossed the state line, but per my rules for this business, that wouldn’t have cut the mustard. I’ll do a proper Gulf Coast/Mississippi Delta road trip one day.
Missouri: That childhood trip to Hannibal, a couple of work trips to Kansas City when I was a lawyer, World Series coverage in both St. Louis AND Kansas City in back-to-back years, another one-off visit to St. Louis a couple of years ago and the traverse of the whole state on the 2003 road trip. Even without all of that other stuff I think the 2003 road trip would’ve counted, though. I went to the no-longer-in-St. Louis Bowling Hall of Fame and the Gateway Arch around lunchtime and had that great barbecue in Kansas City for dinner. In between was maybe the most boring four hours of driving I’ve ever experienced, but we’ll do our best to forget that.
Montana: My first trip there was for a federal jury trial in Great Falls in January of 2004. It was -20 degrees before the windchill. They handed me an engine block heater at the rental car counter. I had a newborn baby at home whom I missed terribly, her namesake — my ex-wife’s grandmother, who I dearly loved — died while I was there, AND I lost the trial when my expert witness simply changed his mind about the theory of our case while sitting on the witness stand, which caused the judge to excuse the jury for ten minutes while he yelled at me for wasting everyone’s time. Oh, and I was suffering from a major depressive episode before any of that even began, though I didn’t really realize it at the time.
My second trip was snowmobiling in Yellowstone on the same trip where I went to Idaho. That was way better. My third trip was on that Amtrak journey in 2015, which took me through Glacier National Park and a million other gorgeous places. Which is to say, Montana has gotten better for me as time has gone on.
Nebraska: I had a client who had an operation in Grand Island where someone got hurt so I had some depositions in Grand Island. It was only a couple of days. The depositions actually proved to be kind of fun — the person who was hurt ended up being OK and ended up getting a more-than-fair settlement in my view and I learned a lot about how grain silos work. I always liked to learn things from the cases I had, but I can’t say I really got a feel for Nebraska. Assuming that Nebraska has a feel.
Nevada: Vegas, obviously, on numerous occasions. On the 2003 road trip, however, I went all the way across U.S. 50 from the Utah line to Reno, going through Great Basin National Park, the salt flats and everything (i.e. nothing) in between. It was a wonderful drive. Beautiful country. I don’t think I was below 95 miles per hour for most of it and I still felt like I was standing still. Your mind really starts to go places when you have that much space and that much time in front of you.
New Hampshire: We camped somewhere in New Hampshire on that drive down through Nova Scotia and used it as staging for Boston, as my folks really didn’t feel like paring the RV in Boston. I don’t remember much of anything but I suppose it passes the “slept there” test.
New Jersey: A couple of drives through to New York probably aren’t enough to count, but the same aunt who lived in Indianapolis in the early 80s lived someplace in the Philly suburbs outside of Camden in the late 80s and we had Thanksgiving at her house one year. My parents and her went to Atlantic City for the evening to gamble after Thanksgiving dinner and I had to babysit my younger cousins. They played video games while I raided my aunt’s record collection. She let me keep her copy of Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks.” Which I later lost at some point. My dad came back with a big plastic coin cup from one of Trump’s casinos. That has been lost somewhere along the line too.
New Mexico: A friend from Berkeley joined me on the return trip from the 2003 road trip. We left the Bay Area and went to Tahoe, down the length of the Sierra Nevadas and into Las Vegas on Day 1. On Day 2 we crossed Arizona and camped (see above). On Day 3 it was mostly southern New Mexico, with a camp stop near White Sands and a trip down into Carlsbad Caverns. The following morning I got a bullshit speeding ticket in a town called Artesia. It was just the first of two speeding tickets I’d get that day. The second, in Fort Stockton, Texas, was not bullshit. I was flying. I let my friend drive after that. I was disgusted.
New York: A bajillion times. Mostly in the city, sometimes for work, a couple of times as a tourist. When I was a kid we took the RV upstate and into the Adirondacks and Whiteface Mountain and places around there. Winding back down we went to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
North Carolina: At least three RV trips which also entailed camping there, once in western North Carolina in the mountains, once on the Outer Banks. I think half of my high school graduating class ended up settling in Raleigh or Charlotte, so I’ve made trips down there too.
North Dakota: Just on the Amtrak — and I was asleep for a chunk of it — but I feel like I got more than my North Dakota’s worth out of it. Mostly from taking to a woman and her adult daughter who lived in Bismarck and took the train to Montana every year to visit family. They talked for an hour about how fracking has messed up the state and how I needed to watch myself around the roughnecks who also use the train to go to Montana when they got leave from the fracking fields. I was told the roughnecks would rough you up if you weren’t careful, but all I saw them do was pound beers and talk loud in the bar car. They didn’t seem like people I wanted to spend too much time with, but they were harmless enough.
Ohio: I’ve lived here for 26 of the past 29 years. It’s . . . fine.
Oklahoma: Another work trip in the lawyer days. Tulsa. More depositions. All I remember was the airport, my hotel room, and the law firm conference room. I probably should go back to Oklahoma at some point.
Oregon: Took the train from Seattle down to Portland and spend three days there before getting on another train and taking it through the Columbia River Valley back east. Portland is pretty much what you expect it to be. It’s a lovely place with great beer, coffee, food, shops, some amazing flora and all the sorts of things you hear about. It also has all of the gentrification and NIMBYism and of those sorts of things you hear about. But again, it is lovely.
Pennsylvania: It’s a very long state to drive through and I have driven through it far more times than I really care for. Trips to Philly and Pittsburgh for baseball and to see bands I like were nice, though.
Rhode Island: Maybe the diciest state I’m claiming here, as it was based on nothing but a drive through and a lunch in Providence, but man, it’s a small state, so that has to count, right?
South Carolina: When you live in West Virginia you are required to go to Myrtle Beach a lot and I did. I’m sorry, that’s the law.
South Dakota: I have not made it here. I’m not sure when I will. Everyone tells me I need to see the Black Hills and the Badlands and all of that. It’ll probably take another road trip. If I ever do something like sell a novel that makes a lot of money which allows me to just disappear for a month at a time rather than work on a regular basis maybe I’ll just do all six of the states I’ve missed on one big massive road trip. Wait, shit, Hawaii isn’t really road trip-friendly.
Tennessee: Too many times to count. RV vacations, mostly in the eastern part of the state, as a kid. My parents lived in Nashville for three years after I left home so I visited them. Multiple separate trips to Nashville for baseball’s Winter Meetings in the past decade. While stopping in Little Rock is ideal for the trip down to Texas, stopping in Memphis is ideal for the trip back up and we’ve done that twice. I think I have Tennessee pretty well figured out.
Texas: The 2003 road trip took us from the New Mexico state line all the way across to Austin, where we stayed a couple of days, and than on up through Dallas and home. The next trip was the 2011 Winter Meetings to Dallas where I met Allison in person for the first time. Since then we’ve been back to San Antonio to see her parents a bunch. Texas is not really like you think it is if you’ve not spent a lot of time there. Well, it is in some ways, but it’s not in a lot of others. I like a lot about it.
Utah: The 2003 trip took me to Moab where I hiked in Arches National Park. On April 26, 2003 I hiked in there by myself, which was probably a dumb idea. That very same day a man named Aaron Ralston was also hiking in Utah by himself. He was in Canyonlands National Park, which is about 30 miles from Arches. That day he got his arm caught between boulders and, 127 hours later, ended up cutting it off with a multi-tool in order to free himself, saving his life. I was a far less experienced hiker, was in far worse shape than Ralston, and only had a Swiss Army knife that likely wouldn’t have done the job, but I walked into Arches, hiked about 15 miles, saw the sights, and walked right out safely. Luck is a hell of a thing.
Vermont: As a Subaru Forester owner who hikes a lot and has sharply liberal views my not having been to Vermont yet is like being a Muslim who hasn’t been to Mecca. Someday. I’m probably obligated.
Virginia: I lived there for three years when I was in law school. Before that we RV’d there. When my brother was in the Navy my parents and I visited his ship in Norfolk. At the end of the trip I bought my first car and drove it back to West Virginia. I was ordered by my parents to follow them but as soon as we got out of Norfolk I blew past them and beat them home by like an hour. They weren’t pleased.
Washington: The Amtrak trip took me to Seattle. Breathtaking scenery through the Cascades on the way in. Seattle was pretty spiffy too.
West Virginia: Country Roads take me home, baby. Moved there when I was 11. Graduated high school there. Met and married my first wife, the mother of my children, there. Had most of the things I consider to be important when I was growing up happen there. I’ll likely never live there again but I’ll always call it home.
Wisconsin: Random forays into it from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Tried a case in Madison that had me there for two weeks. Stopped in Milwaukee for some baseball on both the front and back end of that trip.
Wyoming: The Jackson Hole trip with the law firm colleagues. I think I’m still hungover. Those were some bad old days in a lot of ways, but the trip was a hell of a lot of fun. If for no other reason than I learned that I could survive not knowing how to ski down a black diamond run. The key is not caring how horrible you look and being zen about how many times you have to pick up all your shit after you wipe out in spectacular fashion.
So those are my travels across the country. To be continued.