Have I told you about the night my Garmin GPS went kablooey in the Badlands of South Dakota, and I had to stop at a cowboy bar for directions?
I remember feeling relieved that I wasn't too much dressed the part of the city slicker. I was wearing a T-shirt, nicely-broken-in cargo shorts, running shoes and a ballcap. I don't think the no-socks-and-loafers look would have gone over too well with the regulars at the Horseshoe Bar.
Just the same, I found a spot in the gravel parking lot as far from the swinging door as I could. No need to publicize to the locals in their pickup trucks, with their mangy mutts riding loose in the cargo bed, that I was driving a late-model SUV with my pampered beagle nestled cozily on his fleece blanky in the shotgun seat.
Thank God I didn't have those stick figure decals that you see around here on every Range Rover and Tahoe and Suburban, announcing the precise makeup of your family: Mommy, Daddy, two girls, one boy, a baby, a dog, a cat. Can you imagine what those Dakota roughnecks would make of that?
At this point, I can claim a little touch and feel for how things work in the great middle stretches of the U.S. on the strength of my two separate monthlong cross-country-road-trips-with-beagle. (Round three is just around the corner, in September.) And one significant difference -- aside from average waist-size -- is the fact that the folks in South Dakota and Montana and Nebraska and West Virginia don't, as a rule, broadcast where it was that they got their education. Apparently, you don't get a lot of street cred out there in the fly-over states by flaunting your Alumnus of Oklahoma Panhandle State University sticker. Gun racks, yes. College decals, nuh-uh.
Let's face it: We Easterners wear our hearts on our sleeves. Or our windshields. Take a look at the parking lot in Balducci's. Duke University Mom. Save The Whales. Miss Porters School. Obama-Biden 2012. Alumnus Of Harvard Business School. I Brake For Chipmunks. Proud Parent Of An Honor Student At A Child's Garden Infant Toddler Day Care. Not to mention all those silhouetted figures that identify your son or daughter as a member of the lacrosse team or the field hockey team or the volleyball team.
And, of course, the ubiquitous family unit stick figures.
Lucky for me, I wasn't guilty of any of this over-the-top show-and-tell that night at the Horseshoe Bar in the Badlands. Well, maybe that's not entirely true. I guess I did have three decals proudly announcing the identity of my three sons' colleges on my rear windshield. Then there's the Staples Wreckers Football bumper sticker. And another bumper sticker for THE END -- the in-the-know moniker for our beloved Montauk. And a gold-and-black Beagle On Board decal. And ...
All right, all right. So I guess I'm just as guilty as the next Easterner.
But I still think the stick figures are stupid.
Hank Herman is a Westport writer, and "The Home Team" appears every other Friday. Hank's adventures with his dog, Ricky, can be followed on his blog "Beagle Man" on the Westport News website -- http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman/. Hank can be followed on Twitter @BeagleManHank and reached by email at DoubleH50@gmail.com.