These United States: Yes, we know they're good. But who can we trust to tell us that?
States hire advertising firms to write magic sentence fragments to convince us that -- like the children of Lake Woebegone -- every state is above average. These slogans do offer some vague truth, though. Take the campaign to entice you to America's oven mitt with the slogan "Pure Michigan." It's beautifully gassy, endlessly adaptable, awkwardly ironic during a drinking water crisis. Yet it and other slogans (even state mottos, when states don't adopt slogans) serve a vital purpose. They motivate us to take a dang vacation, something Americans too often seem allergic to.
And we should go! I've been all around this woolly land: to two monster-truck rallies, three locations of a loose-meat sandwich chain, to the biggest nickel in the country. I've slept in parking lots and five-star hotels. I once used a urinal adjacent to Richard Dreyfuss, who continued to eat his peanut M&M's during intermission at the Broadway show Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. I've been e-ver-y-where, man, and I can tell you, a touch of accuracy -- even if it's brutally honest -- won't hurt us a bit. Your state can take it.
Current slogan: Sweet Home Alabama
In 2007, Governor and probable jukebox enthusiast Bob Riley chose a Lynyrd Skynyrd song title as the official tourist motto. Many point out racially charged, yet ambiguous lyrics in the song as cause for condemnation. Other people say the choice reflects his love of the 2002 Reese Witherspoon vehicle of the same title. Who's to know?
Better slogan: We Beat Your School in Football, and Your School Beat Our School at School
Current slogan: Find Your Alaska
Haven't you ever read Into the Wild, about the kid Chris McCandless, who died out in the Alaskan woods? He was trying to find "his Alaska" and died from eating some berries grown on YOUR LAND. Alaska, let's face it: You are trying to kill us, even if you make it look so damn sexy. Let's just meet in Canada and have a guide show me the nice parts of your state.
Better slogan: You'll Be All Alone When You Die in the Snow
Current slogan: The Grand Canyon State
Too obvious! You have a GRAND Canyon. We all know that. No reminder necessary. Also, don't act like you can take credit for it -- a slow trickle of water, over what must've been dozens of years, did you that favor. If anything, thank Colorado for sending its river to rock your world.
Better slogan: So Hot You'll Forget How Sweltering It Is
Current slogan: The Natural State
The state's tourism hawkers list eight things as must-try activities. The one most Arkansans try at some point in their lives: getting away from Arkansas. Favorite son/author Charles Portis, of True Grit fame, had a character in Dog of the South say: "A lot of people leave Arkansas and most of them come back sooner or later. They can't quite achieve escape velocity." For some reason this patch of woods and bean fields packs in all the gravity of Neptune. Natural, sure, but otherworldly at the very least.
Better slogan: You'll Be Back Sooner or Later
Current slogan: Dream Big
Everyone's Plan B Since 1849 would've been too unwieldy. Cali has always been where people play the lottery with their futures. Techies in Silicon Valley, Iowans right off the bus in Hollywood, clandestine pot growers in Humboldt County, and even -- with obviously different circumstances -- the migrant farmers in the Central Valley. The big dream of California chews up the best of us, but once you're gnawed and spat, there's no finer place to give up on dreams than California. Sun, fun, and similarly unsuccessful, insecure, attractive people abound.
Better slogan: We Pay Cash for Youth
Current slogan: Come to Life
Colorado is that weird, yet popular kid in high school, who fit in with every clique but wasn't BFFs with anyone. They transferred into your school sophomore year, so, not knowing her background, you could read into whatever qualities you needed. Colorado can be the ideal for cowboys, pilots, ski hippies, rock climbers, professors, Christians, atheists, Zen practitioners, the idly rich. And anyone who wants to partake in legal edibles while watching sunsets 14,000ft up the side of a mountain.
Better slogan: Where People Walk for Fun
Current slogan: Still Revolutionary
That first revolution was a hit, sure, but what have you revolutionized lately? Night tennis? Glow-in-the-dark golf balls? Gin and tonics as a treatment for malaise instead of malaria? The season of "fall" as your big marketing push? Look, tell you what. Those designer sweatpants you're wearing aren't going to change the world, but I dare say that paying $200 for them might.
Better slogan: Divorce Is Expensive, but You Can Afford It
Current slogan: Endless Discoveries
Thousands of corporations store those "Endless Discoveries" in filing cabinets and hard drives all across a state that hosts more corporate formation filings than its human population. In fact, "Endless Discoveries" should be a legal term, not a tourism slogan. But as home to Seaford, the Nylon Capital of the World, Delaware also knows what's up. It's the state version of James Spader in Secretary.
Better slogan: My Lawyers Will Contact You Shortly
Current slogan: Florida First
Want to know what beach Pitbull rates as the "sexiest"? Neither do I, but Florida's tourism board places this interactive app front and center on its website. Now, we've all heard enough negative things about Florida, the final resting place of Queens residents and democracy alike, so let's unpack the good stuff. The beaches are beautiful. The water is kinda sublime. And somewhere, every day of the year, someone is dumping cold water down the front of a white T-shirt while Trick Daddy plays over blown-out speakers.
Better slogan: You'll Probably See Nipples
Current slogan: Georgia on My Mind
The home of Coca-Cola, peach pie, trap hip-hop, and indie-rock jams, Georgia plays a role as a modern Southern melting pot. R.E.M., the B-52's, and the Elephant Eight (featuring Neutral Milk Hotel, among others) called Athens home. For the love of Miss Colombia, the Family Feud host Steve Harvey lives there most of the year. They film The Walking Dead outside of Atlanta. This state's slogan is already, weirdly, quite accurate.
Better slogan: Peaches, Beaches!
Current slogan: The Islands of Aloha
Actually the most hardcore of destinations. It's a land built by lava, thousands of miles away from help. A land where people still eat SPAM as a mainstay. A land of Los Angeles traffic on Louisiana-quality roads. But then you stay a week. The Mai Tais slowly replace the blood flowing through your veins. The gorgeous sunsets and bath-temperature water cure your mainland worries. You learn how to pronounce "poke" and then eat it twice a day. It’s amazing there's such a thing as a return flight from this place, it's so ridiculously nice.
Better slogan: If Elvis Is Alive He's Probably Here Somewhere
Current slogan: Famous Potatoes
Home of the famous tuber, as well as a place named "Hells Canyon," which any state but Arizona would trade up for. Snake River Canyon, one of Idaho's many other canyons, also lays claim to a spectacular Evel Knievel fail. He crashed a rocket car onto the canyon floor, nearly dying as a result. Hashtag children of the '70s.
Better slogan: Survivable, With a Helmet
Current slogan: Are You Up for Amazing?
Downstate looks exactly like what you'd expect of the land bridge between Indiana and Iowa. Now, obviously a lot of great things come from boring places -- most of the food we eat, for instance, and many of the grandparents we ignore -- but why go with the word "Amazing"? No doubt, exaggerations like this lured hundreds of single daughters and sons from their homelands and into the Illinois plains, but it won't work anymore, Illinois -- we have the internet now, and we've seen your profile pic.
Better slogan: Chicagoland
Current slogan: Honest to Goodness Indiana
Every child of the '80s and '90s remembers that fine Indiana city of Terre Haute, our pen pal with benefits, as the fulfillment center the Columbia House Record Club. Remember the ads for 12 cassettes or CDs for 99 cents, folded into every magazine ever? Course you do. They taught you that 1) some things are too good to be true, and, conversely, 2) nothing happens if you don't pay bills.
Better slogan: Larry Bird
Current slogan: Fields of Opportunity
Q: What's an Iowa traffic jam? A: When everyone at a four-way stop insists someone else go first.
Better slogan: Humidity? That's Just Corn Sweat.
Current slogan: There's No Place Like Kansas
Kansas is a snowflake, says Kansas; no two Kansai (plural for Kansas, I assume) are alike. Also, no state more so depends on its association with a decades-old movie. You can take at least 16 different "Yellow Brick Road Trips," including a seedy-sounding "Couples Retreat." But, c'mon. The actual yellow brick road was in Oz. More accurate would be 16 different houses that let you ride through tornadoes.
Better slogan: Last in Hills, First in Your Bracket
Current slogan: Unbridled Spirit
Bridles -- those S&M-friendly leather masks worn by horses so we can better control them -- are vital to the passion of Kentucky: horse racing. The slogan might as well be "Fried Chicken We Forgot to Cook," "Tobacco Drying in a Barn," or "Pouring Bourbon Down the Drain." An unbridled horse is useless, unless you want to write a poem about something useless.
Better slogan: If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say, Sit Over There, Far Enough Away, but Speak Loudly Enough So I Can Hear It
Current slogan: Pick Your Passion
Home to the original Sin City, Louisiana really does have it all -- and you have to give the state credit for making a comeback after the double blow of a hurricane and an oil spill. Louisiana is the Rocky Balboa of states. The Timex watch of states. The Little Bead-Throwing Engine That Could. The place where you can get drive-thru margaritas. It's sort of an inverted Iowa, a state you visit for three days and decide you could never live there, because you'd take 20 years off your own life.
Better slogan: We Serve Drive-Thru Margaritas
Current slogan: Discover Your Maine Thing
Maine is lobstermen on boats, cold and wet, despite their rubber coats and boots, and woodsmen chopping trees, cold and wet, despite their flannels and overalls, and Stephen King, cold and wet, sleeping upside down from a barn rafter. The roads to and between towns are always shut down because God either hates them or thinks Mainers REALLY LOVE snow, so, unable to visit the grocery store, people subsist on tins of tomato soup half of the year. "Huddling under blankets by the fire" ranks highly as a favorite on Tinder -- oh wait, there's no way you're getting LTE out there. But it's not without its romance.
Better slogan: Preview of the Apocalypse
Current slogan: More Than You Can Imagine
This current campaign is actually not bad for a state whose finest cultural exports include: the Blair Witch disappearing people in the woods; Snoop and Chris Partlow disappearing dead bodies into boarded-up houses with tarps and quicklime until Lester Freamon could crack the case; and Michael Phelps, Medal Hoarder. Seems like an overreach to tell me how much imagination I have, but I get it, Maryland. You're literally how Delaware morphs into West Virginia. You contain multitudes.
Better slogan: Don't Need a Special Shampoo to Get Rid of Our Crabs
Current slogan: It's All Here
Bostoners are comfortably overweight and look jolly enough in their Lands' End. But a sad form of Napoleon complex roils beneath the layers of fleece and oxford broadcloth. Boston's a small town, where not many people live. Instead, if you're a Bostoner, you hunker in suburbs. You think you're better than most of the country, but you still have to have a car and decide whether you send your kids to boarding school or public school or move to Wyoming so you can play a geographical diversity card on their doomed Harvard applications in 2023.
Better slogan: Time to Get on Your High Horse
Current slogan: Pure Michigan
Michigan takes a lot of pride in its very shape, a high-five that Canada forever left hanging. But Michigan's also proud of its perpetual comebacks. Downtown Detroit is so tough its greatest landmark is a massive, hanging bronze statue of Joe Louis' fist.
Michigan also knows how to chill, though. Check out one of Michigan's great beach towns, or Sleeping Bear Dunes, where you can sit on one of Lake Michigan's beaches, listen to some Jimmy Buffett, play in the frigid water, and shiver.
Better slogan: You Can Buy a House With a Promise to Mow the Lawn
Current slogan: Land of 10,000 Lakes
Here's a summary of the official tourism bureau’s top 10 things to do in Minnesota: 1) check out produce, 2) drink, 3) drive around, and 4) just, you know, have fun. There are more -- I forget them, but assume one is digging your car out of a snow drift.
Minnesotans are famously nice. They have to be, because, during the winters, they constantly live in space station-like close quarters. And because everyone is still lobbing Fargo accents at them after all these years.
Better slogan: Land of More Lakes Than Anyone Seriously Bothered to Count
Current slogan: Feels Like Coming Home
The state famous for being the first "difficult" word children learn how to spell also claims to be home of the blues. The devil might have gone down to Georgia once, but he lived in Mississippi. He tuned guitars and taught blues lessons at a crossroads in exchange for souls. Also of note: Mississippi proudly claims as its own the International Checker Hall of Fame, really stretching the definition of "fame."
Better slogan: We Can't Believe They Named That Whole River After Us!
Current slogan: Where the Rivers Run
It's got an arch? So what, McDonald's has TWO, and over 36,000 locations. How many locations does Missouri have? One. Only one. Trust me, I double-checked. And come on, slogan-makers, all rivers run. If they didn't they'd be lakes.
Better slogan: Where Christian Talk Radio Comes to Life
Current slogan: Big Sky Country
Cowboys, glaciers, and no speed limits: Montana may quietly be the coolest state in America, like a chilly Texas without the Texans. Unfortunately, things are changing. The lure of federal funding means the glory days of testing what exactly it means to put the "pedal to the metal" are over, with regulation imposing regular highway speed limits. The cowboys mostly just keep cattle for the tax breaks. And the glaciers at Glacier National Park are melting. Pretty soon it's just going to be scree and bears. You should go there sooner than later.
Better slogan: No Limits… That We Enforce Much
Current slogan: Visit Nebraska. Visit Nice.
My friend Chris is one of the nicest people I've ever met, and I think he might come from Nebraska. That said, he doesn't really talk about it, and I don't think he's been back in a while.
But he's really nice -- just had a baby. He'll make a great dad.
Better slogan: My Friend Chris Was Born Here
Current slogan: A World Within. A State Apart.
Nevada's slogan sounds like something Donald Trump whimpers in his sleep. Melania just wants to know "Within" what? And "Apart" from what? But she's afraid of the answers, as are we all.
Better slogan: Fear and Self-Loathing
Current slogan: Live Free or Die
Noted Newshire artists include the poet Robert Frost, novelist John Irving, and punk-rock legend GG Allin. Most remember Allin for defecating on stage during concerts. He promised to commit suicide someday while performing, but didn't follow through. Instead, he died of a heroin overdose. Frost probably wore a lot of tweed. Irving set many of his novels at the noted boarding school and sexual playground Phillips Exeter Academy.
Better Slogan: Live Free, Indeed!
Current slogan: The Garden State
It's a fact that no new building may be constructed in Jersey without a live human being buried in the concrete foundation. Jersey is home to what's known as "The Flavor Corridor." Likely where your favorite seasoning was "max'd to the Xtreme with a ranch tornado," the strip of labs and factories along the Jersey Turnpike is a food-science nerd's kingdom. Some of those nerds credit their innovations to boosts of pleasure hormones and positive physical stimulation. Eugene, why are you holding that clipboard over your crotch?
Better slogan: Born Under a Bad Sign With a Blue Moon in Your Eyes
Current slogan: Adventure That Feeds the Soul
New Mexico represents many things to all kinds of different weird aunts. There's the weird aunt who wears a pink visor and a tennis outfit every day. The one who's into ceramics and gives them as gifts. And there's the one whose conversion van is full of her own Navajo designs. They all like to take "hikes" -- more like walks with elbows out -- and complain about stinging eyes every time their boyfriends of the month make their Hatch chile hot sauce.
Better slogan: So Much More Than You Saw on AMC
Current slogan: I (Heart) NY
NY's slogan is perfect for a state that... well, it's not that it doesn't like you. It only really thinks of itself. But New York City is the great equalizer: rats eat pizza, Wall Street fat cats eat pizza, homeless people grab a slice every once in a while, poor students subsist completely on dollar slice joints. As long as you don't use a knife and fork to eat it, you'll be fine. Even the pizza rat knew that.
Better slogan: I'm Walking Here!
Current slogan: First in Flight
Still coasting on the ol' Wright brothers, eh? Come on, Carolina, get it together. You're a beautiful state -- home to mountains, rivers, one of the world's biggest chairs, a whirligig museum -- hell, you've even got the world's largest functional frying pan.
Time a trip to Carolina right and you can check out that killer action at the National Hollerin' Contest. Cap your shouting with a taste of a local favorite soda, Cheerwine. For all the taste of cough syrup, plus a lot more sugar, without the medical benefits.
Better slogan: First Loop on the Bible Belt
Current slogan: Start Your Journey to Legendary
Are you a roughneck battle-ax of a man, looking to make mad money in a short amount of time, and don't care about working conditions, living conditions, or the environment? Step right up to shale country! Oh, wait -- that was 2011. We fracked too much and crashed the market for hydrocarbons. Whoops.
Better slogan: Go Back Home Now
Current slogan: Find It Here
This is the helpful slogan of a mom-and-pop hardware store, and for Ohio, it fits. You need an extension cord? Find it here. You need motion-sensor outdoor lighting? Find it here. You need a massive state university where the coolest S.O.B. on campus is the senior tuba player who dots the "i" when the marching band spells the state's name on the field? Find it here, and while you're here, check out this week's special on mulch.
Better slogan: Absolutely Worth Leaving Indiana For
Current slogan: Native America
The founders of modern Oklahoma, as we know it, are Curly McLain and Laurey Williams, who in the midst of an torrid love triangle with embittered Jed, resulted in a not-guilty murder verdict, statehood for Oklahoma, and over 2,000 contiguous Broadway performances.
Better slogan: Not the Musical, but Similar!
Current slogan: We Like It Here. You Might Too.
This slogan fits. It feels like the Patagonia fleece your mom gave you before sophomore year of college. Eleven years later, it's still in the closet, soft and ready for cold seasons. It's the one you wore almost every day that first winter and, in February, to a Dave Matthews concert.
Now, you wouldn't normally attend a Dave Matthews Band concert, but one of your friends tricked you into attending alongside his girlfriend's friend.
The next thing you know, the girl -- who is nice, but, not your thing, much like Oregon -- spoons you from behind. She's "Crashing Into You" with her hips, with every beat, and we haven't even had a beer, 'cause we just graduated from high school and are nerds.
Better slogan: Give Portland a Rest Already
Current slogan: Pursue Your Happiness
Did you ever visit Philadelphia as a child and get dragged to the King of Prussia Mall? You expected it to be just like your local mall, but no! It was a wonderland, multiple wings of retail, cinema, and arcade delights. It's what you imagined heaven might be like before you experienced your first orgasm.
Elsewhere, Pennsylvania boasts one hell of an Amish country. Despite their puritanical approach to everyday living, one longstanding tradition remains: Rumspringa. This extended period of absence from their communities truly allows Amish and Mennonite teenagers to see the world, absent of the typical restrictions and restraints. At the end of their Rumspringa -- essentially a more philosophical extended spring break -- the young adults can choose to "pursue their happiness" in their religious communities, or agree to remain in the outside world, to keep hanging out at the King of Prussia Mall.
Better Slogan: Anyone Want Pittsburgh?
Current slogan: The Ocean State
The state motto remains the default here, after a fracas in early 2016 over a new slogan, "Rhode Island: Cooler and Warmer," led to the state's top marketing officer resigning. But "Ocean State" has an illustrious history. Few know it, but "Ocean State" was the original title for the 1995 Kevin Costner movie eventually retitled Waterworld. The setting of the film is in the distant future, although no exact date was given. The most expensive film ever made at the time, Waterworld received mixed reviews, but most blame Costner's performance for tanking the film, which flopped at the box office. The film was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Sound at the 68th Academy Awards. At no point in the film is the state of Rhode Island mentioned.
Better slogan: You Probably Know an Underachiever Who Went to Brown
Current slogan: Smiling Faces. Beautiful Places.
It's as if South Carolina saw South Dakota's slogan and said, "Hmmm, looks good to us."
One of South Carolina's beautiful places is ostensibly the state's highest peak, Sassafras Mountain. The trek up this dirt hill is not for the faint of heart. In fact, the peak lies slightly over 300ft from the parking lot and is handicap accessible, so be prepared to see people in wheelchairs. People in wheelchairs with smiling faces.
Better slogan: Bill Murray's Around Here Somewhere
Current slogan: Great Faces. Great Places.
South Dakota, named after actress Dakota Fanning, toes the line with this slogan. Sure, it references the one thing we already know about the state, Mount Rushmore, truly one of the most insane endeavors ever completed in our country. But it's really not kidding about Sioux Falls. That place is, like, great.
Better slogan: Technically, Everywhere Is a Place
Current slogan: Sounds Good to Me
What a passive slogan, Tennessee. You might as well put a "Meh" at the beginning. Or "I Guess" at the end. Lean in, Tennessee! Shake what your mama gave ya!
Better slogan: Mountains, Music, and Moonshine
Current slogan: It's Like a Whole Other Country
In any city in Texas, you'll meet rich folk and poor folk, all of whom are capable of spitting from both sides of their mouth, not just through the middle, like people from everywhere else.
Better slogan: Get Brisket and Ask for the Wet End
Current slogan: Greatest Snow on Earth!
Utah, solid guy. Your friend who doesn't even have a widescreen and everyone watches the game at his house anyway? That's Utah. An all-around good dude, that Utah, just a real straight shooter.
Better slogan: We're Keeping the Bees Alive
Current Slogan: Vermont, Naturally
What to make of Vermont? Maple syrup, bone-cold winters, Ben & Jerry's, which continues to churn out great, funky ice cream despite being acquired by conglomerate Unilever, a company that also manufactures Marmite and AXE body spray.
Vermont is a place where people go to grow old and wise over the course of a week-long backpacking hike. It's a place with a guru on every mountaintop, who'll tell you the meaning of life, but then she'll want to play Hacky Sack and smoke a bowl with you. This was totally worth the $1,000 you spent to buy boots, a sleeping bag, a tent, and a tiny fold-up stove you couldn't figure out how to turn on.
Better Slogan: Liberals Who Actually Drive Stick
Current slogan: Virginia Is for Lovers
Everyone who lives in Virginia is a spy, FBI agent, congressperson, or general all-time best lover. That means Virginia contains a hotbed of sexy swingers. The state has such an extraordinary amount of pent-up non-monogamous, sex-positive energy, it doesn't allow its governors to serve consecutive terms in office. Never stop playing the field, Virginia.
Better slogan: Wink, Wink
Current slogan: Washington: The State
While it is important to differentiate between the District of Columbia and the state, it's a pretty low bar.
What about adding a little font magic:
- WASHINGTON: The State
- Washington: The State?
- Washington: A State.
- Or maybe an anagram: "A Tan Teat's Showing"
Better slogan: Don't Ask About Kurt Cobain -- We Have Pinot Noir Now!
Current slogan: Wild, Wonderful West Virginia
According to its tourism website, West Virginia is a place to make childhood memories. Slightly blurry, distant memories that likely end in a trip to the ER, which turn out to be pretty great memories after all, when you're taking off your shirt and answering onlookers' questions about those wild, wonderful surgical scars criss-crossing your torso.
Better slogan: Only Makes You Stronger
Current slogan: Stay Just a Little Bit Longer
The slogan of a party dying at 11:30pm. Your primary form of hat is a foam piece of cheese, apparently, so how do you guys not throw fun parties? Can that be true? If so, here's a table of average monthly high and low temps in Milwaukee, so you'll have something to keep the party going till 11:45 or so:
Better slogan: You Have to Stay a Little Longer -- Your Flight's Been Canceled Due to Inclement Weather
Current slogan: That's Wyoming
I always appreciate the humble tourism slogans. "This is who we are, no more, no less. Love us, or leave us."
I imagine Wyoming as a Gold Rush-era, half-renovated wooden opera house, hosting a teenaged cello virtuoso. She plays Bach, Sonata in G & D minor. A few passing cowboys remove their hats out of respect, stopping into the theater because they heard beauty and couldn't help their curiosity. They shed tears of amazement that leave clean streaks down their dusty, chapped cheeks. "Ain't never heard a fiddle like that," one says. The rest nod, look at the floor, and sniff, once, real hard.
Better slogan: Almost Nothing Lives Here
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