Western Civilization


Masha Gessen: We moved to Boston, not the smiliest city in this country.

Tyler Cowen: Quite the contrary.


Summer brought me to Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, and Washington state, and I was once again reminded how much more pleasant people are when they’re not in the Northeast.

I was chatting [see? Even he’s nicer – ed.] with the lady at the counter of the estimable Kilgore Books in Denver when she asked me what Massachusetts was like. I said I supposed it was fine, but that I was wearied by the winters and by – how shall I put this – the sense that, generally speaking, residents of the Commonwealth are not overly preoccupied with excluding discourtesy from daily interaction.

A few days beforehand I’d been in Chicago, at (the estimable) Myopic Books. I’d asked where the Music section was, and was directed there by the clerk. A few minutes later she came over because she just wanted to make sure I knew the section started on another bookshelf. Afterwards I walked up the road to a brewpub and ordered a pilsner. The bartender said they were out, so I asked for an IPA instead. When I was paying the check, she told me that she’d been mistaken – they’d actually had pilsner – and she insisted I not pay for my beer.

Now, I’m not saying either would never have occurred in Boston. But neither is it unimaginable that in Boston such interactions would proceed to threats of injury.

It was in Port Orchard, Washington, however, that I had my most curious exchange.

I’d gone out there to put the old man next to his brother. It was my first big trip solo with the girls, and my packing job persistently revealed omissions. So I found myself in a 7-Eleven buying hair elastics. And the cashier asked:

“You ever crack a rib?”

NB he asked this in the spirit of inquiry, not – à la Boston – to indicate such service might be imminently rendered.

Funnily enough, I had, several days before, wondered if I’d cracked a rib. I was sitting in my chair and stupidly decided to lean over and attempt to move this beast:

He said he thought he might have cracked one of his, but that he was reading a Cormac McCarthy book in which the protagonist, though seriously wounded, kept at it, so he figured he could show up for work.

I told him I’d used the same logic – if Chuck Yeager could break the sound barrier with two broken ribs, I could probably go teach middle school.

We two tough guys bade each other’s rib cages health, as I do now, Gentle Reader, to you and yours.