5 x 8: What’s so special about where you live?

1) VISITING THE FUTURE OF AMERICA

James Fallows of The Atlantic and APM’s Marketplace have started a project to document smaller American cities with important and/or interesting economic, technological, political, or cultural stories to tell. He’s been flooded with suggestions in the last week because when you get right to the bottom line, people love where they live and want others to love it too.

Fallows and his wife’s “road trip” is by air; they bought a small plane several years ago.

You learn odd things through this kind of travel. For instance, America-by-air, from a low enough altitude to notice the details, abounds in three things you’re not as conscious of from the ground: windmills, quarries, and prisons. (It’s easy to spot prisons from the air. And every visitor to America, from at least Dickens onward, has remarked on their abundance.) And on each trip, we’ve spent time in places we would never otherwise have visited and perhaps not known about — Red Oak, Iowa; Scottsbluff, Nebraska; Twin Falls, Idaho. Each time we have felt as if we had learned things about the realities, good and bad, of American life, that we wouldn’t have known without traveling.

Fallows’ first swing will include Austin, Minn., Sioux Falls, S.D. (the first story has already aired; Sioux Falls has an unemployment rate that’s too low), and Duluth. Here’s a map of places people have suggested.

It’s interesting to read the pitches people send. “The community’s well deserved appreciation of Waffle House,” a North Carolina resident notes.

“One of those United Way style “thermometer” signs was erected on the courthouse lawn (right by where they hold the Friday night concerts and Saturday morning farmer’s market in the warm months) to keep track of progress,” says Kirksville, Missouri.

“We’ve just opened our third Wal-Mart and of course, like many smaller cities, our local retailers are becoming an endangered species.” Las Cruces, New Mexico reports.

See? What people think is special in their town isn’t often that unusual, which is likely to be the most fascinating part of the exercise.

Discussion: What’s so special about where you live? I’ve got one of these newfangled planes, too. Introduce me and I’ll come visit if Fallows ignores you.

2) ERNIE AND WELDON

Earlier this month, I told you the story of Ernie Crippen, the Bemidji native and former Navy Seabee who was planning to meet Weldon Sherrard, with whom he served nearly 70 years ago. Mission accomplished, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reports. They met last week in Iowa City.

“To me, Weldon is just like family,” Crippen said.

“We knew each other, sort of, but we came back and went our own ways,” Sherrard said. “Then Ernie came to the first special reunion, … and that was that.”

“It’s kind of that time in life when it’s important to make those old connections,” Crippen’s daughter in law said. “You don’t know when and if you can again.”

3) FROM TEE TO SHINING TEE

Luke Bielawski made it. The 24-year-old law school student from Indiana has hit a golf ball from one side of America to another, Steve Hartman reports. He began golfing across America in California in May, and hit his final shot — number 46, 806 — into the Atlantic Ocean on a beach in South Carolina. He’s been raising money for high school scholarships.

His mother, Julie, wasn’t too keen on the idea at first, she writes on her blog.

“What if you’re attacked by an animal or bitten by a rattlesnake? What if you’re on someone’s property and they come running after you with a gun? What if you hit a car? What if a car hits you?! What if you run out of fuel or breakdown in the middle of nowhere (the desert) and have no cell service? What if we can’t find you? What if you get sick or hurt and can’t get help?”

But she found out what many others who try these sorts of across-the-country trips find out: People are good:

The first person in Ventura, CA who stopped on the street to give Luke a $20.00 bill. The owners and staff of Crystal Air Country Club in Llano, CA who gave the team a place to camp, dinner for all of us and bungalows for Joe, Meaghan and me. Mandy, her twin boys and Father on the driveway of their farm in East Texas whose 10 minute introduction and discussion resulted in a generous donation. The staff of many golf courses and churches who welcomed Luke and the team and allowed them to make camp and spend the night in their parking lots. All those along the way who prayed for the safety of Luke and the team. The many donors who have generously contributed to the cause.

Young Luke raised more than $100,000 for underprivileged kids to attend school.

More golf: Rather than go to college when he graduated from high school a few years ago, Dylan Dethier went golfing instead — to each of the lower 48 states. In Minnesota, he sprinted through a soggy, snow-soaked course to get his 18 holes in before he froze solid, he tells NPR’s Scott Simon.

Or go by air:
Amber Nolan is traveling the country by hitching rides with pilots. She’s made it to Fargo.

4) MAYBE IT’S BEST TO KEEP DRIVING

A man in an SUV got into an accident in Duluth over the weekend when he hit some construction equipment and rolled over. Several Good Samaritans stopped to help. He stole one of their cars.

5) THE BOSS THE REST OF US WANT

Summer is a slow month in the ad business, but, still, this KARE story is likely to make some people think twice about their chosen career. An ad agency in Minneapolis is paying its employees to go do whatever they want. “You have 500 hours of your life back, figure out what you’re passionate about and go and do it,” the agency’s president says.

The employees couldn’t choose “do nothing.”

“If the only thing that comes out of it is that everyone got time to do great things and have an amazing four months which are the best times of their lives then that would be well worth it,” the ad exec says.

How are things in your cubicle?

Bonus I: Don’t boycott Russia’s Olympics, raise the rainbow flag instead: Joe Schlesinger (CBC News)

Bonus II: The State Fair opens this week. I’ll be doing a few volunteer shifts in the MPR store. Stop by and say “hello” and let me take your picture.

Thursday 8/22 – 1-9 p.m.
Friday 8/23 – 1-5 p.m.
Thursday 8/29 – 1-9 p.m.
Sunday 9/1 – 12 p.m. I’ll be hosting a Q&A with the MPR news boss.

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour:Following the Detroit Bankruptcy filing, Moody’s credit agency announced they will reexamine the pressure unfunded public pensions have on a city’s credit rating. That could make it harder for cities to borrow money for much needed infrastructure repairs. What are the problems facing public pensions and what can be done about them? And do young workers count the benefit as a dealbreaker when looking for a job?

Second hour: Minnesota’s rural hospitals.

Third hour: The path to green energy.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Ray Suarez hosts an America Abroad special: The Global Water Challenge.

The Takeaway (1-2 p.m.) – TBA

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Historical treasures are buried in the archives of libraries around the country. Maps, diaries, rare photographs, out-of-print books. And there’s a project underway to make them available to everyone. NPR will have the story of the Digital Public Library of America.