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Dr. Seuss died at the age of 87 on September 24, 1991.

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September 24, 2016

As you read this, I am in the great state of Mississippi. I’m here for my first ever SEC road trip, to see my adopted Georgia Bulldogs – adopted because I live in Athens and my boys are obsessed with Nick Chubb and tailgating already and because the Illini season is already over, though let’s be clear here: If Illinois and Georgia ever play each other, I’ll punch Hairy Dawg in the goddamned face – play the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford. The way the SEC schedule sets up, Georgia plays at Mississippi roughly every 12 years, and a good friend of mine is an Ole Miss guy, so screw it, let’s all go.

It’s a bummer that the game begins at 11 a.m. local time, but The Grove is supposedly a beautiful place and it’s going to be lovely out and jeez, it’s a full day of drinking and SEC football and all that comes with it, what, I’m not going to go? One of my goals for 2016 was to try to take more opportunities to see things and go places I’ve never seen or been before. That totally hasn’t happened – I’m chained to my laptop as much as ever – but this is an exception I’ve been looking forward to for months.

It is – and here’s the topic of this week’s newsletter – also the first time I have ever stepped foot in the state of Mississippi. I take a little bit too much pride in my United States travel. My wife and most of my friends have been all over the world, but growing up in Mattoon, and never much leaving Mattoon the first 18 years of my life, has made me find international traveling more intimidating than it actually is. I’d only been on an airplane once before college, and travel has thus always seemed like this exotic visit to unknown and unexplored lands. I’ve lived in five different states – Illinois, California, Missouri, New York and Georgia – and I’m always sort of amazed that I’ve been so lucky. The only countries I’ve ever been to: France, Canada, Argentina, Russia and Belize. I’ll never get to all the places my wife and most of my friends have been to. So I collect states.

Before we figure out how many states I’ve been to and how many I have left, it’s important to nail down what it means, exactly, to visit a state. This was a heated debate on Slate’s Political Gabfest a couple of years ago, and I’ll confess some strong opinions on the matter. Emily Bazelon thought simply driving through the state counted, or even just having a brief layover at an airport; John Dickerson believed getting out of your car was enough. But David Plotz shared my viewpoint: You have to do something.

The following things do not count as “being in a state:”

  • Driving through.
  • Stopping for gas.
  • Stopping to have a meal at a chain restaurant off an interstate before hopping right back in your car and driving on.
  • Having a layover at an airport but not leaving that airport.
  • Being in a bordering state and deciding, “when’s the next time I’m gonna make it back here? Better take a quick trip across the boarder to say I’ve been to [bordering state].”

This last one was a popular one at our wedding. My wife and I were married in Columbus, Georgia, which is a bridge walk away from Phenix City, Alabama. Thus, several New Yorkers who came, people who would never otherwise come near the South, decided to drive across state lines so they could say they were in Alabama. A couple of them even drank a beer in a gas station parking lot so they could claim the activity.

I appreciate the ingenuity, but I’ll confess I am not buying it. I think you need to do something. Doing something includes the following things:

  • Spending the night.
  • Attending a sporting event or concert.
  • Having a dinner with an old friend (as opposed to eating by yourself on a drive and then leaving).
  • Going for a run.
  • Visiting some sort of attraction, whether it’s a historical landmark, an amusement park or the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota. If you go do it, even if you’re just on a drive and stopping for a couple of hours, does count.

Point is: It requires actively engaging with the state that you are in. Just stepping foot in the place doesn’t count. You gotta do something.

So, my map. After this weekend’s trip to Mississippi, here’s my map. States I’ve been to are in blue, states I haven’t are in red.



(You can make your own map here.)

I’ve vacationed in Hawaii, I’ve seen a basketball game in Rhode Island, I’ve been to a wedding in Arkansas. (Shout out to Jim Cooke.) But all told: This map is kind of disappointing, right? I’ve missed Wyoming and Utah and all those frontier states, I’ve missed anything that’s too far away to border anything (Maine and Alaska, notably) and for some reason, I’ve missed Virginia entirely. I’m 40 years old and have left the country for a total of about 25 days. I should have a lot more states knocked off than this.

I do a lot of traveling these days, but it doesn’t feel like traveling. It feels like commuting. It feels like going around in a circle. I’m not sure what excuse I’m gonna find to go to Nebraska, or Idaho, or New Mexico. But I feel like I should find one.

Anyway, go Dawgs. Let’s make this Mississippi trip a productive one.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)

1. Lester Holt and the Problem of Refereering Donald Trump, Bloomberg Politics. This is a preview of Monday night’s Clinton-Trump debate that I hope hits on some interesting point, not that they’ve saved me from getting yelled at people on Twitter constantly for last 24 hours. Many yellers seem actively disappointed that I’m just a white Protestant guy. Narrows down their potential insults. I think “cuck” has ended up being the landing spot.

2. #GetReal, Sports Illustrated. I have a piece on Colin Kaepernick that’s not online but in the new issue, the one with this cover:


It is my first piece in Sports Illustrated and I was delighted to do it and it still feels sort of strange.

3. Where to Watch all 44 Denzel Washington Movies, Vulture. Seriously, all of the Spike Lee ones are fantastic.

4. Why Does Everyone Hate Jay Cutler So Much? Sports On Earth. Being an above average quarterback for 11 years in the NFL just doesn’t get you what it used to.

5. Will 2016 Actually Be the Year for the Chicago Cubs? Sports On Earth. I’m writing a Playoff Dossier on every MLB playoff, and unfortunately the Cubs were first.

6. The Wild-Card Game Has Had Plenty of Drama, Sports On Earth. All eight wild-card games, ranked. (Cards-Braves 2012, a.k.a., The Infield Fly Game, is No. 2)

7. The Magnificent Seven: How the West Was No Fun, The New Republic. The world’s first boring Denzel Washington performance.

8. Wild Card Makes All the Difference For Baseball, Sports On Earth. Or: Why You Shouldn’t Freak Out If Whoever Wins the NL Wild-Card Beats the Cubs. (People will still freak out.)

9. Which World Series-Winning Team Was the Best? Sports On Earth. 64 teams. That’s a lot.

10. What Colin Kaepernick’s Protest Says About the NFL, Bloomberg Politics. This is the writeup of our podcast, which returned this week!

11. Plenty of Teams Have a Shot at the MLB Postseason, Sports On Earth. The last of the monthly Playoff Odds Report pieces I have been doing all season.

As I say every week: If you are the sort to subscribe to a weekly newsletter, I would have to think it wouldn’t be too much of a hassle to subscribe to one of the four (!) podcasts I do. Here they are:

Grierson & Leitch, chatting about “Snowden,” “Blair Witch” and “Bullitt.”

The Will Leitch Experience, two podcasts this week, talking with former NFL player Nate Jackson, whose new book “Fantasy Man” is a good read. Also, Alyson Footer spent a whole five days with Tim Tebow in Florida. We discussed that pain.

Culture Caucus, and check it out, we actually did a show. John Heilemann and I talked Colin Kaepernick and CTE with Joe Lockhart, former Clinton press secretary who now works PR for the NFL. We don’t do this show often, but when we do, it’s good!

Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, recapping that amazing win over Missouri. I wasn’t on the Mississippi preview show, unfortunately.

Also, watch Pro Football Now right here.

That’ll do it for me. Everybody rooting for the Cardinals to make the playoffs, raise your hand.



Best,
Will

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