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  SIX THINGS YOU DON'T KNOW ABOUT: IDAHO.  
   
   
 

Like many people hailing from arcane states, I have spent a lot of time defending my home turf against the ignorance that prevails in more populated parts. The typical encounter with someone, usually a provincial Easterner, who first realizes I'm from Idaho goes exactly like this:

"You're from Idaho?"

"Yes."

"So do you like potatoes?"

"Yes, can you spell potato?"

"Fuck you."

 

 
 

There are exceptions, of course. In France, my host family had never heard of Idaho, so I told them it's in the West. This prompted the question: "Are you a cowboy?" I had failed to recognize the cachet that image could have provided and they were quite disappointed that I did not ride a horse to school. To avoid the pointless explanations, now I tell foreigners Idaho is near California, which is only technically true but generally met with wide-eyed nods of approval. Then they ask if I'm a drug dealer.

To clear up the many misconceptions about Idaho, widely considered the least-cool western state by the ignorant masses, I felt compelled to mine a few nuggets about the Gem State.

 

#1. You Eat More Idaho Potatoes Than We Do.

Curiosity of curiosities! Irony of ironies! We don't eat Idaho potatoes!

For a state so justly famous for potatoes, it is sad that nary an Idahoan has eaten an actual Idaho potato unless it has first been sent to Pennsylvania to be processed and repackaged as instant mashed potatoes. The reason here is the same old bottom line that manages to screw the justice out of most situations -- the almighty dollar. It is more profitable to sell Idaho potatoes outside Idaho to large corporations like McDonald's and Ore-Ida. (Ore-Ida despite being a mash-up of "Oregon and Idaho" is actually a division of Heinz in Pittsburgh, Pa.) This creates a market vacuum within Idaho. We support potato farmers in Maine, Washington and California, where most of our potatoes come from.

And to think that the Maine potato farmers were originally so angry to be supplanted by Idaho's potato output. Never had they imagined that by some unforeseeable insouciance of market economics they would end up feeding the very farmers they'd previously blamed with stealing their livelihood. Never mind that the Maine 'peanut' fetches pennies on the dollar compared with the mighty Idaho #1 Russett Burbank, but they'd probably be better off sticking to fiddleheads.

 

#2. We Play Football on a Blue Field.

The mighty Broncos of Boise State University play on the world's only radical, other-worldly blue field. WHY??? The quality of color selection was affirmed by Mother Nature shortly after its installation in 1986 when passing flocks of migrating geese repeatedly landed in accidental mass suicides, apparently mistaking the field for a beautiful blue lake. Shortly thereafter the grounds keepers began covering the field when not in use, to prevent the aforementioned bird crash deaths and grisly clean-up efforts. No matter how many geese had to die, removing the beloved "Smurf Turf" was never considered. It was reinstalled in 1996, then replaced with identically colored AstroPlay synthetic grass in 2002.

With Smurf Turf in place, the Boise State football program has enjoyed a meteoric rise to dominance, ascending from the I-AA Big Sky conference to I-A superiority in the Western Athletic Conference in just eight short years -- a huge achievement. Over the last three years, Boise State has gone 33-6 -- 12-1 and 13-1 in the last two seasons -- averaging 42 points per contest. That's better than all three of the most recent National Champions USC (29-9), Ohio State (32-7), and LSU (31-9). Argue all you want that Boise State is in a weak conference. It's trash talk coming from BCS school riff-raff afraid to lose to a mid-major.

They know, as the facts show, that Boise State doesn't lose at home on the menacing blue field turf.

 

#3. Our Mountains Are Greater Than Our Plains.

Right after we've tabled the "potato conversation" the next thing people say about Idaho is how boring it must have been to grow up in the Midwest or how they have some cousin in Des Moines or

 
  Columbus and did I know them? No disrespect to Iowa or Ohio, and as much as I admire you corn-fed folks -- I'm from IDAHO. We're in the West, west of Montana even, a state widely recognized as being Western. QED. (For your learning convenience, I've included a map at right.) Above is a picture of Redfish Lake in central Idaho,    
 

because contrary to our reputation for Great Plains, we're in the Rocky Mountains. Right. Totally not at all in the Midwest.

 

#4. We're Not Self Important Assholes...

We don't mind being the butt of jokes ... as long as it keeps YOU out of OUR state.

Idaho could crow about how cool it is, sure. We could cash in on the Western thing, actively cultivating a fringe and spur-wearing image like Colorado. We could point out our notable contributions to contemporary Americana, the destination ski resort (Sun Valley), television, and the freeze dried vegetable, but that wouldn't be Idaho's style. We wouldn't want to attract the attention because we don't want you coming here to bask in our reflected glory and understated street cred.

To wit, Boise has grown from a hamlet of just over 100,000 to around 500,000 in my mere twenty years' association with the place. Most of that influx has come, literally, from the OC. Anyone caught lingering with California plates on their car will have their windows smashed with a rock wrapped in a note to the effect of "buzz off jerk," and not in those terms. There has also been the fierce proclamation, mostly via bumper sticker of "IDAHO NATIVE" which sort of implies that the rest should get out. Logically this would leave only a handful of Indians, excluding even the libertarian crackers who sport that propaganda, but then the idea is simplistic xenophobia which tends to fly in the face of logic. So long as it scares you off, we're doing our job.

 

#5. ... But We Have Our Share of Racist Assholes.


Idaho may be famous for potatoes, but we're more infamous for white supremacists, most notably the despised Aryan Nation. There are also some individual, high-profile bigots and separatists such as Mark Fuhrman, who retired to Idaho after his public humiliation during the O.J. Simpson trial, and Randy Weaver of the made for TV Ruby Ridge fiasco. Our representation in Washington, formerly headlined by Rep. Helen "Black Helicopters Are Chasing Me" Chenoweth, has done little to combat our reputation for being edgy, gun-wielding militants. (Check out Senator Larry Craig's 2003 gun industry immunity bill if you have any doubts about this, S.1806.)

Yet I must confess that I only know five or six white separatists myself, and one of them is Jewish so she doesn't really count. Plus which, most of them reside in the northern "panhandle" of the state which may as well be another state its so physically and politically cut-off from the southern center of population and thought. It may also surprise you to know that the Aryan Nation foundered in the late 1990s and in 2001 their Hayden Lake compound was purchased by a quirky Internet millionaire who plans to build a museum and human rights education center on the property. In another pro-humanity move, which might seem a little out of place, Boise is currently building its own Holocaust Memorial though Idaho's first Jew only arrived in the mid 1980s and quickly adopted the white separatist ideology to 'fit in,' or so she claims.

 

#6. We Love a Good Corporate Conflict.

The first example comes to us from the pre-Internet days of 1987. On November 23rd, Continental Airlines flight 1713 with service from Denver to Boise, flipped on take-off after the pilots and ground personnel failed to de-ice the wings. Included in the 28 fatalities on the tarmac that evening was nearly every important potato farmer in Idaho. What had started as a joyous and triumphant return from a Denver agricultural exposition (just the second plane ride for many involved) ended in a fiery calamity that rocked Idaho's potato community to the core. Many feared that the secrets those farmers

 
 

took to their untimely graves would be the undoing of the multi-billion dollar potato industry. I mean let's face it, potatoes don't grow on trees.

When Idaho sued Continental for suitable compensation, Continental responded by ending service to Boise. In their subsequent advertising campaign, boasting service to major cities* nationwide, the asterisk and small print at the bottom read something to the effect of *"Except Boise, besides, who would want to go there anyway?" How's that for a touch of class when a plain old "we're sorry" would have done the trick?

To this day Continental Airlines proper does not offer service into Boise, but will gladly accept money from people traveling there via code share partner Horizon Airlines.

The latest example involved AOL's 2003 kick-off of their new high-speed internet service, which

 
 

they launched with gala parties in New York and Los Angeles. Their ironic promotional materials for the event quipped in The New York Post: "You didn't think we'd launch something like this in Boise, did you?"

The mayor and the governor got involved and the next thing you know AOL was kissing our ass with a private launch party with free AOL gear (admittedly not that cool) and $25,000 in hush money paid to the Boise School District.

So next time a faceless corporation wants to stomp on a small town, bring it on! Idaho likes to tangle.

 

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