I learned SUFO when I moved to Tokyo from New York City. At a bar full of after-work expatriates, an Englishman walked up to me and asked where I was from. I replied, “Columbus, Ohio.” He flopped both hands as if he were a soccer coach disgusted with a referee’s call and said, “You’re just a SUFO.” Before he could turn his back, I asked what it meant. A State You Fly Over.
Now I live in Singapore and find myself with another group of international expatriates. I learned from my Tokyo days to respond to the where-are-you-from question by saying, “I moved here from New York, but I’m originally from Ohio.” I am full of state pride and can no more forget my hometown than I can forget that Ohio is the mother of the most U.S. Presidents. Seven were born in the 17th state including a man who wasn’t but played one on TV, Martin Sheen (Dayton, 1940).
The Internationalists aren’t the only ones who’ve snubbed me. After I graduated from The Ohio State University, I moved to Washington, D.C. to work for an Ohio Congressman. Then I moved to New York City to work for an Ohio company. In both major cities I was often dismissed for being a state school graduate from the Midwest. My all-time favorite indifferent comment/question: “Ohio? Is that like Iowa?” I kept a diplomatic head because I was a face from the place. At OSU I was from Bexley. In D.C. and NYC I was a representation of an Ohioan. As in Tokyo, here on the island nation I am a mini ambassador of America. It is my self-appointed duty to represent my country and home state while promoting its benefits. Internationalists will soon learn new meaning to SUFO: A State You Frequent Often.
I understand the position of an Internationalist visiting America. It is so vast I cannot blame them for viewing the bulk of the nation from 35,000 feet in the air. Yet at that height it is easy to see why many Americans do not own passports. Everything a citizen desires in a vacation is within our borders: beaches, mountains, deserts, historical sites and shopping outlets. Sporting events give every state an arena for the home team and illustrates our sporting life. What I’ve learned from being a broad abroad is that team sports matter.
The unofficial world sport is football. Football, too, is America’s major sport. However, their football is our soccer and our football is uniquely American. We have several professional soccer clubs with international football players, including the Columbus Crew (founded 1994). As Frank Sinatra’s character Bennett Marco says in the 1962 The Manchurian Candidate, “Columbus is a terrific football town.” He may have been thinking about the Buckeyes, but look how terrific our football is now in 2011. Our national soccer league and our football may not play on the international field, but a Hollywood pitch does.
Hooray for Hollywood. Entertainment just might be the most important export and positive feature I have as a self-appointed U.S. diplomat. Internationalists love the cinema and its stars. Talking pictures makes good conversation and thanks to the father of the blockbuster, Steven Spielberg (Cincinnati, 1946), Ohio plays a starring role.
Hollywood’s heartland. We have bragging rights for the stars born in Ohio, including Clark Gable (Cadiz, 1901), Paul Newman (Cleveland Heights, 1925) and Sarah Jessica-Parker (Nelsonville, 1965). An honorary mark of distinction goes to Keanu Reeves for playing an Ohioan in Point Break and The Replacements. It’s one big walk of fame. Legends Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall picked Malabar Farms as the site of their wedding (Lucas, 1945). Ohio, Home of the Original Destination Wedding!
That’s entertainment. I can promote Ohio as the Location Vacation. Picture it: a road trip mapped by the backdrop the state has played in many well-loved movies. Rain Man (Cincinnati, 1988); Shawshank Redemption (Marysville and Lucas, 1994); and A Christmas Story (Cleveland, 1983). Days can be spent tracking the locations of The Deer Hunter (Cleveland, Youngstown, Struthers, Steubenville and Mingo Junction, 1978). George Clooney recently wrapped Ides of March (Cincinnati and Miami University). Ohio, Scout it Out!
Stand by. Hollywood is only the beginning to setting the stage that will elevate Ohio from a SUFO to a state people find outstanding. I can spotlight the Seven Wonders of the World in Ohio. Until then it remains the heart of it all for me, Madeline Acton Rae (Columbus, 1966). Ohio, Wonders are in View!