Notes From the Heartland

There's the west coast, the east coast.

And then there's the "real America."

Two stories coming my way make perfect sense if you live in, say, California. They make no sense if you live in, oh, Nebraska.

The first story suggests Americans are more stressed about their finances. The Consumer Reports Trouble Tracker Index has hit 58.7, its third rise in a month, and way up from 53.4 a year ago.

The other "indicator": The American Society of Plastic Surgery says its members performed over 13 millions cosmetic surgery procedures last year, a five percent jump.

People are stressed, and so they spend what money they still have to look less stressed? Certainly I see that in California.

Not in Nebraska.

I'm traveling through the Cornhusker state today, talking to farmers who are deciding whether to plant corn or soybeans.

They're going to make money either way. They're not stressed.

And, by the looks of it, these folks are about as familiar with Botox as they are with eating tofu.

It always does me good to get out and about. This morning, as the car thermometer said -8, I showed up at farmer Jason Kvols house dressed as Nanook of the North. He came out to meet me wearing only a shirt, jeans, and socks, holding his barefoot 9-month-old daughter, Emma.

Just when I thought I was toughening up.

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CNBC

Check out this photo taken of me inside a local coffee shop. I'm wearing three shirts, tights, jeans, snowpants and boots. The local women behind me are in ankle socks and lightweight athletic gear.

On the upside, the colder the temps, the warmer the welcome.

People here are nice as only Midwesterners can be. Not just nice to me, but to each other.

Managers at the Holiday Inn Express where I'm staying took over the eating area to throw a Valentine's lunch for their cleaning ladies today, complete with cake and cookies. I've never seen anything like that.

In my case, even the police turned out to be nice. Last night my crew and I drove 550 miles from Gillette, Wyoming, to Norfolk, Nebraska. I took the last leg. Thirty miles from our destination, at 12:30am, I was driving on a dark road through some town whose name I can't remember. Suddenly, I saw flashing lights behind me.

Dang. Not again (yes, this has happened before).

The deputy who pulled me over told me I was going "66 in a 50 zone". I pointed out there was a speed limit sign ten yards ahead of me which said 65. Well, that's the speed limit in ten yards. I didn't argue. He wanted to know where we were coming from and was impressed with our long drive. Had we been drinking? No. He saw my California license, and I thought I was a goner.

Ten minutes later he came up and said, "I'm going to let you off with a warning..." I could've kissed him. Instead of making some easy money off me, he decided to be neighborly.

I don't see that very often in California. Maybe it has something to do with the weather...

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