With deficits and taxes growing larger than a sperm whale (um, that's our state animal), our governor decided to spend $22 million to rebrand and market Connecticut abroad as a tourist destination.
At first glance, it seems excessive.
Then you reflect deeply and frankly about this place I call home -- and you see the light.
That's NOWHERE near enough money to undo centuries of work to make Connecticut the most generic of the Northeastern states.
Consider our state bird: the ubiquitous American robin. State song: "Yankee Doodle." Our seat of government: Hartford -- The Insurance Capital of the World.
Welcome, stranger, to the Land of Steady Habits. We are bland; hear us snore.
The four (four!) agencies the state hired for this job must be real Mad Men. Look at our competition just in New England:
- Vermont's a crunchy life of skiing and maple syrup.
- New Hampshire proclaims "Live Free or Die" when not in the presidential primary spotlight.
- Maine is synonymous with lobster.
- Massachusetts has Pilgrims, Bunker Hill, Kennedys, Hahvad Yahd, etc.
- Even without its legendary music festivals, Rhode Island still has the distinction of being the tiniest state of them all.
But try to define Connecticut.
Long Island Sound? Maybe if it wasn't for, oh, …the NAME
Mystic Seaport? Not quite a Boston Harbor tea party.
Mark Twain? Lived and wrote in Hartford for decades but he is forever associated with Huck, Tom and the South.
His neighbor Harriet Beecher Stowe? Her house is one of at least three "historic" Stowe residences throughout the country and ours is not the one where she penned Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Yale? You mean that other Ivy League school.
The Coast Guard Academy? That would be home to the fifth most popular of the nation’s five armed military forces.
Lyme Disease? Well, it is our best known export …
Connecticut's portrayal in literature and Hollywood also rarely screams, "Pack up the kids, we're road trippin'!" We're bored suburbanites, preppy snobs, anti-Semites or Stepford wives. Even the Ricardos and Mertzes lasted only a dozen episodes in Westport before shutting down that legendary Desilu production.
Past Connecticut marketing campaigns prove our lack of "wow factor." Most focused on the state being small but with a broad range of features and activities that, sad but true, all our neighbors do much better. We sold ourselves as the Vanilla Mint Listerine of the region: just as effective but much less intense.
That's our problem. Connecticut is good at many things. It's just not particularly outstanding at any one.
No one views our role in U.S. history as quite so revolutionary. Our cuisine, derivative. Our wine, kinda drinkable. Our mountains, more molehill than majestic. Our beaches, not even vaguely MTV-ready (in the era of Snooki, I suppose we can live with that). Connecticut is the utility infielder of the Northeast: able to fill in adequately but unspectacularly when The Hamptons are already booked.
Without best-in-class traditional tourist features to brag about, it's time my fellow residents and our hired shills change tack. We need to mindlessly, obnoxiously and absurdly promote our urban legends and idiosyncrasies.
In short, we need to make like Texans.
Having spent six years in Dallas, I never could comprehend Texans' blind devotion to their home state unless they had never ventured beyond its borders or, worse, only into Arkansas. Yet they embrace cowboy boots in their hellish heat, rally behind a battle they lost in a massacre (which explains why concealed weapons are legal there) and revere native dolts as political geniuses, y'all.
Here's where we finally win. Connecticut and Connecticut alone has P.T. Barnum -- native son, successful businessman, mayor, Congressman and, most importantly, master showman. We need to follow Barnum's lead and fly, nay, wear our freak flag every day and everywhere. The suckers will follow.
Hike the treacherous yet romantic 356-mile trail of the cryptic Old Leatherman! Escape the zombies and monsters in Sleeping Giant Park! Indulge in the ancient, secret powers of our legendary wooden nutmegs! Bwaahaahaahaa!
Step right up, come one, come all to Connecticut! Just make sure to visit the Egress!