You probably already know that New York is the center of all things fashionable, LA sets the standard for the movie industry, and we look to Florida for the latest in fanny pack news. What you probably didn't know is that there are other little pockets of America that control the rest of the country, from the small town that houses all of your credit cards to the city that determines what your food tastes like. For example ...
#5. Ohio and California Decide What You Get to Eat
Quick! List three things you know about Columbus, Ohio. And none of them can be that it was named after the explorer or a famous bus made of columns. What have you got? Nothing? Well, hang on to your butts, because we're about to blow them away with knowledge. If you enjoy fast food, there's an amazing chance that the good people of Columbus, Ohio, are the ones who picked your menu. That's right -- your local McDonald's won't get the new Cool Ranch Bacon McRib unless a few random citizens in Columbus give it the thumbs up.
"We accept bribes in the form of heart transplants."
To understand why, you have to get into the mind of a fast food chain. Before they risk millions of dollars on a new burger or stupid-sounding smoothie, they'd better be sure that the thing isn't going to flop. After all, no one wants to be known as the dummy who came up with the McAfrika burger. And Columbus happens to be the perfect test lab. For one thing, the demographics of the city mirror the rest of the nation; Columbus doesn't have a bunch of vegetarians or Eskimos clogging up the population and skewing fast food test results. It's a pure mini-America.
For another, Columbus is a bustling college town. When college students aren't busy cramming or emptying their bongs, they're "tweeting" and "Facebooking" and "Linkedining" about how great their lunch was. Finally, Columbus' geography semi-isolates it from other major cities, which is a good thing when you're testing an ad campaign or product. When your market is contained in one spot, it's easier to tell if they're actually hearing/seeing/feeling what you're putting out.
Kazuhiro Nogi / Getty
"After weeks of intensive testing, we've decided to continue not pooping in the shake machine."
All of this adds up to a town with almost 20 national fast food headquarters clandestinely testing their fries and steak sandwiches in local restaurants. When Wendy's wants to try out a new burger, they do a mini-test in Columbus to determine if the product is good enough to go nationwide. Living in Columbus is like living in a fast food future, aka utopia.
On the other hand, a particular chunk of California is the perfect testing ground for another brand. When Taco Bell had the outrageous idea of wrapping a taco in a Dorito shell, they tried it out in Bakersfield, California, first. It turns out Bakersfield has "diverse economic and racial demographics" and a tendency to overindulge in fast food when compared to the rest of the country. Which probably explains why one out of every three Taco Bell sales in the test area included the Doritos Taco, and why the rest of us were offered the indignity of eating the worst food in a post-Double Down world.
If there were any justice on Earth, this thing's inventors would be tried in the Hague.
#4. Texas Decides What Kids Learn at School
You already know that Texas rules the nation in barbecue and Tejano music, but did you also know that the Lone Star State dictates what goes in textbooks for the rest of the country?
"Y'all are about to see way more page space devoted to meat-based sciences."
Here's why: Even though school curriculum and standards might vary from state to state, publishers sure as hell do not want to print up 50 different editions of each book. So the standards for everyone tend to be set by whichever state buys the most books.
Sure, California may have the largest school-age population, but they also have very strict hippie standards on what they teach their hippie children. Plus, California is so bankrupt that they can't afford to dictate dick in the nationwide market. In second place in the number of schoolchildren department is Texas, a state with a thriving economy and very clearly defined textbook standards. So it makes sense that textbook companies listen to what Texas has to say.
"We'd like to suggest some small additions."
So who cares, right? Well, Texas isn't like other states, and not just because of the big hair. Back in the '80s, a small group of Christian conservatives realized that they could influence the future more than politicians by getting into the heads of kids. That means populating the 15-member Texas State Board of Education that reviews and approves schoolbooks with creationists who don't believe in evolution, sex ed, or gay stuff. And that's why, when the Texas State Board of Education reviews the texts of a different topic annually, objections pour in from a strictly conservative viewpoint.
"'Condom' is too attractive a name. Can we call them 'penis suffocators' instead?"
For example, in 2009, the subject up for review was science, so the board decided that students should be challenged to consider the gaps in the fossil record as possible evidence against evolution. The board chairman was quoted as saying, "Evolution is hooey." "Hooey," because "balderdash" was too strong a word. In 2010, the board reviewed social studies; they decided that high school students should learn about the conservative icons of the 1990s, but not liberal or minority rights groups. Oh, and Joseph McCarthy was painted in a more positive light. That was the year that the board chairman said:
"The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel ... Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan -- he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last 20 years because he lowered taxes."
"He also got Batman off drugs."
We can only imagine what the board is going to do to algebra once they get their weirdly fundamentalist hands on it. (Take out the "bra" part, probably. Ninth graders will take alge from now on.)
#3. You Probably Have a Credit Card Because of South Dakota
Grab your credit card statement. Look at the address: We bet that, regardless of who gave you the card or what bank it came from, the return address will be one of two cities: Wilmington, Delaware, or Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
"We picked the cities with the absolute worst Mexican food."
Remember at the end of Fight Club when Tyler Durden blew up all of the credit card company headquarters? Well, that was supposed to be Wilmington. So how did these two spots get a monopoly on credit cards?
"To get them all in one convenient location."
Well, believe it or not, there was once a time when using credit was considered taboo -- like sex before marriage or acknowledging other races. Then in the 1970s, just as credit card companies started to convince Americans that borrowing money to pay for luxuries wasn't of the devil, the mother of all recessions hit the economy. Even though the inflation rate went up, usury laws prevented credit card companies from raising their rates to match it. By 1980, Citibank had lost over $1 billion in their ventures into the world of credit, and bankruptcy was imminent.
Then the executives at Citibank had an idea. According to a little-known 1978 Supreme Court ruling, banks could use the rates of the states where they were headquartered, even if they were nationwide companies lending money all over the country. Boom! Loophole! South Dakota, in an effort to draw new businesses, had just passed a law eliminating caps on interest rates. Before you knew it, Citibank got its ass relocated from Long Island to Sioux Falls, where they could set their own rates and start making money again.
And that was the last financial difficulty that ever befell Citibank.
And they weren't the only ones. Before South Dakota could grab every credit card company in the universe, Delaware passed their own laws luring loaners over. And that, boys and girls, is why most of the credit card companies are based out of South Dakota and Delaware. And also why those states rule over everyone else when it comes to regulating credit card companies. A consumer advocate in California can't persuade his legislators to do jack squat about credit card regulations, because the state of California has zero say in the running of businesses that are based out of Delaware and South Dakota. The good news is that Delaware and South Dakota can't tell California how to do fusion cuisine.