Opinion » Bill Cope

Mr. Cope's Cave: Meridian?

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About half a century ago, sometime within my first couple of years as a student in Moscow, Playboy magazine published the results of a survey it had conducted that ranked universities across the country for their dubious distinctions as drinking schools. It was a yearly feature in Playboy, booze being as integral to the lifestyle Hef was promoting as cool jazz, hot cars and naked babes. Of course, such an exaltation of drinking—be it either the sophistication of sipping martinis a la Mad Men or the boisterousness of bingeing on beer in the Animal House manner—would never go over well among our more family-friendly communities. But then Playboy magazine was never in the family-friendly market, nor was it trying to be. Young men were its target audience, and young men were and continue to be drawn to, if not cool jazz, then certainly hot cars, naked babes and booze.

The only reason I remember this one particular survey, and the only reason I bring it up now, is when that particular year's issue came out, the U of I student body was all atwitter over a single sentence in the article. After counting down the nation's top drinking schools from No. 10 to No. 1, the authors added a footnote. As closely as memory serves, it said, "We considered listing the University of Idaho as co-winner with this year's No. 1 drinking school, but our editorial staff has come to the conclusion that it is unfair to include professionals in with amateurs."

Get it? Those cool, hipster cats who put out Playboy magazine... the very coolest, hippest, grooviest magazine the world had ever seen!... were so impressed with the boozing skills of Idaho students, they considered us to be pros! PROS! Far too neato to be compared with a bunch of rank amateurs in the grand art of swilling hootch!

Ah, such pride I felt. Imagine... ME!... belonging to the most accomplished crowd of boozers in the United States of America—even though my approach to drinking in those early years was a bottle of Mogen David cooking sherry and some soda crackers in hopes I wouldn't spend the night vomiting. I swear, for a few days, you could actually see students walk to class with their heads held a little higher.

And it lasted maybe a week, until it came out that Playboy had several versions of the same story printed, each one aimed at a different regional audience. For instance, students in Columbus, Ohio would have read, "We considered listing Ohio State University as co-winner with this year's No. 1, but our editorial staff has come to the conclusion that it is unfair including professionals in with amateurs."



In Madison, it would have been "We considered listing the University of Wisconsin as co-winner with this year's No. 1, but"... etc. In Eugene, it would have been the University of Oregon.

It was a slick little ploy to attract readers and we should have known it. How would such a distinction as the nation's top drinking school be decided, anyway? Would agents of Playboy travel incognito to hundreds of campuses, interviewing frat boys on how drunk they'd gotten the night before? Do college town drinking joints keep records of how many kegs per capita their establishments go through on homecoming weekend? I mean, how would that work, such a survey? Had we really thought about it with any degree of skepticism, we might have seen through the hype to the unlikeliness of it all.

But hey, we were kids. And even for mature people, it's sometimes hard to harbor doubts when some seemingly authoritative source says you're the best at something.

For instance, I suspect I may be the only person in this whole, sprawling, amorphous, centerless community who is questioning the report that Meridian is the very bestest town in America in which to live.

•••

Yes, that's what I was told. The local news broadcast I watch announced it last Thursday, that—as shown in a survey conducted by "24/7 Wall Street.com", a financially-orientated blog, and reported in an online USA Today article—Meridian had been named the No. 1 best city in America to live.

The criteria considered in the judgment were things like unemployment rates and housing availability, infrastructure and crime rates. The authors of the survey cited the number of cities being ranked at "roughly 550." Towns smaller than 65,000 population were not included.

So listen... if our friends in Coeur d'Alene or Twin Falls, Cottonwood or Blackfoot or Wallace—or any of the other thousands and thousands and thousands of small American municipalities—feel all glum and depressed and despondent that your beloved burg had its puny little ass whipped by a jammed-up, strip-mall, California-glazed hell like Meridian, Idaho, don't feel bad. You were never in the running, and there is no shame in losing a race you didn't even know was taking place.

Still, ya' gotta wonder. Even out of the "roughly 550" participants, how on earth did Meridian come out on top? Do you suppose some agents of 24/7 Wall Street.com were here at some point, sniffing around Meridian incognito, gathering evidence that there isn't a better place to live in all the U.S. of A. than right here!?—within easy access to every scintillating point of interest: the wild nightlife of down-town Meridian... the cool Orange County ambiance of the Village at Meridian... our numerous and thriving Walmarts... even our little spin-off community, which we old Meridian hands call "Little Meridian," but is known elsewhere as "Eagle."

Or did someone local send them all the info they needed to decide Meridian was as good as it gets? After all, as surprising as it may sound, there are people here who never seem to tire of drawing attention to the area, possibly in hopes of drawing ever-more people to the area. People who will need such things as a lot on which to squat, a roof over their heads, a car to get to work in, more lawn-care products, more pet supplies, more clothes, more fast food joints, more furniture, more pots and more pans, more of this and more of that.

Oooor... could it be that 24/7 Wall Street.com, perhaps in cahoots with USA Today—both having an interest in attracting readers—might be publishing different versions of the survey for different regional markets? You know... like Playboy did with that drinking survey. And that perhaps in the southwest Connecticut edition of USA Today, Danbury came out the No.1 best place to live in America, instead of No. 2? Or that the North Dakota edition had Fargo at No. 1? Or that...

Nah, That's just too suspicious, isn't it? Too skeptical. Too cynical.

But, really... Meridian?