A Story by Author Patrick Somerville.
You’ve all heard the term. You know what it means. You’ve muttered it with disdain after some shiny car fails to signal properly, honks unnecessarily or passes you on the right doing 90. All you can do is shake your head. FIBs.
As most Wisconsinites know, this little acronym is the placeholder for buckets of history, frustration, derision and maybe even a little envy. I haven’t traced the entomology of the term because it’s meaning for a boy growing up at the gates of Door County was self-evident. How about the time in the Boundary Waters when the two dudes from Arlington Heights stole my hat and my fishing pole while I was portaging my canoe. Or the time that that Bears fan took my Jim McMahon voodoo doll that was attached to my father’s bumper and ran away with it. FIBs, I could only say, shaking my head.
I’ve met Wisconsinites all over the country, from New York to San Francisco. And if the conversation ever drifts to that unruly, big shouldered metropolis to the south, as it usually does, since I now make my home in Chicago. I hear some variation of, “Wait, you’re a FIB now?”
That’s right, dear listener. This is a FIB talking to you right now. I have been turned. I first realized my purity had been compromised when I replaced my “Dairyland” plates with the dreaded cursive of Illinois. I imagined the shame I would feel driving up 43 for a visit home. Had I fundamentally betrayed my origins? Was it enough to be also wearing a Packers hat while driving?
What if I very carefully mouthed the words, “I’m not actually from Illinois” to anyone driving alongside me? Would they get that I wasn’t really a FIB despite my plates and even though I was doing 90 in the right lane? Would they understand that I was some other special category, like a NIV, a “Nice Illinois Visitor?” Or a WIWHATOBLII, a “Wisconsinite Who Happens To Be Living In Illinois?”
Maybe I could buy an extra vehicle and register it at my father’s house and only use it to drive up? Was this how zombies felt, moaning and trundling up to a group of old friends trying to fit in once again? It amazes me that this anxiety can still send such strong jolts down to the core of my being.
After all, I am many things now. I’m a husband, a father, a son, a teacher, a writer. We are all multi-faceted creatures. No one trait can define a person, right? These are the thoughts I hold close anyway, as I cross the state line heading north. We are all multi-faceted creatures, I think to myself. We are all multi-faceted creatures. I believe this. I really do.
But in case you don’t, do me a favor. If you see me and to be clear, I am the FIB who just cut you off for no reason and if you happen to catch a glimpse of me as I went by, you saw consternation and conflict on my face as I did it. Remember this plea. Please remember even as you curse my Illinois plates, please remember dear Wisconsinite, I was once like you.
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