OK, so what’s the 50th state in the Union?

I know what y’all thinking. You got Hawaii on your mind, right?

To most people, yeah, but my answer differs from theirs: I say New Mexico.


Well, I bestowed that designation on New Mexico because it was the only one of the 50 states I hadn’t visited. When I did so last weekend, I put myself into an extraordinary category: I’m a 1-percenter in terms of Americans who can make this boast.

To be certain, no one can cite actual number. I did a search on Google and discovered a best guess — 1 percent. I’m gonna stick with its figure.

Now, I know 1 percent is a miniscule number, and when I put a mirror to it, I couldn’t see a reflection of many Black folks.

No matter how deeply I looked, I also didn’t spot a single friend. None had equaled the achievement, which surprised me not a bit.

Look, it’s hard to hit 50. True, about a quarter of the 50 are easily reached. I grew up in Ohio, so Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana and Pennsylvania were no big deal. Going beyond these four took a purpose, and my purpose was, more often than not, to simply live life.

Back in college, Oklahoma and Arkansas came off the list when I accompanied three friends on a six-day jaunt over Christmas break. Decades later, I still label the road trip a nightmare. We returned to Ohio angry at each other, not to mention we almost got into a fight over a pool game at bar in Lawton, Oklahoma.

Calm prevailed, and I came home with two states gone.

In my counting, I set criteria: I didn’t count a state I hadn’t spent at least a day there. Hours closeted inside airports didn’t count.

When I tallied my total six years ago, I stood at 44 states, which stoked my interest in traveling to the other six.

I had no doubt that Alaska and Hawaii would be the toughest — and the costliest. I took off for Hawaii in January 2018, and I should have gone there earlier because I long for warm temperatures and blue skies. I went to Alaska in June 2018, weeks after its winter gave way to spring.

Next up were three states on the East Coast. Bang, bang, bang … I scratched off Maine (49), Vermont (48) and New Hampshire (47) on the same plane ticket in October 2019, back before travel bottomed because of covid.

The pandemic delayed my travels to New Mexico. Two friends — we go to Las Vegas with other folk two or three times a year — suggested a while ago that we rent a car in Nevada and drive to New Mexico. We never did.

So there I was, stuck on 49 through 2020 and deep into ’21. I told myself I wouldn’t go into ’22 with New Mexico still unvisited. Around longer trips abroad, I penciled in a stop in Albuquerque for mid-December. I then bought a plane ticket.

As I left Ohio, I felt anticipation and excitement. For I knew I had done what few people had done (or ever will do): I had seen the 50 American states — their warts and all. In the main, I liked what I saw.