The Selection Process

How I choose the Backseat Cities

Busts on pedestals in a museum, illuminated so that the heads glow

First and Second Century Roman Busts, Cleveland Museum of Art, September 2018

Reading time: 1 minute

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The Selection Process

I have rules for selecting Backseat Cities.

  • According to 2019 Census Bureau estimates, the MSA (metropolitan statistical area) has an approximate population between 250,000 and 2.5m people
  • It’s not a widely recognized tourist destination, and is not particularly close to one
  • In general, if you tell people you’re going there on vacation, they make a face and ask why
  • Exception to the rule above: If you live near the city in question, it’s common to visit for the day or a long weekend
  • It’s not a beach town
  • My choices allow for balanced geographical distribution in the United States
Statue of an angel with a slight smirk, a fresco is in the background

Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, NY. Aug 2018

Large tower of a red brick church ascending toward a blue sky with puffy clouds

Cathedral of St John the Evangelist, Lafayette, LA. Oct 2018

I have visited the Backseat Cities for Book 1. I've written 52,800 words: an introduction, plus chapters on Rochester and Lafayette. Finished manuscript should be 95K words.

Populations below are 2019 estimates for the MSA.

Book 1

City Population MSA Rank
Cleveland, OH 2,048,449 34
Rochester, NY 1,069,644 52
Boise, ID 749,202 78
Lafayette, LA 489,207 114

Tentative follow-up projects:

Book 2

City Population MSA Rank
Milwaukee, WI 1,575,179 39
Richmond, VA 1,291,900 44
Wichita, KS 640,218 94
Tuscaloosa, AL 252,047 190

Book 3

City Population MSA Rank
Indianapolis, IN 2,074,537 33
Tulsa, OK 998,626 55
Spokane, WA 568,521 99
Lincoln, NE 336,374 152
Capitol dome on a sunny day against blue skies

State Capitol, Boise, ID. Sep 2019

Book 4

City Population MSA Rank
Kansas City, MO 2,157,990 31
Grand Rapids, MI 1,077,370 51
El Paso, TX 844,124 69
Chattanooga, TN 565,194 100


I followed these guidelines when visiting a Backseat City:

  • Visit at least two museums of any kind
  • Visit at least two historical sites or monuments
  • Go to a market, if there is one
  • Do the most touristy thing there is
  • Do something stereotypically [city name here]
  • Do something you think you will dislike or find boring
  • See the oldest thing in the city
  • See the newest thing in the city
  • Eat where there is live music
  • Eat the local specialties in different neighborhoods
  • Play games
  • Read local newspapers or magazines
  • Participate in one of your interests with locals
  • Visit parks or gardens; sit on benches and watch people
  • See a government building
  • Walk as much as possible

Read more

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