A Life More Ordinary: MEET BOB, JUST YOUR AVERAGE JOE ; He Is White, 53 Years Old, Goes to Church Fairly Regularly, Has a High-School Diploma, Supports the Right to Legal Abortion, Prefers Smooth Peanut Butter to Chunky and Occasionally Pees in the Shower. Andrew Buncombe Meets Bob Burns, the Most Unexeptional Man in America
Buncombe, Andrew, The Independent (London, England)
Who would dare to call Bob Burns average? Surely not his wife, Sue, to whom he has been married for more than 30 years. Surely not his three children " two lawyers and a US Air Force Academy graduate " of whom he is very proud. And what of his neighbours in the quiet cul-de- sac where he lives on the edge of a small Connecticut community? Do they think Bob is average?
How about the pupils at the local high school where he has spent much of his working life. And, finally, what about Martha Stewart, the domestic goddess and recent ex-con who invited Bob to appear on her television show? Did she think he deserves the name Average Bob?
The truth is that Bob Burns " 5ft 8in tall, 53 years old, with size 101/2 feet and with a preference for smooth rather than chunky peanut-butter " is very average indeed. So darn average that he is special, even exceptional. In fact, Bob may be the most average American in all America.
He is superlative in his averageness. 'I always thought I was an average person,' he says. 'I was an average student, an average athlete. I was just an average person all my life.'
This assessment is not lightly made. Rather it the conclusion of Kevin O'Keefe, a media consultant turned author, who has spent the past three years travelling the length and breadth of the United States trying to find the most statistically average American among the 281,421,906 people officially counted by the 2000 census.
His journey, which he details in a new book in the US, The Average American: The Extraordinary Search for the Nation's Most Ordinary Citizen (PublicAffairs Books), took him from the highlands of Hawaii to the prairies of the Midwest, in his hunt for the person who deserved the title of Mr or Mrs or Ms Average USA.
He travelled through the cornfields of Kansas, which to many people represent the quintessential average American landscape, to the 119-acre property owned by John Henry Kemp, an Amish farmer, in rural Daviess County, Indiana, which the census showed was America's median population centre. From that point in the American heartland there is exactly the same population to the north, west, south and east.
All of that would have been a good enough story by itself, but what gives O'Keefe's tale a twist of the sharpest citrus peel, is that after all his travelling " a journey that was undoubtedly, and probably deliberately, something of a voyage of personal discovery " his search delivered him smack back home where he grew up in small- town Connecticut.
Average Bob, it transpires, used to be the janitor at O'Keefe's high school. If it sounds like too much of a unlikely coincidence, O'Keefe says that he, too, still cannot get over what he discovered. Yet he insists this outcome was not planned and that his search was driven by the statistics, by the numbers that would determine the most typical American. By choice, he would have discovered that the Average American lived somewhere other than five miles from where he grew up. 'It's not what I had hoped,' he says. 'I did not want to be somewhere I knew about. I did not believe it. I said no one else would believe it. I hoped I would have ended up somewhere like St Louis, Missouri, or North Carolina.'
I met the two men on a bright and sunny afternoon at Bob's house on the outskirts of Windham, Connecticut. To a visitor, it all looked too neat and nice, too leafy and comfortable to be average America. But apparently this small, suburban community is among the most statistically typical in the US.
In household size, the percentage of residents with the minimum of a high-school diploma, the percentage of people born within the state, the percentage size of its ethnic communities, the income of its residents and the percentage of people living in poverty, Windham is almost perfectly typical.
And when O'Keefe finally settled on Windham then narrowed his list of possible 'most average' citizens until only Bob was left, he waited until this past 4 July " Independence Day " to break the news to him. …