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

By Buncombe, Andrew | The Independent (London, England), November 19, 2005 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

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.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

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
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?