There is no better way to appreciate America’s magnitude, its stunning geographic and topographic sweep and its equally stunning socio-economic and cultural range, than to take to the road. It pushes you out of your familiar environs and into America’s yawning reaches, it opens your eyes to what America is and what it is about. And what it is not.
Especially now, with an increasingly mercurial and mean spirited president in the White House, with a country riven by angry diatribe and bitter divide, with a fractious Congress and a fractured populous, when our precious democratic ideals seem to be dangerously under siege, it’s time to head out of town.
So summer finds us road tripping, Southwest and Northeast, first to Arizona’s scenic northern limits, driving along its country backroads as the sparse desert landscape gradually gives way to scrubby pines and then the towering Ponderosas. It’s greener, and cooler, the higher we go, even the air providing a welcome expansiveness we can inhale.
Prescott’s cowboy crowd, its funky coffee houses, its small town appeal is a great stopping off point before Flagstaff’s busier byways, its crowded downtown packed with visitors and locals, its bisecting highways traversed with tractor trailers weaving between mini vans and pick ups. It’s mountain country at Arizona’s best, Trump country I presume, with my preconceived notions of the state’s northern ambit and the political proclivities of its baseball cap wearing, gun toting voters.
And yet, not a Trump hat spotted in the swarms cheering the annual 4th of July parade through Flagstaff city center, not a rifle spotted in the back of a truck, not even an offending bumper sticker glimpsed. Just lots of families decked out in red, white and blue, kids with painted faces, babies in strollers decorated with stars and stripes. America at its best.
Fast forward a few weeks, and we’re heading north again, this time up to Maine, driving up its rocky coast, stopping on our way for breakfast in a diner in northern Massachusetts, a tiny hole in the wall with a flag waving out front, a screen door with peeling paint flapping in the breeze, cracked red vinyl booths and a menu with typical American truck stop fare and a hand written pullout of Spanish offerings inside. Tucked on a shelf, a miniature shrine to the owners’ Ecuadoran roots, the dark-haired mother laboring over the grill, flipping pancakes and frying eggs, her pretty teen age daughter carefully taking our orders and getting them just right.
Further along, we spend a night at a bed and breakfast in affluent Kennebunkport, delighted to meet several foreign tourists savoring America’s vast charms. We have a chance to chat with the locals as well, who confide that despite the longtime Bush family presence at their summer compound just up the road, politically, the area is decidedly blue. I can’t resist taking a photo of the flag draped Kennebunkport Democratic headquarters downtown. Go know.
The next day, still driving north towards Bar Harbor, a former summer haven for the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts and the Fords, we stop for lunch on the water in down home Camden, our waitress taking our order in lilting faintly accented English, a newly naturalized citizen from El Salvador who came to Maine to study furniture making. Ah, America is great.
And so it goes, our travels leading us to new places and new faces, to chance encounters with what it is that makes this country what it is, with what it is that will make it what it was meant to be. And along the way, flags flapping in the wind in front of rundown trailers and mega mansions, kids licking ice cream cones, families sight seeing and yes, just being.
And time to take it all in, to watch, to listen, and to marvel at this land that is ours. . . and theirs.