Back at home in our apartment at the Kennedy-Warren, overlooking the National Zoo. Two months of travel, 5,000 miles (actually 4,985 to be exact), 21 states and 14 mini reunions/visits with 49 old friends and relatives (plus about 50 former work colleagues at Embry’s company reunion). It was quite a trip!
Thanks to everyone who put us up and took care of us. We are truly grateful!
I am not sure we discovered the Real America in the Age of Trump, but we surely did rediscover just how vast and beautiful the United States of America is. In terms of landscape and terrain, the U.S. is just about as diverse as it gets, and we have seen and experienced a lot of it on the Road Trip of 2016—the luxuriant Appalachians and foot hills and valleys of the East, the green hills of Middle Tennessee, the flat farm lands of West Tennessee and Arkansas, the wild Ozarks, the vast prairies of Oklahoma and Texas, the stark Mojave Desert, the high, arid plains of New Mexico, the beautiful California Coast, the towering Sierra Nevada and the Rockies, the grazing fields of Colorado, the sand hills of Nevada, and the rich farm lands of Iowa, southern Indiana and southern Illinois, Ohio, and Maryland. Yes, we all know that these places are out there but tend not to think about them much. Seeing is believing.
We have seen a lot of other countries—over 40 between the two of us, and we are grateful to have seen them. There is, of course, so much to see on this planet, which in our around-the-world-no airplanes experience of last year seems actually rather small when compared to the universe that surrounds us. But a trip like this makes you realize just how special your own country is. There is no country like it, and we are lucky to live here.
Much of the credit goes to the National Parks Service, celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year. We visited eight fabulous parks—Sequoia, Yosemite, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Arches, and Rocky Mountain. There are over 400 national parks in all. We tend to take them for granted. We Americans invented the idea of preserving these wonders for everyone, not just the elite few who might claim them as their own private estates or put up huge hotels and billboards advertising them. Parts of these parks are quite crowed, but the parks are so big that it is not hard to hike off the beaten path or into wilderness areas. While strapped financially these (given the dysfunctional Congress), they are doing the best they can. If there is one message from the Road Trip that is important, it is this: get out and see our national parks. You have many to choose from. The ones we visited are certainly among the most spectacular and beautiful, but there are hundreds of others.
On the other hand, we were continually reminded how we humans have trashed too much of our landscape and natural environment—the endless billboards, the myriad fast food and crummy establishments at most intersections on interstate highways, the boarded up stores in so many small towns, the big box stores, and urban sprawl. As one trained in city planning, I keep thinking that it did not have to be this way.
Did we come back with profound insights as to the Real America in the Age of Trump?
Not exactly. In fact we wondered if anyone is actually following the election campaigns. The total number of Trump signs we saw could be counted on one hand. (None for Hillary.) Our views continue to be shaped by what we read in the newspapers and see on TV and by our experience living in Washington. Getting outside of the Washington bubble was one of the reasons for making the trip, but we did not find that people are much different or that Truth is any more accessible beyond the Beltway.
There were a few hopeful signs, however. Of the 49 friends and relatives we saw, some are committed Republicans, and nary a one plans to vote for Trump. We remain apprehensive, but Trump’s continuing self-destruction makes us breathe a little easier. (If you want to read something really scary, check out the September issue of The Atlantic and read “Trump’s Intellectuals” by Peter Beinart. It turns out that some right wing intellectuals are beginning to embrace the idea of a strongman government, not unlike what occurred in Germany in the 1930s.)
Much of what we do read and watch on TV tells us that the country is in turmoil, and that we have lost faith in our institutions and desire radical change. It is true that there is much that needs fixing. But I have to tell you that spending two months on the road, we came away with a feeling of awe. We live in an extraordinary country and have the ability to fix what is wrong. Having the will is the issue. We live in a country that is vast, diverse and beautiful. Our diversity is our strength. Good people live here. It is the most beautiful country on our small planet. We have been blessed.
Finally, we want to thank you for following us. I know who some of you are but hardly all. Our posts have been averaging about 250 hits each, which astonishes me. I appreciate all your comments and welcome more. Now that we are back and I have loaded the images into my computer, I will try to post some photos on the website and will let you know when they are available.
A few final comments from Embry: If you plan to make a trip like this (or something similar), I have a few comments on the practicalities. We stayed in four types of accommodations: (1) with friends or relatives (some of you!)—this is the best kind, and cheapest of course (!), but don’t stay more than 2-3 nights, following Ben Franklin’s suggestion about the smelly fish; (2) cheapish motels (chains)—while this is necessary in some circumstances when you are pushing through to a destination, we found few that were a place we would want to stay more than a night, and I’m glad we didn’t have a high proportion of them on the itinerary (La Quinta was the best of the bunch); (3) “historic hotels” (there were four of these that we stayed in, all on the historic register)—the advantage is you get a feel for history and feel you are supporting a “good cause,” ie. historic preservation, but they were all four overpriced for the quality of the accommodation, and looking back I would probably have skipped staying in them and just gone there for a meal; (4) cabins in national or state parks—for the money these were the best value and I wish we had planned on more and longer stays where you can cook your own meals or eat at a lodge. Speaking of meals, of course while you have to eat at chains sometimes (Joe actually likes fast food and we both like Cracker Barrel), we found lots of “local” eateries where the meals were reasonably priced and you can be near local people and feel the local atmosphere. Seek those out. We carried a cooler with drinks and snacks and made picnics when we could. Finally, keep your pace as slow as you can. We had only one stay longer than 3 days in any place, and so we felt constantly on the move. I am glad we saw all we did, but I really wish we had broken up the trip with a few more longer stays, for example in state parks. That’s is: take off and enjoy our beautiful country!