True Stories from the Road

America - Traveller's Tales
It's Labor Day and I am looking at America - True Stories from the Road, a book that took me 3 months to read. It's not one of those books that you simply gulp down. So I have sipped it in a few essays at a time, over the past few months. These essays are by men and women; Americans and non-Americans; white, brown, red and black. Each searching for the 'essence of America'. For all the time I have spent in the 'home of the brave, land of the free', I too have been trying to look for what America really is or what it should be. After the 50 essays or so, the book still gave no definite answer. It was a great read for anyone trying to peer into America, free the cliches. The book calm accepts the vices, and the history of injustice to the Natives and Blacks. It also lauds the virtues of its people, the pioneering enterprising folk who left everything behind to carve a space in the New World.

Here are a few:
Mark McIntyre dissatisfied with his job as a journalist, left the job and decided to trek across America - penniless. Excerpted from the book, is his story of a night spent in a closet at a police station with other bums, trying to escape from the rain.

Memphis is a City of Dead Kings, a window to the American Mind. Andrei Codrescu says, ' (here)..stretches the outlandish spectacle of the American mind, which swings like a yo-yo between frivolity and concern.' He compares the legacies of Presley's Graceland and Martin Luther King's Lorraine Motel, where King was shot dead. One of money, pathos, cruelty, and bad taste and the other of one, who just, ' .. wanted to leave a committed life behind. ', which remains a yet unfinished dream.

Fred Setterberg tries to understand Willa Cather's Nebraska and the joy of the great American Prairie, whose boundlessness made the first Western settlers crazy. Charles Kuralt on the good people of Minnesota. ' Minnesotans fasten their seatbelts. Minnesotans hold the door for you. Minnesotans do not blow their horn at you when the light turns green, they wait for you to notice. Minnesota men who don't leave the toilet seat up.' Janine Jones, 33 gets propositioned by a teenager 'man-child' on a LA bus and talks about surviving modern civilization in L.A.

I was deeply impressed by Phil Caputo capturing, what to me, is the essence of America. This essay was written as he spent 3 days in the wilderness of the Gila Forest in Arizona reflecting over the horror stories printed in a newspaper about gruesome murders and proposal to build a road through ancient Native American petroglyphs. In the one of most beautiful virgin forests he reflects, on the good earth of America and its good people and what America attempted to be and what it has now become.

"One thing that our society holds sacred is growth. Not intellectual or spiritual growth but economic growth, and not stable sustainable economic growth but let-'er rip, boomtown, pave-it-don't-save-it growth.

.... our national religion is a kind of evangelical consumerism. We consume things that aren't really things - we swallow the salt water of information by the gallon while our throats are parched for the spring of wisdom; we consume violence in the computer games and on tabloid TV while we gorge on a home-delivered pizza.

... what we have built in the last half-century is not civilization. It may be development but it's not civilization. It seems, that the more we despoil the land and divorce ourselves from the rhythms, cycles and beauty of the natural world, the less civilized we become."

He ends saying, 'I will hike the remaining four miles to the traihead, get in my truck and return to what is commonly called the real world. But I am not sure what it is.'

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