How would you rediscover America?

Since I returned from my mini-Steinbeck odyssey, I’ve had the chance to read Peter Zheutlin’s (a festival guest speaker) soon-to-be-released book The Dog Went Over the Mountain. Motivated by John Steinbeck, Zheutlin took a cross-country trip in 2018 with his rescue dog Albie. The two traversed America in a convertible for over six weeks. Suffice to say that, though the trip had some similarities to the author’s in the 1960’s, much has changed-in the way we travel, the people we meet, and what we observe about the physical landscape.

This led me to ask Steinbeck Festival actor and storyteller, Tom Lorentzen, if he would do anything differently if he was taking the same type of three-month trip in the 21st century. He said he wouldn’t, but I wonder if that is truly how Steinbeck would have answered my question. Or, if he would have even felt like the drive was an endeavor worth attempting in 2019. Though the prolific author learned a lot about our country, even with all of his addressing difficult social issues in his writing, he was also very disillusioned by some of the things he saw.

I’ve been toying with the idea of an American journey myself, someday in the future, so I took some time to visualize what my trip would look like. As a rule, Americans like to be perceived as independent, strong, and individualistic, in both thought and action. Thus, Steinbeck and Zheutlin spent most of their time alone on their trips, with only a dog for company (both did have some nights with friends and family).

Though I certainly enjoy solitude (and dogs!), I feel like one of the best ways of learning about America and Americans is through conversations with others. I know I’d meet many fascinating people on my own but, as we have become an increasingly more collaborative society, I’d also like to have people I know in different states share what they feel are the best, or most quintessentially American, parts of where they live.

Another thing I’d do differently is take a longer trip than what the two men did. Aim for six to eight months since I never like to rush things. And, after soloing in Salinas, I know I can do it!

Two questions for readers:

  • Have you ever thought about taking a trip like this?
  • How would you do it?

Happy Labor Day!

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