17. January 2005 · Comments Off on To the Farthest Shore · Categories: Ain't That America?, General

Found this amusing nugget here; apparently this B-grade German movie actress spent a year trying to break into the Hollywood A-list, without any appreciable success, and now is going the media rounds back home in dear old’ Deutschland being (understandably) ungracious about the experience… and generally slagging off the rest of the country—seemingly without ever setting foot outside the fabled environs of So Cal show-biz. Well, it’s kind of like going to the Cannes Film Festival, and then holding forth as an expert on all of France, past and present. Or hitting the highlights of New York, and Disneyland and Hollywierd, and assuming that is all there is and all you ever need to see of America. I would make the following suggestions for an itinerary to a traveler from another country who wants to get a more nuanced idea of what lies between the coasts.

1. Don’t fly— it’s too easy then to miss what a big country it is, and how varied. Rent a car, or a camper-van, and drive— it’s how we do it. Drive across the country, from north to south, east to west, on the interstates when you have to, but the secondary roads are more fun. It’s a big country. There are stretches of interstate in the West where it can be 100 miles to the next gas, and nothing in sight constructed by humans save the highway itself. A hundred and fifty years ago, it took six months for travelers on foot, horseback, ox-drawn wagons or mule trails, making fifteen miles a day if they were lucky, and following barely visible trails from the Missouri River to the west coast. There are still wide-open spaces… quite a lot of them actually.

2. This trip, pretty much avoid any place that has had big movie or a long-running TV show set in it. Fargo ND and Paris, TX are exceptions.

3. Stay in campgrounds, B and B’s, family run-hotels in small towns. Eat at non-chain places well off the road, especially if half the vehicles parked out front are battered pickups with local plates, and half are well-kept vehicles with out of state plates. Find these places by chatting up people you meet, around mealtimes, and ask them where they would go for a good bite to eat.

4. Shop at a big American supermarket a couple of times: doesn’t matter which one. A Smiths, Food Lion, HEB, Ralph’s, Albertsons. Even a super-Wal-Mart.

5. Go to a local little-theater presentation, a Friday-night football game in a small Texas town, a weekend farmers’ market/swap meet, a church pot-luck supper, a Civil War re-enactors encampment, a state fair, a Rocky Mountain rendezvous, a military base open house, a town festival— strawberry days, artichoke days, pioneer days, whatever days. Go to an arboretum, a public garden, a rally of whatever sort of vehicle takes your fancy and fits your schedule; antique cars, motorcycles, old airplanes. Stop to look at historical markers, roadside attractions, strange and wonderful local creations. Take the scenic route, the long way round, pull off and take pictures at the look-out point. Sleep under the stars once or twice.

Take a couple of months to do this, and you’ll have a better idea of what it’s about than all our movies and television could ever give you. These suggestions and any others that may be added by readers in the comments go double to any of our own major media creatures who were gob-smacked by the results of the November election.

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