At the end of (yet another) American road trip I am left in an all too similar emotional state; it is remarkable that—as the years go by—I feel the same at 31 as I did when I was 20 following a cross-country road trip. Sure there is the physical fatigue; the body aching from sitting from hours on end, the eyes tired from watching out for every little pothole and every piece of debris, the stomach reeling from one too many fast food meals. Yet there is also a very real mental pleasure that comes from endurance driving; I would argue that it is a pleasure that far outweighs the negatives of physical fatigue.

“Motoring”, to to speak, as a mental pleasure is a subject I have written about in the past (Please see here and here. Rarely in the modern world do we have a chance to be completely alone with our thoughts, devoid of the influences of our “smart phones” or computers. How long these days will remain ours, with self-driving cars on the horizon, is of course up for debate but it is a subject worth thinking about. That the road trip is a pensive experience is undeniable. That it is also very “American” is also undeniable. Indeed, Jack Kerouac showed just how the two are intertwined; the road trip is not only an exercise in individual thought, it is also an exercise in collective thought as well. For me, in the early days of the new year, I saw just how cathartic it can be.

On I-95 in northern New Jersey I watched the New York skyline drift by to my left, the city which, at the dawn of the last century, would become a model for urban areas the world over is now slowly decaying with each American Dollar being spent abroad on foreign policy intrigues which offer little tangible benefit to the American citizen. Meanwhile, ahead, the smokestacks of American industry send plumes of smoke into the frigid northeast sky. How much longer these industries—the bed rock of American wealth—will remain “American” is an open question as the country continually outsources industrial jobs while (attempting) to transition to a service economy, complete with under-employed servers at restaurants and white collar workers with Master’s Degrees whose main responsibility could be as banal as forwarding e-mails for eight hours a day.

 

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“On I-95 in northern New Jersey I watched the New York skyline drift by to my left . . . ” . Image Courtesy Of The Author.

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“Meanwhile, ahead, the smokestacks of American industry send plumes of smoke into the frigid northeast sky . . . “. Image Courtesy Of The Author.

 

Off I-95 in the American South I found that antique shops have become one of the main tourist attractions in rural areas which have been devastated by the attacks on American industry. As industry moves overseas, the production of raw materials has similarly collapsed. A little later, in South Carolina, I stop by the “tourist trap” that is South of the Border, a kitschy attraction built in 1950 on the North Carolina/South Carolina line to (perhaps) offer some respite to families from the monotony of endurance driving. Yet, according to State Media’s Washington Post, South of the border is “Un-Pc”, even “racist”; the author compares it to Donald Trump for its offensiveness, racism, consumerism, and garishness.

 

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“Off I-95 in the American South I found that antique shops have become one of the main tourist attractions in rural areas which have been devastated by the attacks on American industry . . .”. Image Courtesy Of The Author.

 

Of course, the offense took by the Washington Post staff writer is part and parcel for mainstream media in the United States these days; it is much easier to hate than actually take the time to wonder. It is one-dimensional thought at its finest in the offended states of America.

Perhaps it was the weather; the snow on the ground—in front of a beach shop advertising Myrtle Beach—made an already absurd place even more absurd (as if such a thing were possible). Yet it is possible, because this is America. This is a country in which car culture—and the road tripping that goes with it—is embedded in us as Americans. This is a country that expanded westward (with all of its unfortunate violence), this is a country that was founded on the ethos of “the open road”. How much longer will tourist traps like South of the Border exist? Children no longer need to alleviate their boredom on the road with kitschy tourist attractions, they have their ipads and iphones and TV sets in the headrests of their parents’ Suburbans and Escalades. Yet, while this may be convenient (for parents), it denies children the chance to experience one of the magical things about road trips: Understanding their own country. In the past, kids might have played games in the car—like spotting license plates from different states. In the past, kids might have–**GASP**–gotten out of the car at a road side attraction in order to actually interact with someone living in a different part of the country. All of these actions, in the past, served to reinforce one very real thing that the social engineers in academia and the media have tried to deny over the years: It is that America does, indeed, have a culture.

 

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South Of The Border is an Absurd Place Made Even More Absurd By the Snow on the Ground in South Carolina. Perhaps the Ice Cream Shop Was the Only Shop Whose Image Was Enhanced by the Presence of Snow Below the Mason-Dixon Line. Images Courtesy of the Author.

 

Whether or not this culture is “good” is not up for debate here; I would be the last person to argue that rampant consumerism and extreme capitalism are good things for the human soul. And, like French Sociologist Michel Foucault, I would hesitate to argue that anything is inherently “good”; what is good for one person may not be from another person’s perspective. Rather, I argue that there is—and must be—one thing that ties us together as Americans, whether we live in Seattle, Washington or Bangor, Maine; San Diego, California or Minneapolis, Minnesota; Amarillo, Texas or Ocala, Florida. That one thing is, of course, our culture—and a respect for it.

On this particular road trip, I was taken by the fact that our car culture is very real; I was able to drive 1,200 miles (almost 2,000 kilometers) without having to use my horn once (as someone who has driven in many different countries, and undertaken many road trips in the United States, this is no small accomplishment). There is, for most people at least, an unspoken respect that driving on an Interstate highway produces: We are all going somewhere, individually (as Americans are conditioned to do) and let us try to interfere as little as possible with others who are doing the same thing (another thing Americans are conditioned to do). Perhaps this is a throwback to an earlier America, a time when one of the country’s major news outlets—like the aforementioned Washington Post—was not owned by a corporate leader like Jeff Bezos (of course, this fact alone should make people think twice if they think The Washington Post is an independent news outlet working in the best interests of the public: it is not).

As I drove on, the miles of rural America flying past me like the pages of a flipbook, I certainly had ample time to think. I thought about how America, in its vastness, can make a person feel small, powerless. Perhaps for some this is true; perhaps that is why we see so many Americans seek solace in identity politics. Yet for me, it is quite the opposite. In a smaller country, a citizen can be content with their role as citizen-receiver; the country is small, the people are more or less homogenous, the citizen can live their lives in (relative) assurance that the state has the ability to look out for them. In the United States, on the other hand, the country is big and it is far from homogenous. Yet this offers the individual a chance to be big as well. It is up to you, the citizen, to act on the purported values of your country. Every individual has a responsibility to treat their fellow citizens with respect, fairness, equality, and dignity. In a big country, every individual must—everyday—act on the purported values of their country by supporting small businesses in their community, opening the doors for fellow patrons and—yes—obeying the rules of the road. The state will not do this, despite how many times it may recount the virtues of “freedom” and “democracy”. It is up to the individual citizen to ensure that “freedom” and “democracy” are more than just words.

This is what true nationalism is. It is not blind patriotism, it is not accepting everything the state says with unquestioning loyalty, and it is not the chauvinistic idea that your country is somehow “better” than the rest. Rather it is an active attempt to, everyday, make life easier for one’s fellow citizens, for those with whom you share a living space, regardless of which particular identity they may have at any given moment. As John F. Kennedy once famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. It is these values which unite us as Americans; it is these values that are the ties that bind us and these values which are stronger than that which seeks to divide us. In other countries as well, there are certain values which unite citizens; although the era of globalism has tried to erode these it is up to individual citizens—regardless of their nationality—to embrace their country’s values and their country’s cultures so as to resist the impersonal forces of global capital which contend with the nation-state for the citizens’ loyalties.

 

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John F. Kennedy. Image Courtesy Of: http://chatafrik.com/special/memorable-speech/ask-not-what-your-country-can-do-for-you-by-john-f-kennedy#.WlRx0jOZPRg

 

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It is Up to All of Us, Regardless of Where we are From, to Explore Our Own Countries. It Is Also Our Responsibility to Assist Those Who Travel to Our Countries, Since International Travel Is Also Necessary For Gaining a Useful Perspective On the World. Image Courtesy Of: https://mxd.dk/mxd-viden/a-brief-overview-of-the-us-music-market/
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