Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I think I found it! America!

Is this America?

In 1960, novelist John Steinbeck packed his French standard poodle, Charley, up in a custom camper and took a road trip through the United States. The question he asked: "What Are Americans Like Today?"

It's 2012, an election year, and I find myself asking that question over and over again: "What Are Americans Like Today?" What are they really like? I thought I knew, but my internal vision, a country more or less populated by generally rational, hardworking individuals, creative people, people who care about their families, people who care about their country, people who share common goals and aspirations, people who would know they weren't so different, if they just stopped and talked to each other for a few moments-- this possibly naive and internal vision of Americans, it doesn't quite match up with what I'm presented with every day on the morning and evening news, on the internet and the radio, even in casual conversations with other folks who are "plugged in."

I'm not sure either vision is right, so I'm curious. I want to know--I'd like to go see for myself.

This May, I'll be traveling to Aiken, South Carolina to meet up with my friend and creative partner, award winning poet, Amanda Warren. To me, she's just Mandie. We'll be packing up her 1999 Jeep Cherokee and hitting the road. This year, our travels will take us through the American South, a part of the country I've never explored, then through Texas, which Steinbeck said "people either passionately love or hate," and the Southwest, which I already love, then back to the American West, Oakland, California, where I hang my hat most days.

Of course, this is all subject to change (except for the part that begins in Aiken and ends in Oakland).

I'll be documenting our journey through audio, video and photos, as well as keeping a daily online travelogue. When I'm home again, I'll bring the material together into a short independently published book, Travels with Jonah, a tip of the hat to Steinbeck's animal companion, Charley.

Mr. Jonah, RIP

Five years ago, Jonah, an elderly, stoic and soulful Holland minilop, made the exodus from Michigan to California straight through the heart of this country, with Mandie and me, at a very different time in our lives.

In many ways, Mandie and I are looking to experience a "real America," which might be something like looking for the Loch Ness monster or a yeti. It's a slippery and elusive thing, and it's probably not real at all, and if it is, it isn't one real thing but many, infinite real things. In as much, we aren't planning on staying any place fancy. Mostly, we'll be camping and couch surfing with friends who are kind enough to take us in. We have a rough itinerary, but it's subject to change; actually, we hope it does change along the way. We hope our journey is partially shaped by what we are looking for.

Like Steinbeck, I hope to be able to answer the question, at least for myself: "What Are Americans Like Today?" I hope I'm not disappointed.