On long drives my mind wanders. I tend to think about connections between people and places. I wonder what my kids learned or what I would tell my 5th graders about this particular place. I wish I could have scooped up my class and brought them to Gettysburg.
If you're a regular to this blog, I hope you've noticed that I try to be self-effacing rather than philosophical. This post may buck that trend. If you are new, this blog is normally about me making mistakes while trying to renovate an old junky airstream. Go back to the beginning and start there. This is not the end, but it is a summary, and the wrong place to begin. Here are my long drive thoughts:
America is young
In the west, where I live, American history doesn't get tangible until Lewis & Clark. But even then, we tend to think of American history as long ago. Right? In Gettysburg, we listened to an audio tour of the battlefield. It listed the date of the last reunion of Civil War soldiers. I've forgotten the date now, but at the time, I calculated that my Grandma Kane (who's pictured a few posts ago) was 18 at the time of the reunion. Nothing is long ago. We are still only one lifetime removed from people who witnessed slavery. From people who were slaves. It's less than a generation from everything else that came after it. People want to pretend that the past is over. The past, as the saying goes, is prologue.
Google Maps is scary
On a lighter note, either Google is really bad at calculating things like "safety" and "road conditions", or it is very good at it and just wants to kill me. Google took us down several paths that we will talk about for a long time. In South Carolina, we took roads that were so dilapidated, potholed, and worn that we were the only ones there. We barely made it around some holes.
Around Chicago, we traveled through some very run-down neighborhoods. In Wisconsin, Google Maps had us (unknowingly to us at the time) avoid a major highway and take small backroads during the dusk of deer time. We saw far, far too many deer.
Throughout our trip, we would use Google to get us to grocery stores - many times it took us to the backside of the stores where the semis unload. I think it has a sense of humor.
Montana is way ahead of the east coast
I never took a picture, but I very much regret that now. I was surprised by two observations:
America was built on some terrible ideas
That headline is polemic on purpose.
I agree that it was also founded on some of the best ideas the world has ever seen. The ideas of self-governance, equal justice, freedom, rule-of-law, and so many more were knit together into a country we can and should be proud of.
But. But. Those ideals failed so often. For example, in 1779, three years after the Declaration of Independance was written, those same Americans used genocide to remove the Iroquois from their land in upstate NY. Really ponder that. The men who wrote about self-evident truths, inalienable rights, and of life and happiness began this country by starting (continuing) genocide. It's not a comfortable thought, but it is true.
The middle passage, the transatlantic route from Africa to slavery in America, ended in 1860ish. If you google it, try to imagine the horror. In the African-American History Museum in D.C. I really tried. I cannot do it without despair and nausea. The lips that spoke, "Give me liberty or give me death!" also owned slaves. While driving, we listened to an audiobook called, "Elijah of Buxton" about the first free-born child of former slaves in Canada. It is both lighthearted and dark, in turns, and gives an honest and new perspective on freedom. I highly recommend it - it made me laugh out loud and cry, both while driving. It is an easy read. (Especially on audiobook!)
In 2004, areas around Atlanta closed sports fields to soccer. Soccer. Why? So that refugees would not be able to play. So that children would know just how unwelcome they were. They named themselves the Fugees (get it?) and they persisted. Their story is worth reading.
Our history is a history of terrible ideas being replaced with better ideas. It is a history of atrocity and heroes who stood up to fight. Hero after hero rose at a time of injustice. The best idea of our founders, the very best, is that bad ideas should methodically be replaced by better ones. That through collective argument and reason we might make ourselves better.
America still has some terrible ideas, but I like Winston Churchill's sentiment, "You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else."
People are kind everywhere
People always told us New Yorkers were unfriendly, but that was far from the experience. As I said in that post, New Yorkers were universally kind and helpful. They gave up their seats for my kids, offered assistance, and were gracious to absurdly-touristy questions. But that was the norm everywhere. We found that our neighbors in the campgrounds were interesting, polite people.
One old lady came up to us, crossing a ditch with her walker, because we both had Airstreams. She wanted to say hello. Her story was America, its hopes on display. She was a little girl living in Holland under Hitler's occupation (again, history is not long ago). After the horrors of WWII, she saw Wally Byam's Airstream European Caravan of 1956. (A cool part of Airstream history.) It made such an impact on her that she always longed to own one. Later, she fell in love with an American and emigrated to America, became a citizen, and has made it her home. She's found her share of struggle and success. Her story was amazing, freely given, and encouraging.
Another campground neighbor was a little boy in Niagara Falls as it was in decline. He talked about the industry leaving, jobs ending and taxes skyrocketing. He left as a young adult along with everyone who had the means. He was returning with his son to show him his childhood. Another story, freely given.
There were more stories, but my sense was that we all are looking for the same things. Family, stability, and a measure of self-determination. Across this whole country, we have so much in common.
My final, biggest, thought and hope
The people of this country need each other. The south needs the north. The north needs the south. Snowflakes need rednecks and vice-versa. Its more than yin-yang. It is the foundation of our strength. New York city cannot support itself - from its towers it cannot see the source of its sustenance, but its umbilical cord to pastures is indisputable. Likewise, those who complain about intellectuals and big city folk do not realize that the wealth of people, ideas and innovation that drives American success comes from the cities. They don't see the protection and financial stability that they receive. Trump wants to build a wall to appease his rural base; but his wall is already built - NYC is it. Atlanta is it. D.C. and St. Louis, Boston and Chicago; they are it. We are stronger because we have each other.
Lincoln said some funny things in his time, funny to our ears, anyway. "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that." Lincoln was personally against slavery, but his eyes were on a united state. He knew that our American experiment would stand or fall together. He was right. He is right. Prior to Lincoln, it was written "The United States are . . ." after him we write "The United States is . . ."
The United States is strong because of all its people. I dearly hope we will stop fighting people and start fighting ideas. That we would become less tribal in our politics and more reasoned. I'm not sure how we get there, but I believe that is where we need to go. I love this country, its outlandish diversity, its strength and beauty, its freedoms and its struggles.
I've got a few more posts to write, but this is the only philosophical one. I promise. Next time, I've got to tell you about "Spy Truck".
I'm not an Airstream Jedi, yet. Airstream Jedi would have sounded presumptuous, like I know what I'm doing. That couldn't be further from the truth. Padawan is a title I can hope to live up to.
Knots Per Hour
My friend Mike is building an airplane. Check it out.