The Great American Roadtrip

Legendary American travel writer Paul Theroux took a roadtrip through his own country and wrote about it beautifully in this month's Smithsonian magazine. Discovering America by car is not exactly virgin territory journalistically speaking — see Steinbeck, Kerouac — but Theroux still manages to refresh our understanding of this beautiful place.

My favorite sentence is, "Listening to music while driving through a lovely landscape is one of life's great mood enhancers" and my favorite paragraph is his last:

A trip abroad, any trip, ends like a movie—the curtain drops and then you're home, shut off. But this was different from any trip I'd ever taken. In the 3,380 miles I'd driven, in all that wonder, there wasn't a moment when I felt I didn't belong; not a day when I didn't rejoice in the knowledge that I was part of this beauty; not a moment of alienation or danger, no roadblocks, no sign of officialdom, never a second of feeling I was somewhere distant—but always the reassurance that I was home, where I belonged, in the most beautiful country I'd ever seen.

That's high praise coming from a man who's spent 40 years traversing the globe. And of course, I agree.

My 2007 roadtrip — Colorado to Boston to San Francisco — taught me that the American west's beauty continues to be underrated by almost everyone, but especially east coast city dwellers and foreigners who've never heard of Utah (the most beautiful state in the union). That driving can be a flow-inducing activity. That assembling the MP3 playlist for a long drive is half the fun. That every male ought to pee off the side of a deserted highway in the middle of nowhere, and every American ought to dine at a trucker's cafe in Nebraska and order the house pie with a side of milk.

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Here is a touching video of school children singing "Pictures of You" by The Cure. Here's a surprisingly poignant video of ordinary moments.

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