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The results of the recent mid-term elections bring up again the old questions about the true nature of America. What is the fabric that holds all of us together? What is it that defines us? What is America? When I was on the road, I read John Steinbeck’s book Travels with Charley – in Search Of America. Appropriately for my trip, it is a story of Steinbeck’s coast-to-coast journey from New York to California in search of the what America is. It was exciting to read about the same places I visited and to “compare notes” with Steinbeck exactly 50 years after he had taken his trip..
Unlike my children who grow up in the suburbs of New York, I grew up on the other side of the Atlantic, fantasizing about America where all buildings are skyscrapers with more than 100 stories, and where outside the cities cowboys herd cattle with their lassos and have shoot-outs outside the saloon when they have too much to drink or when someone cheats at Poker.
An America where police detectives roam the streets wearing guns under their jackets, and eat donuts and hot dogs on the street because all hot dog stands are informers. The America of Starsky and Hutch, Ironside, Colombo, Kojak, and Hawaii Five-O. The America of John Wayne and Roy Rogers. And of course – the America of Easy Rider.
This country is so great, vast, and diverse, and yet it is one thing. Riding from the east coast to the west coast you go through Indian reservations, cowboys, poverty, wealth, mountains, valleys, deserts, urban hubs, towns of population 50, and almost every kind of race, origin, and ethnicity. Perhaps the only way to understand America is to experience it.
John Steinbeck did not come back from his travels with Charley with any one clear answer that can be easily articulated. He found America, but even he could not translate his experience into words. America is the same way the Supreme Court described pornography, and Robert Pirsig described quality in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – it’s impossible to define but you know it when you see it. I think that America is not a noun or a “thing”, it’s a verb or a process. An experience. Its true greatness is its ability to change, and there is no doubt that the latest elections brought change with them. Whether the outcome is the one of your choice or not, it’s important to accept that these results are again a manifestation of the core greatness of this process called America, its agility, and its ability to evolve.
God bless America.