I don’t have a bucket list. It’s not that I don’t expect to die; I just don’t have time to put one together, let alone implement it. But, if I had a list, you can now cross off what would be the number one entry. I have visited all 50 United States. It took almost 50 years and was never an official plan until I woke up one day and realized I had already seen more than 40. But as I crossed into Oregon this week, it happened.
I don’t know why it matters. But it does. My father inculcated in me a love of the road that only expanded as I raised my own children to the edge of adulthood. It took on a life of its own that far outpaced the adventurous spirit upon which it is bedrocked.
And, it’s been a good run. Skiing with Stats in Utah and Colorado. Cross country with Shoshana in Oklahoma City. Vegas with Gronk, and Yo. Courtrooms in Atlanta, Cedar Rapids, Miami, Fargo, Hartford, and Seattle. LA with Elisha. My honeymoon in Hawaii, and its 20th anniversary in Alaska. 12 visits to Bentonville over 9 years. Orlando with David and Montana with Benny. Dallas with Hannah. New Orleans with Molly. Providence with my parents.
But, without debate, the highlight has to be the 4 cross country road trips with my wife and children that brought us to more than 40 states. From the plains of South Dakota to the wastelands of New Mexico. From the heartland to the Badlands. Sidestepping the Bourbon trail in Kentucky and outracing hurricane Isaac in New Orleans. Grilling kosher steaks in South Dakota, New Orleans, and, literally, everywhere in between. Taking in a Cowboys’ game in Dallas, a Nationals’ game in DC, the Mariners, Blue Jays, Lakers, Eagles, Dolphins, Seahawks, a minor league game in Albuquerque. From my hometown of New Jersey to the hospital room in Boston that started it all. The Statute of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, Route 66, Graceland, the Smithsonian, Old Faithfull, the Kentucky Derby. From the Mountains to the Prairie. From sea to shining sea.
This is my American Tune. I know there is a great big world out there. I want to see Asia and Africa. Australia and New Zealand. Ireland. Scotland. Eastern Europe. I want to climb Kilimanjaro. It will take a lifetime and lucky lottery numbers. Meanwhile, you have no idea what you’re missing in your own backyard.
I learned a lot on those road trips. About the United States. About history, patience, kindness, the wild diversity and concurrent similarities between people from all backgrounds. I’ve seen Eskimos, native Americans, aboriginal tribes, immigrants (the legal and illegal kind). I met millionaires, movie stars, the homeless, criminals, professional athletes. The range of perspectives and cultures were as wide as the continent. But, each has an unmistakable shared humanity. I made a point of talking to people everywhere I went. It was a soaring highlight.
But, mostly, I learned about myself. And my family. It’s a lot of hours behind the wheel. Often alone with my thoughts. Not alone. My dad was with me. He kept me company most of the time. He explained that the special relationships that I have with my brother and sister were forged in the backseat of our Chevrolet a lifetime ago during beta versions of these same trips. Josh and Miriam are the best friends I have. And, I see those same roots reaching across my minivan and strapping themselves to my own children.
The world has become unrecognizable to its 1970s self. Children no longer have the attention span or wanderlust for prolonged unplugged family time. Parents just don’t have the time, burning both ends of the candle to keep up with the supersonic speeds of 21st century materialism and technology. I am not one of those who mourns the death of a more “simpler time.” Who sees the future as tragic. But, there is something to be said about a week on the road without cell phones or Netflix. Experiencing the wonders of nature and the monuments of man through the eyes of the only people in the world who matter. Invariably, you return home but always a little smarter, calmer, inspired, and determined.
We don’t need to make America great again. We just need to get to know it a little better.