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January 19, 2004

Americana

The daily bump and grind of suburbia is hardly all that America has to offer. Too many of us spend far too long in the city. We become citified, forgetting about the whole world of experiences our country has to offer outside of our comfortable city limits. Sometimes you just have to break the mold. You broke the mold this summer. Rather than flying to Colorado, you drove. It was a long drive, but you wouldn't trade any moment of it for anything else. Except maybe the chance to do it all again with one of Canon's new Digital Rebels in tow. All the nice hotels are a great temporary respite, but you're not a real American traveler until you've stayed at One Of Those Hotels. Those of us who have been there know the kind. The ones where you can hear the drug deal going on in the next room through the paper-thin walls. The ones that feel and look like a prison because they didn't bother to put drywall up over the brick. The ones where a murder investigation comes about in the middle of the night and you decide to check out early. The ones where an endless stream of ants clamber their way up the shower drain. The ones where the bathroom doorknob comes off in your hand and you wonder if you'll die naked and alone from starvation (and you start wondering if you could somehow worm your way out that tiny frosted window). The "newly remodeled" Best Westerns, where "remodeled" means they added an indoor pool and a jacuzzi while leaving the rooms the same way they've been since 1970. You simply haven't lived until you've tried to watch television, only to find the speaker is inexplicably on the side of the TV and fires toward the door. You're not a real (or perhaps MacGuyveresque) traveler until you've propped your luggage against the wall and stood a cupped newspaper next to the TV to redirect the sound toward you. You even stayed at one Best Western (albeit briefly, because the air didn't work) with a circa-1970 Westinghouse air conditioning unit. The coldness setting went to 11. You thought of Spinal Tap and laughed. You don't think the angry German maintenance man wearing blue socks with his tan Tevas found anything amusing about your lack of satisfaction with the air conditioning in an 85 degree room. "Is fine," he said. "Needs time to wark." It had already been running for almost two hours, so off it was to find another room at another hotel. Traveling is waking up in the morning and going to breakfast at a local restaurant, to find they're seriously serving Freedom Toast instead of French Toast, and that it's no laughing matter. And that despite the Freedom Toast, it feels more like home than anywhere has during your journey. It reminds you of your grandparents' town, most of the regulars sitting at the counter talking about their farms while one sits in a booth and hollers across the room occasionally to join in the conversation. It's hundreds of miles from home and thousands from your grandparents, but there it is suspended in time and space. A little slice of American life, a little slice of home. And if you believe the menu, four slices of freedom for three bucks. Sitting in that booth, the one that never escaped the 1950s, you realize that _this_ is America. Not a sea of faceless strangers who don't care, but the same types of people you've known your entire life. People serving good food and a smile for cheap prices. You tip the waitress excessively in thanks. People you're astonished hold the door for you, and people you astonish right back the next day when you return the favor. A smile and a thank you between strangers. People of all ages, all races, all... everything. But people united, regardless of what's being reported on the six o'clock news. The open road calls. When are you going to answer? When are you going to rediscover America?

Posted by Colin at January 19, 2004 9:51 AM

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