We left the bubble of Minneapolis this winter – more like the ice castle of Minneapolis this year – on an epic road trip to see the landscape of those whose experience of this country is so different than ours.
Context is important here – we live in a friendly neighborhood located between two of the loveliest city lakes in this City of Lakes. Our neighbors are all solvent and our home values go up year over year in this growing and prosperous city. Our kids rode their bikes to community parks and graduated from a top public high school. Life is good here.
Believing that our bubble of bueno was shared by most in this great nation was a mistake. And it was a mistake we needed to fix because we each believe strongly in the importance of politics as a way to achieve meaningful change for this country we love. Politics as the art of solving problems, of negotiating solutions, of achieving compromise in how we approach big issues in this country.
So we hit the road, heading south because – well, it was winter and Minnesota is on the North Coast of this country meaning most of the rest is south of us.
Big headline learnings?
America is a gorgeous country with the landscapes that take your breath away well balanced by those that inspire long exhales. We are fortunate that a hundred years ago, Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson realized we should preserve the fragile reminders of the earthquakes, volcanoes, and overall movement that created rolling hills, majestic mountains, buttes, cliffs, canyons, rivers, and swamps millennia ago. Our national parks are truly a treasured legacy of good planning that we need to value.
Americans who work in gas stations, hotels, and restaurants are wonderfully friendly and helpful souls. In six weeks of travel, we didn’t encounter a single human who was grumpy or mean. This isn’t a surprise. Most humans are good people – it’s the extremists of all stripes that give us a bad name, and those extremists don’t seem to work in customer facing jobs.
More Americans live in manufactured housing of all kinds than we had imagined. This includes mobile homes, doublewides, and RVs in community after community. We were surprised by the winter communities that spring up in the desert – more than 250,000 RVs annually show up in Quartzsite, AZ to enjoy the swap meet community and flea markets there. There is something uniquely American about this – the freedom that comes from choosing a place to live that can be picked up and moved when circumstances or weather says it’s time to go.
America’s Interstate Highway system is a marvel – and could use a reboot. The highway engineers who completed a coast-to-coast solution to our itchy desire to take road trips were remarkably creative and disciplined. Thanks to Dwight Eisenhower for championing the nationwide network – and it’s time to update the roadways for the 21st Century.
America has always been a nation of change fueled by technology. We drove by and through a number of ghost towns and shadow cities where the reason for being in that place had been eclipsed by progress. Former whistle stops for steam engine trains, cities on the edge of old copper, gold, and silver mines, and ancient native villages tell the stories of lives lived with hope and promise before some form of progress made viable livelihoods impossible.
Looking at the outline of homes left behind for millennia and centuries makes it clear that disruption of families and communities has marked our American landscape since. I just wonder if the residents of whistle stop towns in the 1880s were as fearful for tomorrow as we are today. The families who are at home in today’s industrial cities have the sense that the full employment of decades past will never return as it was. But the magnetic hold of home keeps them in place – and in a frightful place.
I’m planning to focus some time on sharing more with you about all we learned from our Six Weeks on the Road – but for now, these are the headlines of the experience.