If the response received is a fair indicator then the ramblings about searching for America posted yesterday struck a chord. Perhaps I should explain.
My personal glimpse of mortality in the form of a biopsy confirming skin cancer a mere two weeks before the death of my mother, which was followed eleven days later by the death of my little sister, was the catalyst that brought me from that half awake state to full alertness. The world I was living in, working in, and waking up in every morning was not the pre-generic world of neon lit nights, two lane highways, motels without television, family vacations, and station wagons remembered from my youth.
Fleeting thoughts of the America that I once knew, and occasional sighs of longing for those halcyon days, began to manifest as a hunger to find traces of that lost civilization. This growing passion was not born of a desire to relive the past, or to be set free from the technological constrictions of the modern era, but to find a mooring, a tether, before setting out into the deeper waters shrouded with the fog of uncertainty that is the future.
I am not hungering for the America that made the Green Book for the Negro Motorist a travel guide of necessity for a large segment of the population but for the America that negated the need for that book. It is not the colorful, hallucinogenic search for self America of the late sixties that I want to find but the nation that created a standard of living that allowed for such myopic frivolity.
All of this could be written off as a mid life crisis, provided I will live to be at least 106, if I were longing for a Corvette or ’57 Chevy. This is something deeper, a quest for under understanding, for meaning.
Societies evolve, the good is often replaced with a poor imitation sold as progressive thinking, and the bad is often relegated to the ash heap of history, or at least is swept from the view of polite society with catchy phrases such as political correctness. The question is this, what price do we pay for advancement, or at least the illusion of progress?
Route 66 makes for an excellent case study. Initially, the highway stood in stark contrast to the spoke breaking mud ruts marked with a myriad of confusing signs placed by various associations.
Society evolved. By the late 1920s more families owned automobiles than had indoor plumbing. Automobile manufacturers addressed the potential collapse of sales as a result of the glutted market by introducing finance plans, a first, and well crafted advertisements that instilled guilt for depriving your family of the latest in automotive improvement or for not keeping pace with your neighbors.
The automobile you bought in 1930 reflected a dramatic improvement in safety, economy, longevity, and performance over the vehicle purchased in 1920. The road you drove that car over often was a dramatic improvement over the road of 1912, 1920, or even 1925.
By 1950 this was no longer the case even though perception crafted through advertisement blinded us to the reality. A 1950 model Chevrolet car, with the exception of minor things such as carburetor improvements and water pump placement, had the same engine as a 1940 Chevrolet.
With the exception of creature comforts and amenities such as power steering and air conditioning, the 1937 Chrysler was mechanically equal to a six cylinder Chrysler product sold in 1960, and when equipped with an overdrive transmission even delivered better fuel economy. If you stepped up to the radically designed Chrysler Airflow of 1937, you even had safety features equal to those found on most late 1950s automobiles.
What sacrifices were made to pay for the automotive progress during this period? We began giving up the self reliance that comes from being able to adjust valves, repair a tire, or perform a simple tune up.
As the vehicles became more complicated they required greater expertise and specialized equipment to repair. Now we paid someone to do these services and instead of $20.00 for a tune up, and an afternoon spent teaching your son a variety of skills, we picked up a part time job on Saturday to pay for the additional expenses or so we could afford the little extras in life.
The highways evolved to meet the needs of the two car family and fueled the spread of suburbia that in turn fueled the need for improved roads. Just as Route 66 had replaced the muddy trail, the interstate replaced Route 66.
What price did we pay for this progress? The highways of America became a safer place to drive but they also became a monochrome slide show void of color.
We have traded individuality and freedom for conformity and servitude, a world as bland as mashed potatoes on a white paper plate. It is the hunger for color and flavor that drives the growing resurgent interest in Route 66.
I to hunger for these things and that is why I write, why I travel, and why I share so others will be encouraged to rediscover these wonders. However, I also hunger for the essence of the America of individuality, of self reliance, and nonconformity. These are what I want to search for on the road less traveled.