Dreaming of an American Road Trip
OK, I've seen Easy Rider – that most seminal of 70's road movies with the deserts and small towns of Middle America providing the back drop to the greatest motorcycle ride ever. And I've read 'On The Road' too, when Jack Kerouac jumped in his 1950's car and drove at 90mph across state lines, chasing the sun towards the bright lights of San Francisco.
Ever since then, I've harboured a hidden secret desire to simply up and leave, calling in sick at work one day, jumping on the next transatlantic flight to the eastern seaboard of the wide rolling country that is the United States, hiring a beat up old saloon and driving in a straight line until I reach the Pacific Ocean.
I suppose if you think about it, driving is probably not the best way to see a place. You don't get to talk to anyone, and everything speeds past you at such a rate that you never have time to take it all in. And I guess the view from an American highway is probably quite similar to the view from the M5 on a busy bank holiday, and do they have traffic jams over there?
But anyway, that's not the point. To be honest, an American road trip isn't about seeing the sights. We've all seen it at the cinema and in the music videos already anyway, so there's surely little that this empty country can offer that hasn't been seen before, replayed over and over in a dozen westerns and gritty cop dramas. Instead I imagine pulling up at a filling station on a dusty highway on the outskirts of some small backwater town called Townsville or something, where an incredibly old man in a cowboy hat would fill up the tank for 10¢ a gallon while I bought cigarettes and beef jerky. There would be diners too, with chrome counters and middle aged women in pink dresses, smoking while they flip burgers and ask how you would like your eggs.
The reality, of course, is unlikely to live up to the dream. The motels and dingy drinking dens that I imagine meeting old blues singers and beat-up hobos with stories of the road to tell in probably don't exist anymore. And the roads are different now: gone are the days when you could speed across the desert with your foot on the floor and not worry about a highway patrol around every corner.
But despite this, the way to see America is still surely on the road, if not purely because of the sheer size of the place. There are hundreds of miles between New York and New Orleans, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and as long as you don't get car sick, a potential experience along the way.