I have never been much of a patriotic person. I've been raised a liberal, in a liberal family, in a liberal town in a conservative country for most of my life (with the exception of the Clinton years, but my mind was nowhere near politically oriented)- until Obama's election. I grew up with very little appreciation for the freedom I had, simply because I had been made aware of the things wrong with the way the country handled affairs. I never quite felt the pride of an American on the Fourth of July, I avoided wearing red white + blue together in an outfit, for fear of being labeled a flag-waving nationalist, I joked about moving to Canada for better health care, and ripped on the United States for most of the Bush (x2) years.
It was kind of fun, this self-deprecating anti-patriotism; it gave me a political stance when I would not have really had one since I hardly ever read beyond the comic section in the newspaper and despised the news. It was an easy opinion to hold: hate. It didn't require much thought, only a kind of senseless emotional response. There was a sort of twisted pride in pridelessness and it set me apart somewhat from the majority of students in my conservative high school full of Ford-driving, flag-waving, loyalist Uhmuricans! My self-proclaimed identity as a peaceful, "make art not war," hippie LOVER, translated into being, essentially, a HATER. How ironic.
I just drove across the United States. Twice. First with my Sister and my dad from Portland, Oregon, up to Washington mostly on I-80 eastbound through Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and finally New Jersey, where my parents' house is. This was a very important experience. Everyone should take a cross country road trip with people they don't quite understand yet. Enough said (for now).
Two weeks later, I drove westbound, mostly on I-70, slightly further south from the eastbound route. This time, I drove alone. Again, I highly recommend it. While driving with my family was incredibly beneficial and enlightening, this journey was even more so. Scratch that- I can't compare them- they were both amazing experiences, only in different ways. I can now confidently say that this Jersey girl can pump her OWN gas.
A couple of observations and bits of lessons I learned about the itty-bitty bit of country I drove through and the journey through it:
1. GPS is nice- BUT, dude, learn to read a map. You never know when you might accidentally leave your driver's side door unlocked for two days while you go on a backpacking trip in the Colorado mountains. You never know if someone might steal your GPS. You also never know when someone might restore your faith in humanity by making you THINK someone stole your GPS when they actually took it off your windshield and hid it between the driver's and the passenger seat so that no one ELSE might steal it.
2. Understand that being on a road is being in a community of people, traveling together. Stop racing, realize that a turning signal is NOT a courtesy, but rather, it is an ingredient to good driving. That said, when someone has their signal on: let them in the lane.
3. People do not drive the same everywhere. Jersey drivers are pretty near the top of the list of inconsiderate states in terms of driving etiquette. Missouri, too.
4. Cross the Mississippi river. Think about Huck-Fin.
5. Give the Mid-West a chance. Kansas is kind of beautiful in its simplicity.
6. Not every place is elegant, picturesque, or exotic. Every place is, however, beautiful. Learn to find the beauty.
7. The US is pretty darn big- no Soviet Union, I know, but still, pretty darn big. More than that, though, the US is very diverse in terms of people, landscape and culture. See it, open up to it, don't judge it, appreciate it.
8. The environment you live in shapes you, no doubt. The US is composed of a vast range of landscapes and those areas produce an equally vast range of people. In my experience on the east coast (18 years growing up in New Jersey etc.) you generally cannot SEE the Earth, unless you seek it out. No obvious mountains (with, of course, a few commodified exceptions). Beaches are privatized, land is owned, and dominated. Houses are built, and man-made lakes and hills are erected. Dams are built to control natural sources of water and wildfires are suppressed (true in most places- not just the east coast, true). Many of these things are not true in other places. In Kansas, for example, your vision is not obstructed by mini-malls, mega-malls, superstores or freeways, etc- you have the ability to see miles and miles around you in any given direction. You have the opportunity to witness the incredible beauty and vastness of the Earth. It's no wonder a belief in God and Creationism has a big presence there. Driving through the mountains and canyons in Colorado and southbound California, you become acutely aware of your meager size. It's very humbling. These formations would not be dominated. It's no wonder much of these areas are active in "Green" movements.
9. ALWAYS have an empty container. Just in case. Of emergencies. ALWAYS have an energy drink. Even if you never open it. Even if you open it, just to taste it.
10. A solo cross country road trip is a great time to learn a language. There are tons of "Learn [insert language here] Behind the Wheel!" programs, and you can repeat the phrases without feeling stupid. Ipod car adapters are nice, but turn on the local stations once in a while. In Utah especially. You'd be surprised how much of the country has country music radio stations.
In concluding part one, I'd like to distinguish myself, a lover of my country, different, however, from a patriot or a nationalist. I am infatuated with the landscape of the US and am fascinated by its people. I am not (yet) a lover of the politics imposed on the land and corrupted by the greed and power hungry motives of it's people. (disclaimer, not all motives are greedy or power hungry and not all the people are engaging in those motives)
To the land of my country: I love you; you are beautiful. I promise to someday bring my children to see and to be shaped by your vast glory. Except New Jersey- with you, I am done.
Hello, US! Hello, World! Goodbye, NJ! (and to all those in the dirty: come visit me, wherever I may be!)