Those who know me know how much I love Winnie, our little motor home. Cute and cozy go a long way with me. So it was without any fear whatsoever that we packed up some clothes, some food, a few books, games, puzzles and our always eager golden retriever, and headed off on a six-week odyssey of exploration across the U.S. of A.
The trip provided a number of valuable insights, not the least of which was that if you’re going on a long trip in a small motor home, make sure you get along with your traveling companion really well. Or failing that, lock up anything sharp. But more importantly, we discovered a lot what makes America great – or at least unique.
Day 1: Made it north through Oregon, happily bound for Arizona. Discovered the map was upside down. Reprogrammed the GPS and decided Canada might be nice this time of year.
Day 2: Driving through Washington, we made the interesting discovery that this state doesn’t like signs. Or tourists. Or maybe both. There appears to be a state-wide conspiracy to put up exactly one sign that points a driver in the general direction of something, and that’s it.
Day 4: Wheeeeeee – we’re off and running though Idaho and Montana! A little scary, being out of Oregon’s nurturing arms and released from all the traffic herding and inch-along speed limits. And talk about freedom – did you know the people out here are entrusted with pumping their own gas?!
Day 7: Canada! We crossed the border at a tiny crossing point, and our dog had to prove he wasn’t carrying contraband hockey pucks. Then we had to figure out that even though the speed limit sign says 100, they get mad if you actually drive that fast. Something about kilometers being different from miles.
Day 9: We discovered that Canadians are really nice people. And they do actually say “eh” a lot. The most significant cultural difference we discovered was in their donut shops. They call their maple bars “Long Johns” – how weird is that?? But we had a lot in common with them as well. For example, we’re both bi-lingual countries.
Day 10: Dropped back down into eastern Montana. Don’t know why.
Day 11: Lots and lots and lots of windmills in eastern Montana. At first, I thought they were for harnessing wind power to generate electricity, but I was wrong. It turns out that eastern Montana is where all of the wind in the United States is actually made in the first place. Apparently the windmills are used to create the wind – nobody really knows why – then it’s packaged up and shipped out all over the U.S. to anyone who needs it.
Day 14: North Dakota. Many centuries from now, archeologists will be digging here and will come to the inescapable conclusion that John Deere was a god.
Day 19: Minn-e-sota. Yes, they really do talk like that. Nice people, with really cool accents and really great cheese! Saw a lot of cows, and they actually appeared content. Then we saw a local newscast about a man who’d been out hiking and came across a large field of pot plants growing wild. A police officer noted that wild marijuana plants are not uncommon in many parts of Minnesota, and that the state doesn’t have the resources to be proactive in getting rid of them. That, obviously, explains the contented cows.
Day 21: Two things not to like about Minnesota. The roads are so rough here, all of the photos that were in my camera were shaken out of focus. And we discovered that the house fly is actually the state bird.
Day 22: Minneapolis, and the Mall of America. What’s not to like about a mall with an amusement park inside? And come on – a full-size Lego helicopter? Very cool! Also visited a giant IKEA store, which is the very epitome of efficient organization. Unfortunately, it frightened my wife.
Day 25: Wisconsin. They have cheese curds here. I have no idea what they are. A TV commercial showed a farmer milking his cow and walking away with a bucket-full of these little white nuggets, but since they come in jalapeño and BBQ flavors, somehow I’m not thinking that’s really where they come from. Whatever the source, however, they’re addicting little devils.
Day 27: Green Bay. Went to see the world’s biggest steam locomotive. Come on now – if cheese curds and a giant steam locomotive aren’t worth a drive half-way across the country, I don’t know what is!
Day 28: Wisconsin gets the Best Bumper Sticker award. Seen on a passing car: “Stop Repeat Offenders: Don’t Re-Elect Them!”
Day 30: Iowa. This state gets the “Biggest Surprise” award. Fall colors galore, beautiful scenery. Scary people.
Day 33: Nebraska. Yep, Nebraska. Lot of corn here.
Day 34: Kansas. Whenever there’s a natural disaster somewhere in the world, the United States is always quick to donate something. Well with all due respect to the six or seven people who still live here, the next time we need to donate something somewhere in the world, let’s give ‘em Kansas.
Day 36: Back over the Continental Divide and into “The West” once more. Nice to be back in our half of the country. Colorado’s pretty. Stopped in Aspen. Bend gets compared to Aspen a lot, and from a beauty standpoint, I can see why. But let’s not ever get that full of ourselves. Or get that many bears.
Day 41: Home at last! Came away with a couple of overriding conclusions:
1) In every town, no matter how small or how beaten down, the biggest and best maintained buildings always belonged to the government, proving yet again that in any economy, the government always has the ability to live beyond its means;
2) This is a fascinating, beautiful, funny, truly wonderful country;
3) Golden retrievers are excellent traveling companions, but it would be nice if they came in a smaller square footage version.
Ideally with minty-fresh breath.
Paul can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.