There is a simple fact of my life: given the chance to go on the road, I will most likely go on the road.
The confluence of events this time was too perfect. Teaching Steinbeck's Travels With Charley to my students again, trying to connect them to the idea of traveling this country with maps and destinations and memories, while spending the last year America-obsessed because of the election, with an electoral focus on states I never think about, all while the Springsteen tour continued and I made Trout a simple deal--if Obama wins the election, I will go to Kansas City.
I had to walk the walk, even if not searching for the "authentic" America or the original America like my fellow teacher who crossed the country last summer with his young family, using unpaved roads, dirt paths, river beds, and the mere rumor of what used to be a road.
My goals were not so lofty. I was after great barbecue and an even better concert. I got both.
Having documented Springsteen shows before, I need only say that this one was the very best, and that I am now a person who has seen him four times on this tour, starting last April, and that is not a person I thought I would become. Having documented road trips before, I will not remind you of any of my particular idiosyncracies or slight epiphanies. Or maybe I will.
As any of those historic travelers above would sagely tell you, you don't go for what you wanted; you go for what you didn't expect to get.
So, here's what I got:
--first, I figured out something practical, which I'll pass on to you, since I think have solved the problem of "drowsy driving" once and for all. Buy a large drink in a plastic cup and fill it as full of ice as possible. Drink the drink soon. But have the cup of ice at your side. It will melt slowly. If you start to get sleepy, starting sucking on or eating ice. I promise, it will keep you awake and alert.
--I got a future trip to Kansas City with my wife. I had only been there once, briefly, over 20 years ago. It is a beautiful, alive, vibrant city with stunning architecture, plenty to do, and a sensible blend of tourist offerings amidst a solid grounding in its own history. I can't wait to go back.
--Anytime I think the local version of regional food is not worth the effort, I am wrong. Case in point: you can get a Blizzard at any Dairy Queen in the country, but they clearly got the idea from the "concrete" at Ted Drewes in St. Louis, and going 20 miles out of the way to find out how good real frozen custard can be was a worthy excursion to open my eyes to that truth.
--I gained an appreciation for President Harry S. Truman after spending an afternoon at his very balanced presidential library. It is hard now to imagine that after less than three months as vice-president, during which time he had no contact with FDR, he suddenly became president and immediately had to make some of the momentous decisions in our history--the Potsdam Conference, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, the division of Germany, the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Airlift.
--Nothing tastes better than breakfast on the road, a full breakfast of eggs, toast, coffee, potatoes, some kind of pork. It's funny that if you take a long trip, you will eat all your meals either on the road or at new places, but it is breakfast that captures the essence of the road.
--The ultimate road companion must be one who embraces the music, because music is the ultimate road companion.
But I knew that already.
But I knew that already.