Deck of “Camp Casey” as dubbed by the owner, in West Bridport, VT already cluttered with out bikes in anticipation.
I finished Travels with Charley this morning as we dawdled in Saratoga Springs and that seems appropriate because tonight we spend our first night in the cabin which will be home for the next four weeks. We have covered approximately three thousand miles, almost coast to coast, of American country in the hardy Subaru (for which I felt only mildly guilty as we passed through Michigan). I won’t even begin to presume that I can summarize what I’ve seen of this country, especially after reading how Steinbeck himself struggled to describe the country and it’s people in sweeping general terms. I can say that I am awed by the sheer size of this place. To drive seven days, catching polychromatic insects at eighty miles an hour, and have caught only fragments of ten of the lower forty-eight – that’s 20%, a fraction of 20% – is humbling.
How the hell does anyone govern this place? And who is visionary enough to try? Just governing the single state of New York must require a balance verging on black magic. I have seen The City and it’s legendary electricity of commerce and culture, it’s stratification of success. NYC is in some ways larger than many single states alone; I heard recently (probably on NPR) that the city encompasses five counties. Not five cities to a county, but five counties to hold one city. Then today, we drove upstate New York.
This was not just “driving distance from the city” upstate or “Albany or Buffalo” upstate but “small farm, tired-town drive a tractor on the highway” upstate. We stopped at Wal-Mart for cabin supplies, because we missed every small grocery store in every village we passed through because we didn’t recognize them as grocery stores until they were in the rear-view mirror. Embarrassing, really. But at Wal-Mart, the girl a the register spoke without actually moving her mouth and there was a echo on her of Appalachia. And this is still New York, home of the Wall Street racketeers and Broadway Theatre. I can say honestly, I never really knew.
It’s not just that the physical distances are great. (I want desperately to say something about Lake Michigan, the image of which reappears in my head each time with a kind of shock, as if a lake that size breaks certain laws of physics or is otherwise impossible, but I have to save that for later.) Clearly, the experiential distances are just as great. I find myself comparing Madison, WI (I could almost live there) to East Lansing, MI (we parked the car beneath a street light facing the hotel and I was still compelled to check on them through the night), or the industrial base of Milwaukee with the newly hayed fields of South Dakota. Growing up in each of these places would steep you in starkly different life experiences.
At the same time, all these places are strung together on common roadways, common commodities, common airwaves. I remember picking up an NPR station in greater Wisconsin and recognizing the voices. Every hotel we stopped in sported a coffee maker and the same restaurant and hotel chains are ubiquitous at all freeway exits (except, seemingly, in Lansing, but that’s another story). And we were able to ride that continuity all the way across this country (and part of Canada) so that I can be sitting here, looking at the great state of New York, from the empire of Vermont, typing this.
View of New York across Lake Champlain from the Vermont side