Paul Theroux, writing in Smithsonian magazine, describes his roadtrip across America.
The mixed blessing of America is that anyone with a car can go anywhere. The visible expression of our freedom is that we are a country without roadblocks. And a driver’s license is our identity. My dream, from way back—from high school, when I first heard the name Kerouac—was of driving across the United States. The cross-country trip is the supreme example of the journey as the destination.
Travel is mostly about dreams—dreaming of landscapes or cities, imagining yourself in them, murmuring the bewitching place names, and then finding a way to make the dream come true. The dream can also be one that involves hardship, slogging through a forest, paddling down a river, confronting suspicious people, living in a hostile place, testing your adaptability, hoping for some sort of revelation. All my traveling life, 40 years of peregrinating Africa, Asia, South America and Oceania, I have thought constantly of home—and especially of the America I had never seen. “I discovered I did not know my own country,” Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley, explaining why he hit the road at age 58.
My idea was not to linger anywhere, but to keep on the move, as though to create in my mind one long panning shot, from Los Angeles to Cape Cod; to get up each morning and set off after breakfast, going as far as I wished, and then find a place to sleep. Generations of drivers have obviously felt the same way, since the country has become a set of natural divisions, from Los Angeles, say, to Las Vegas, Las Vegas to Sedona, Sedona to Santa Fe—but I am getting ahead of myself.