22 October 2002
Kicks just keep getting harder to find
Christopher Hitchens, of all people, heads west in a Corvette (what else?) to find the mystique of Route 66, and he tells the tale in the November Vanity Fair. A few pertinent observations, first near St Louis:
The most striking thing to me...was the constant reminder of Middle America's German past. It's not just the prevalence of the Anheuser-Busch and Budweiser ambience. There was a big Strassenfest, or street fair, in progress, and in Memorial Park were playing the Dingolfingen Stadtmusikanten Brass Band, Die Spitzbaum, and the Waterloo German Band. Some 58 million Americans tell the census that they are of German origin, even more than say English, and you would never really notice this, perhaps the most effective assimilation in history, any more than you "notice" that the minority leader in the House and the majority leader in the Senate are named Gephardt and Daschle.
Regarding Oklahoma City:
Oklahoma City, miles on through more red-soil country, is not so pretty. (Oh, the sacrifices that songwriters will make for a rhyme.) And some of its inhabitants are a tad bored by its piety. In the joint that I find as the evening descends, the bony young barman tells me that locals head for Texas for three things (it's always three things): "Booze, porn, and tattoos." His plump gay colleague, when I ask if there is anything else to look forward to on the road, exhales histrionically and breathes the magic name "California...."
Texas still wasn't as different as it likes to think. You hear a lot about the standardization of America, the sameness and the drabness of the brand names and the roadside clutter, but you have to be exposed to thousands of miles of it to see how obliterating the process really is. The food! The coffee! The newspapers! The radio! These would all disgrace a mediocre one-party state, or a much less prosperous country.
To harp further on radio:
[I]t was a dismal day when the Federal Communications Commission parceled out the airwaves to a rat pack of indistinguishable cheapskates, whose "product" is disseminated with only the tiniest regional variations.
Go read the whole thing. If nothing else, you'll get a glimpse of what it's like to feel superior to an entire region, something I've never been able to manage in forty-nine years and visits to thirty-odd states. I've driven this route a few times myself, at least the western four-fifths of it, and yes, some of it seems a bit dispiriting at times, but I don't believe that civilization ends at the east bank of the Hudson, either.