I spent the last few weeks checking off a bucket list
item. There’s just too much of this
country I had not yet seen, and by playing aggressive defense on my calendar I
was able to piece together the time for an extended road trip. 22 states and 8,027 rental car miles later, I’m
back at the home office in Georgia.
The goal was to see the northwest quadrant of the
country. I’ve also wanted to drive up the
Pacific Coast Highway since I first saw a small stretch of it almost thirty
years ago. To get there involved a route
through Nashville and up to St. Louis, west over to Monterrey, north up the
coast to Seattle, and returning east back to Wisconsin to make the southern turn
For those who haven’t yet experienced it, this is a
beautiful country. The cliffs and
beaches of central California do look a bit different than those in Oregon, but
both are breathtakingly stunning. There’s
still snow on Pike’s Peak in Colorado despite unseasonably warm temperatures
throughout the western U.S.
The “big sky” in Montana meets beautiful rivers at the base
of rolling hills and mountains. Lake
Tahoe juxtaposes alpine views with summer shorelines. The great Salt Lake is a well-known, but the
sandy swamp along the freeway leading west to the Bonneville Salt Flats in
Western Utah is a natural wonder unto itself.
Madison Wisconsin combines the college-town charm of Athens
with the architectural beauty of Washington, D.C. The weather in Silicon Valley helps me
understand why people pay what it costs to live there. Even though the tourist experiences of St
Louis’ Gateway Arch and Seattle’s Space Needle may be a bit hokey (and pricey),
both provide views that frame their parts of the country magnificently.
As I was originally told as a young man and have re-learned the
hard way many times as I have aged, beauty is only skin deep. The beauty of America has never really been
about our amber waves of grain or our fruited plains. It’s in our people. Luckily, I was able to spend enough time
outside of the rental car to experience that, too.
There was beauty in the synchronized service of the five
waitresses at the breakfast diner in Council Bluffs Iowa, who managed to attend
to the “usuals” in a room full of well-known patrons while making an obvious
tourist feel welcome (and full) simultaneously.
There was equal beauty in the night manager of a Cheyenne Wyoming hotel
who wanted each of her guests, even for just one night, to feel “at home” and a
part of her community.
There is beauty in the optimism of a fellow restaurant
patron in Rapid City South Dakota who had just changed career fields for a
better opportunity. There was more from the mother in Omaha Nebraska that was
proud of the scholarship offers for her graduating son, but who was equally
concerned as to how much advice she should be giving him as he prepares to
chart his own future.
There is beauty in the quiet dignity of 95-year-old Tuskegee
Airman Franklin Macon, who as part of the Greatest Generation has yet to fully
retire as an aviation mechanic. Even more beautiful is that he spends most of
his current time and energy trying to teach the youngest generation life
lessons in getting over obstacles life will put in their way.
Helping me to see this beauty was a complete avoidance of
social media and the flat refusal to discuss politics with those along the
way. It’s easier to see what unites us
when side stepping things that divide us.
America is truly a beautiful country, and you too should
make a point to see it. In red states,
blue states, and in our purple mountain majesties, the beauty goes well beyond our
vistas. It is, and remains, in our