America, The Beautiful

View from the Pacific Coast Highway near Monterrey, CA

This week’s Courier Herald column:

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 home.

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.

Newport, OR

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.

Sunset over Moses Lake, WA

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 people.


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