If I had been a bit braver in my early 20s, and maybe not so unsure of myself, I would have pursued my dream of becoming a temporary drifter to satisfy my wanderlust. I still have the romantic dream of traveling the U.S. to see as much of our country as possible, but it would have been more realistic for me to go when I was younger. Ah, hindsight.
I want to be like Caine from Kung Fu and just start walking, hitching, hopping on a Greyhound bus or a train, and even driving until I felt I had logged enough miles and had my share of our land from sea to shining sea.
I want to wander and have no agenda. No deadlines. No limits. I want enough money in my pocket not to worry about time spent in one place and moving on to the next. I’d like to find America, to see my fellow Americans with different accents, customs, diets and lifestyles. I have always been fascinated with the off-the-map types of places. Let me see the suburbs, urban centers and rural pastures. Show me our ribbons of highways and back roads and Main Street USA.
I also want to explore the great American cities. I’d chase our history and walk along famous streets named Beale, Bourbon and Beacon. Broadway too. I’d turn on Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” as my soundtrack and get going.
I’m sure I’d be fascinated with all the kitschy touristy attractions around the country. It might be hard to choose, but I’d want to take in a show in Branson, Missouri. I would check off bucket-list items like: the largest rubber-band ball in Lauderhill, Florida; the largest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas; or the largest rocking chair in Casey, Illinois. Maybe even see the largest peanut in Ashburn, Georgia, and the largest frying pan in Rose Hill, North Carolina.
But I’d probably first make my way up the California coast and hit the hippie trail in Santa Cruz. I’d want to see the giants at Mavericks near Half Moon Bay for myself. I’d want to know what it’s like in Crescent City.
Moving along, it would be bike riding in Portland and coffee in Seattle. Over time, I may want to seek out the routes of the Donners, Lewis and Clark, Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan.
Let me get my kicks on Route 66. I could get my country-western fix in Tombstone, Boothill, Dodge City, Cody and Fort Sumner to pay respects to Billy the Kid. Let me go by horseback through Monument Valley, searching for Randolph Scott and Louis L’Amour. Snake River Canyon would remind me of Evel Knievel. I would marvel at the magnitude of the Grand Canyon and try to visit reservations to learn the truth about cowboys and Indians.
In the big sky country, I could trace the steps of the 7th Cavalry all the way to Custer’s Last Stand. My fascination with the Badlands would bring me to pay respects to the faces on Mount Rushmore and to Crazy Horse. It would take me a while to visit Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes, but what’s the rush? I’d also be on a mission to dip my toe at the top of the Mississippi, “don’t cha know?”
It has also been a romantic dream of mine to work on a farm. Work the soil, plow the fields and see no line on the horizon except for corn stalks. A pair of gloves, dirty jeans, worn-in boots and maybe a plaid shirt would be my uniform as I earned my keep for a few weeks. I could nestle up in the barn and talk to the animals. Just imagine it.
I’d want to be invited in by a local somewhere in Nebraska for some homemade pie and learn about life on the Great Plains (while listening to Springsteen’s Nebraska album). And there would be lots of time spent at the Iowa State Fair, listening to local music and feasting on the huge list of food on a stick.
More wandering would get me to hang out with Cheeseheads and those two famous gals from the Shotz Brewery in Milwaukee. In Chicago I’d crash at my cousins’ house and ask them to drop me off at 2122 North Clark St. on Valentine’s Day. And yes, I’d even visit South Bend, Indiana to see Touchdown Jesus for myself. No doubt I’d get hung up and spend weeks in St. Joe, Michigan. There would be no time limits there hanging out on Silver Beach until I left to go cheer on the Mud Hens in Toledo. Get me to the campus of Kent State so I can feel those four spirits. I’d happily get lost throughout Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to spend time with the Amish and learn the art of quilting and making jam.
And I love New York in June. How about you? I’d trip back in time again at Ellis Island, hug the Statue of Liberty and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to see the transformation of Williamsburg. I’d try to be wicked smart in Boston and enjoy moonlight in Vermont. Then I’d wind my way up to Maine for lobster and to stare out across the Atlantic imagining explorers in their small wooden ships seeking the new world.
I want to walk among the purple mountains majesty and see the sun rise over the Blue Ridge. Think I could catch a real glimpse of life in Appalachia? Let me “yell up the holler” in Kentucky and ride horses in the back country.
My thirst for history would direct me to the Civil War sites of Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Vicksburg. You might spot me from a distance fixing bayonets and charging the enemy.
I would be a dandy gentleman while walking the squares and chatting with ghosts in Savannah. Charleston would invite me over for mint juleps. I would be fired up at Fort Sumter. And please give me the nighttime symphony of crickets and frogs and a creaky old rocking chair outside a swamp-side rustic cabin.
Waking in Memphis, I would channel all types of ghosts, and please bring on The King at Graceland. I want to hear the echoes of “the mountaintop” at the Mason Temple. It would be an early morning in Selma, Alabama, for a walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Besides the joy and wonder in wander, there would be time for reverence. I’d sit upon the grassy knoll in Dallas and replay a moment in time, then go pay respects to Bowie and Crockett at the Alamo. But I’d be in search of the mystic Friday-night lights in a small town in Texas watching high school football.
At some point, not knowing exactly when, it would be time to take me home, country road, on a rocky-mountain high until I could smell the Pacific Ocean again. When I could see the signs that read “Bixby Knolls Next 2 Exits” I’d know I was back at home and could rest my head, and feet, again. I would feel that I knew America a bit better then. And then I’d make sure to get up on Saturday morning to join the Strollers and wander a bit more through our own neighborhood.