TRAVEL TIPS: While my girlfriend's dodging bombs in Israel, my parents are in Italy and my brother is Somewhere In America. He gave me a call the other day to say he was at a hockey game in Arkansas -- I think he said Arkansas -- and that an Elvis impersonator was out on the rink singing "Suspicious Minds."
I always loved that song.
Now a friend writes to tell me that he's thinking of taking a three-week cross-country trip, and do I have any suggestions for places to see? (Sure: ask the Walker who isn't traveling.) I told him to let Roadside America be his Bible. And then I told him this:
If you go through Utah -- and really, there's no point to doing a trip like this and not seeing Utah -- then you should check out Bryce Canyon. It kicks the Grand Canyon's ass.
One of the casinos in Vegas has a big statue of Elmer Fudd in it.
Meridian, Mississippi, is filled with lovable run-down old buildings, and it's got the Jimmie Rodgers Museum too.
If you go to California, you should take Route 1 up the coast. If you go to Seattle, check out Gasworks Park. And for God's sake, don't skimp on the Rust Belt. Everyone knows about the crazy west and the gothic south, but there's a lot of hidden weirdness in Ohio and Michigan, too. And Pittsburgh is one strangely beautiful city.
Interstates are good for making relatively rapid jumps. They are not good for actually seeing the country. Use them, but use them wisely.
Keep your radio on. If a station sounds cool, drop by for a visit.
Utah and Nevada contain the country's weirdest people and the country's weirdest landscapes. Explore both.
Phoenix is ugly. Tucson is not.
There's some great burritos in Blythe, California. And there's some great felafels in Dearborn.
Most of my best cross-country driving experiences have had less to do with places than with the people I find there. Crashing on a stack of dirty mattresses by a pirate radio transmitter in San Marcos. Hanging out with militia and Panther types in Chattanooga, while it rains outside and they tell me wild stories and I feel like I'm underground. Hiking with an Australian hippie girl I met at a hostel in Boulder, then finding out she's related to Allen Ginsburg. (When she was little, the old guy taught her how to meditate.) There's lots of great sights to see out there, but the most important thing is to interact with all the interesting people you can.
And bring lots of country music, for those stretches where the radio's playing nothing but static or Clear Channel. You can't see America without listening to Haggard and Jones.