After I wrote my book “Dogging Steinbeck,” and after I became an email pal of travel master Paul Theroux (after he cheered and plugged my findings of fiction in “Travels With Charley”), I read this 2009 piece Theroux wrote for the Smithsonian magazine about his one-way dash across the USA from LA to Cape Cod.
He touched only a few of the places I did along the Steinbeck Highway a year later — Route 66, Amarillo cattle country — but he drove alone and fast and describes a country I recognized from my travels.
Here are the final paragraphs summing up his car trip, which, while far better written than anything I could come up with, are frighteningly similar to what I concluded — that the USA was big, empty, beautiful, safe and friendly.
Theroux, from his article “Taking the Great American Roadtrip”:
In my life, I had sought out other parts of the world—Patagonia, Assam, the Yangtze; I had not realized that the dramatic desert I had imagined Patagonia to be was visible on my way from Sedona to Santa Fe, that the rolling hills of West Virginia were reminiscent of Assam and that my sight of the Mississippi recalled other great rivers. I’m glad I saw the rest of the world before I drove across America. I have traveled so often in other countries and am so accustomed to other landscapes, I sometimes felt on my trip that I was seeing America, coast to coast, with the eyes of a foreigner, feeling overwhelmed, humbled and grateful.
A trip abroad, any trip, ends like a movie—the curtain drops and then you’re home, shut off. But this was different from any trip I’d ever taken. In the 3,380 miles I’d driven, in all that wonder, there wasn’t a moment when I felt I didn’t belong; not a day when I didn’t rejoice in the knowledge that I was part of this beauty; not a moment of alienation or danger, no roadblocks, no sign of officialdom, never a second of feeling I was somewhere distant—but always the reassurance that I was home, where I belonged, in the most beautiful country I’d ever seen.