Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

 

Trunk
Steve Martin and John Candy in “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”
Growing up in a working-class family in Minnesota is perhaps my greatest blessing. My dad started his own business later in life – after having a wife, three kids, and a mortgage, and not exactly during the robust economic times one might wait to roll the dice on one’s livelihood. But he and my mom made it work, with some sacrifices. We didn’t have trendy clothes or new cars or the latest gadgets. But we had a yearly road trip across the country in the family vehicle: a pink striped, GMC conversion van.

To my brothers and me, it was a Cadillac. It had velvet, mauve upholstery from top to bottom punctuated by track lighting along the middle that lit up the van at night like a mini airstrip on the ceiling. With my Dad driving and Mom navigating, us kids occupied the captain chairs and bench seat in the back. It wasn’t the typical, comfortable family roadster station wagon, but it took us where we needed to go, and it took me to see America.

Our family made one road trip a year to Tucson, AZ, where my maternal grandparents lived as “snowbirds” during the winter months. While other kids my age went to Cabo San Lucas to party and buy Señor Frog’s t-shirts, my parents, brothers, and I explored the Badlands, figured out who was buried in Boot Hill, and where in the heck Wall Drug was.

The route differed from year-to-year. Sometimes it was the straight shot south on Interstate 35, hanging a right when we hit Dallas. Other times it was west, out through the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and the open prairies of Kansas. Twice we stopped at the Logan County Fair outside Golden, CO. There was a foray into (and quickly out of) Las Vegas. We learned about the rich and tragic history of the westward expansion. Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Crow Indians, Wild Bill Hickok, Geronimo, Custer’s Last Stand, and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. There were herds of bison, and hitchhikers; rodeos and Mack trucks; prairie fires and construction cones.

What I saw and learned traveling the country from North Platte, NE, to Truth or Consequences, NM, is that this is America just as much as New York City, Los Angeles, or Washington, DC. People work in the diners, the banks, teach at the schools, and volunteer at the fire station. We in the middle of the country often don’t get our stories told unless it’s in the context of leaving those towns for New York City, Los Angeles, or DC. But it doesn’t make us less valuable nor our voices less powerful. For the past few decades, politics has driven a wedge between the seen and unseen in America. One end is a political class who use pedigree as a self-anointing hierarchy of rule-makers. Academics spend their lives writing case studies on socioeconomic inequality but never bother to live or talk to people experiencing poverty at the hands of years of trade inequality. Politicians assured us cheap manufacturing in China was worth the sacrifice of American jobs in Pennsylvania or Ohio or Michigan. Modernists scoffed at traditional religion as an agent of oppression and sexism. Feminists raged at the patriarchy, ushering in a false promise of women’s “liberation” from the burdens of family.

When we look back on the spring and summer of 2020, remember the hard lesson that was learned, because those who lectured us from the safety of their news desks and behind lecterns while the rest of us suffered, tried to justify a one-size-fits-all policy to a wholly diverse nation. We are tired of the overbearing hubris of the well-heeled making claims of settled social science about the rest of us. There are endless studies and white papers about school-age children inextricably tied to technology telling us that social interactions don’t matter to them as much as past generations. Beating the social-engineering drum praising densely populated, urban cityscapes run by mass transit systems as the lifeblood of intelligence and innovation. Convincing us our society can cull what it needs from the young and productive, and the elderly or disabled have little inherent value.

What they got wrong was hiding in plain sight. The people who only travel outside their brownstone apartment except to make speeches on college campuses missed the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say. It turns out kids across the country are truly missing a connection to each other without school and extracurricular activities. Open-air parks, beaches, wide streets for cars in the suburbs and rural areas might have acted as barriers to a virus that fed off people living elbow to elbow. Our elderly generation deserves more than to be living in death’s waiting room, and their families deserve more than excuses when they’re failed by the decisions of our leaders. Those of us living in the Red aren’t some strange species to be lectured about, studied, or scolded. We are just as much a part of America’s success and power and our voices deserve an equal hearing. The backroads of America tell the story of courage, sacrifice, grace, and compassion just as any high rise in New York or conference table in Washington.

I learned more about what it was to be an American and live in America on those trips. The great American road trip isn’t just about the historical landmarks and the battlefields and the national parks, I learned about who and what is in between. The truckers crisscrossing the interstates are the pipeline bringing us the food, goods, and livestock this country needs to sustain itself. There were families like ours out to explore the wide-open roads. We ran into modern-day Okies, their lives packed up in a truck headed for the hope of a better life in a new homestead. The occasional hitchhiker, head resting on his backpack, taking a nap in the shade of the overpass. There are little towns and cities scattered off the beaten path, just the blink of any eye when traveling by train, completely missed from the windows of an airplane.

Photo courtesy of the Angel among men, Barb Stocker. The Van, as driven by Tony Stocker, the King of the Road
Right now, there is a divide between those shuttling along the Acela Corridor and the rest of the country. At best they ignore “flyover” Americans, at worst they’re considered deplorables — one factory closure away from extinction. But the greatness of America defies that mentality. It isn’t political. It’s the desire for each of us to strive for a piece of the American Dream. And that looks different in New York City, or Tulsa, OK, or Sandy, UT. It’s the idea that each of us can pursue that which makes us happy and fulfilled.

It takes all sorts of Americans to be a successful nation. We find ingenuity, creativity, and productivity in our diversity, but only through a common belief that America is the last best hope for mankind will we succeed in this experiment of human nature. In the end, we’re all just trying to get from point A to point B. We can get there by different paths, but the goal must be the same.

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  1. Postmodern Hoplite Member

    JennaStocker: It turns out kids across the country are truly missing a connection to each other without school and extracurricular activities.

    Well said! May I add? One of the unintended consequences of the corona virus panic may be that children have become even more immersed in (and addicted to) life lived through artificial virtual reality. This was already a serious problem prior to 2020. I fear it will become worse. We have a rising generation of children born after 2007 who have no memory of a time prior to the iPhone. They don’t know a world without the near-continual electronic stimulation of so-called “smart” devices. Such reliance is a form of addition no less addictive or harmful than any chemical stimulant or narcotic.

    • #1
    • May 27, 2020, at 8:29 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  2. Headedwest Coolidge

    That’s a classic conversion van of that era. Great vehicle for a long road trip, too.

    • #2
    • May 27, 2020, at 8:36 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  3. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker

    Headedwest (View Comment):

    That’s a classic conversion van of that era. Great vehicle for a long road trip, too.

    The best! I’ll take that pink van over a minivan any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

    • #3
    • May 27, 2020, at 8:46 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  4. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker

    Postmodern Hoplite (View Comment):

    JennaStocker: It turns out kids across the country are truly missing a connection to each other without school and extracurricular activities.

    Well said! May I add? One of the unintended consequences of the corona virus panic may be that children have become even more immersed in (and addicted to) life lived through artificial virtual reality. This was already a serious problem prior to 2020. I fear it will become worse. We have a rising generation of children born after 2007 who have no memory of a time prior to the iPhone. They don’t know a world without the near-continual electronic stimulation of so-called “smart” devices. Such reliance is a form of addition no less addictive or harmful than any chemical stimulant or narcotic.

    Sad, but true. I work with a couple young people and it’s not unusual to hear them talk about not leaving their room all day – or weekend – because of video games. My folks would’ve thrown me outside and locked the door behind me.

    • #4
    • May 27, 2020, at 8:48 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  5. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpring Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I think another thing kids miss these days are the variety of summer jobs – and the people they would get to meet. Growing up, I worked in a Peach packing house, gas station, as an Electricians Helper on two construction sites. I met a wide variety of people from completely different backgrounds than my family’s. I learned that there were people of all sorts of abilities and effort in addition to race and background and there wasn’t much correlation.

    These days, at best, kids know others from their own neighborhood and school. In most cases, that is a pretty narrow slice.

    Because of a back injury growing up, I don’t have any military experience, but I would think it would be the same sort of broadening exposure to different types of people.

    • #5
    • May 27, 2020, at 9:58 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  6. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker

    WillowSpring (View Comment):

    I think another thing kids miss these days are the variety of summer jobs – and the people they would get to meet. Growing up, I worked in a Peach packing house, gas station, as an Electricians Helper on two construction sites. I met a wide variety of people from completely different backgrounds than my family’s. I learned that there were people of all sorts of abilities and effort in addition to race and background and there wasn’t much correlation.

    These days, at best, kids know others from their own neighborhood and school. In most cases, that is a pretty narrow slice.

    Because of a back injury growing up, I don’t have any military experience, but I would think it would be the same sort of broadening exposure to different types of people.

    I agree! I think the main thing is to get out of the bubble. I remember in college, stuck on campus during the fall of 2004, seeing all the John Kerry 4 President signs. Everywhere! There was no way Bush had a chance! Well, that was just a microcosm of the beltway bloviators we have now. And yes, the military is a wonderful cross section of America. One of the very best, IMHO. Thank you for sharing!

    • #6
    • May 27, 2020, at 10:20 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  7. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    For us it has been an RV. This was early in our 2016 trip visiting the various LI Wilder homes across Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota. Other years we’ve done New England, the deep South, the Great Lakes, and deep into Ontario. Don’t know if we’ll be able to go anywhere this year, what with lockdowns and massively different rules on campgrounds, but we aim to try, especially as my eldest is now 19 and not likely to be able to join us for very many more trips.

    • #7
    • May 27, 2020, at 6:22 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  8. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    For us it has been an RV. This was early in our 2016 trip visiting the various LI Wilder homes across Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota. Other years we’ve done New England, the deep South, the Great Lakes, and deep into Ontario. Don’t know if we’ll be able to go anywhere this year, what with lockdowns and massively different rules on campgrounds, but we aim to try, especially as my eldest is now 19 and not likely to be able to join us for very many more trips.

    This is the best! What an awesome experience and priceless memories for you all. Good luck with the adventures this summer, I hope you make it out for one last trip all together.

    • #8
    • May 27, 2020, at 6:29 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  9. ElGuapo Member

    Your family’s memories sound familiar. Thanks for sharing your wonderful stories. Grown up with my own kids I now feel sorry for the kids that just fly everywhere exciting- they miss everything! My family will decline the culture of the coasts and experience the country from the ground where Americans still live for their families and freedoms.

    John Hughes best movie. He said after his good pal John Candy Died there was no one left to play the average American. Sadly, he was right and I think it matters.

    • #9
    • May 27, 2020, at 7:52 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker

    ElGuapo (View Comment):

    Your family’s memories sound familiar. Thanks for sharing your wonderful stories. Grown up with my own kids I now feel sorry for the kids that just fly everywhere exciting- they miss everything! My family will decline the culture of the coasts and experience the country from the ground where Americans still live for their families and freedoms.

    John Hughes best movie. He said after his good pal John Candy Died there was no one left to play the average American. Sadly, he was right and I think it matters.

    It sounds like you have the foundation for some wonderful trips – and future memories. Your family is very lucky. Might I recommend traveling in a posh conversion van? I think it served our family well, especially navigating the mountains in Glacier National Park.

    And you’re absolutely correct about John Candy. They don’t make them like that anymore.

    • #10
    • May 27, 2020, at 8:25 PM PDT
    • Like
  11. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I’ve never been to North Platte. But I’ve been to many other Midwest states. Our longest family road trip was from our home in the north west corner of Washington State all the way to Mount Rushmore. We drove through Idaho, Montana, down in to South Dakota, then back home through Wyoming with stops at Devil’s Tower and Yellowstone. We once rode the train from Seattle to La Crosse and then drove to a small town in Iowa.

    I live on the west side of the state, which is largely considered to be the “left side”. But I am from the east side. And I drive often back home, passing through wide open fields that remind me of the mid west. I live in a small, dutch dairy town that reminds me of that little town in Iowa we visited.

    America is that small town. What you are describing in the Midwest exists everywhere, if you are willing to go see it. Sadly, our betters in the city look down on our little town the same way they look down on your Midwest. We are all a bunch of racist hillbilly know-nothings to them.

    • #11
    • May 28, 2020, at 6:30 AM PDT
    • 2 likes