In the Deming, New Mexico, La Quinta motel on I -10 the friendly young woman behind the main desk was named Paris. When my wife asked her whether she had ever been to Paris, she replied that actually, she had. “And it smelled like pee.”
Try to figure out the politics of that.
In early December my wife and I drove almost across the country, to Tucson, Arizona. We were curious to see how Tucson manages Christmas without the miserable weather we New Englanders see as an essential element in the logic of the holiday.
It was a tough trip for two ancients (well, one ancient and one of a certain age), running the gauntlet of the virus, 2900 miles by the route we chose, five days, eight hours a day, most of it at 80 mph, in the terrain of the monster tractor trailers, the dominant life form out there. It didn’t take us long to start thinking of ourselves as road warriors.
The troubled state of the nation was on our minds as we began our trip on December 9th: the denial of the election results by the president and roughly half the country. It was still several days before the Electoral College report went off without a hitch.
Wanting to stay south of oncoming winter we chose the southern route, south on I-81 to Tennessee, then west on I-40, I-20, and I- 10, through Arkansas and Texas, which made it also a tour of Trump country. We removed all our bumper stickers, but joked nervously about our MA license plate.
But although the news on the car radio was nonstop worsening virus and election-count denial, there was a certain amount of comfort in how well-behaved we all were out thereon the Interstates. It might have been Trump country, but everyone stayed in their lanes. We might be a worrisomely divided country,with some on one side seemingly ready to use weapons on those of the other side, but on the American highway, even hurtling along at 80 mph. it was a relatively civilized experience.
Of course we didn’t actually see much of Trump country. Such a trip, especially in Covid times, is not a trip through that country in any real sense. It was a trip down a long corridor that might be called Interstateburg, a stretched-out Main Street with the usual suspect national chain restaurants, motels, convenience stores and gas stations.
A big story on the radio was our country’s inability to agree on protecting ourselves and each other by masking and distancing. But out there on the Interstate we followed highway protocol pretty much without exception, looking out for ourselves and each other, hour after hour, day after day.
At the few stores and we ventured into for necessities, in gas stations, in the motels we stayed in (warily) and malls we occasionally used for bathrooms and exercise breaks, people were invariably friendly. And most of them masked.
From what we saw, America’s truckers conducted the essential business of carrying America’s stuff around this huge country in a sober, law-abiding fashion, as safely as possible at 80 mph.
It was, in fact, in this society that can seem to be coming apart at the seams, an amazing demonstration of civilized cooperation.
We road warriors felt lucky to survive the five days unscathed, but it really wasn’t luck, or at least not mostly. It required complete cooperation amongst drivers, civilians and truckdrivers both. To whom, whatever their party affiliation, we felt grateful.
You would not, from that trip down America’s main street, guess that we are on the brink of civil war of some sort. Interstateburg seemed, in fact, an orderly community.
There was comfort in that.
And it was a reminder, as we enter a new year so confused and divided, the people’s government in such disarray, that there is a lot to lose: a huge, complex, and largely functioning country.