The thought behind this road trip goes back to when I lived in the US. I loved to travel, to explore, to see and experience new things. I felt pretty comfortable wherever I was. I have an innate curiosity and a questioning personality (both of which sometimes land me in trouble). I had a thought back then of getting a VW camper and travelling around the US.
Career, family, and commitments put that on the back burner, and studies, work and a low draft number took me abroad. I spent most of my time in Scotland, some in England and Egypt. My late mother often asked when I was coming home, and it was difficult to tell her that I wasn’t. However, while I have only lived in the US for 11 of my 70 years, it still felt like my home.
Having sold my consultancy company and finished work commitments, it was time to plan that road trip. I had never stopped thinking about a trip around the US, and my sister Katherine prompted me along the way with her note inside the cover of Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon that she gave me as a present for Christmas 1985: “In hope that this will fuel fantasies of a trip to the US.”
My road trip will be emergent. I’ll have the flexibility to go where people and events are, where my curiosity takes me, and where I will be challenged in my thinking. Unlike John Steinbeck or William Least Heat Moon, I won’t follow a set route nor use one mode of transport – I’ll take trains, buses and planes, hire cars and campers, cadge lifts.
The structure of my road trip book, Rediscovering America, will emerge from what I see, hear and understand. I will comment on history, politics and culture, seeking to understand people and their politics at this pivotal time – the road trip will take place after one contentious election and before what will no doubt be another.
I also want to explore my own contradictions. I was born in England, and carry both British and American passports, the consequence of an American father who worked for Caterpillar. Our family spent the 1950s in Britain and returned to the US in 1961. After a decade in the States, I came back to Britain to study and escape the Vietnam draft.
My heritage as a white man has equally shaped my story. My ancestors settled from Europe in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Many fought for the Confederacy. We enslaved people. I knew little of this as I grew up in the Land of Lincoln.
I’ve had my adult life, family and professional career in Britain for the past 50 years. Through this expat lens I’ll not only explore contemporary issues in the US, but also compare and contrast these with what I’ve experienced as an American abroad.
America has moved on, but to where? And how have I changed? I want to see if there is indeed something ‘American’ that binds the country together. In the UK, people search for the meaning of ‘Britishness’ – is this now the same in the US?
Rediscovering America will be a book both of its time and for the future. My understanding may help the understanding of others. We’ll see on this journey of discovery.
Please follow my blogs as I meander around the US, and I welcome your comments and views.