Back home again…

There’s a song in there somewhere, by John Denver. I’ve now been back in Scotland for almost three months – settling back into a new groove after almost half a year away. It was an epic road trip, exceeding all my expectations – no hitches at all, no danger, dodged the blizzard from Lake Erie. Here’s the route that I took:


Map of road trip to rediscover America, Jul-Dec 22 – red for car, yellow for train, pink for bus down MS


Selfie shadow with road trip attire Panama Hat, Denver CO, 17 Dec

It was certainly a circuitous route, in three parts: West, Midwest and mid-America, and East and South. I only had two dates in the diary: Wabash College homecoming and NYC Marathon, so worked around them.  You’ll see many doglegs, which I took to see things of interest or catch events. For instance, driving through Arizona, I reckoned to see the border wall at Yuma that had been talked about so much; and in Montana, I saw a sign for a Highland Gathering, so took that in – same with a rodeo in Utah.


Border Wall, Yuma AZ, 11 Sept


Kilted observers at Bitterroot Celtic Gathering, Hamilton MT, 21 Sept


Rider in the Dixie Roundup Rodeo, St George UT, 16 Sept

Reflecting back on the road trip, here are the stats:

      • 25,149 miles driven over 44 states, visiting 26 capitals during 21 weeks on the road

      • 3,053 miles on Amtrak trains, 459 miles on Greyhound busses, 11,796 miles flown

      • Visited 20 national parks, 13 presidential museums, 14 battlefields, 39 museums

      • Had 330 conversations to tell may about America today

    After a break over the Christmas holidays, I’ve spent my time going through road trip notes and listening to conversations. I tried transcribing some, but realised I missed the richness of the discussions I recorded – the passion, laughter, emotions. So back to listening to each one. 

    As I do, I make notes on a Word document under different topic headings that emerge from the conversations – so far I’m up over 80 different topics that people raised. I’m also prompted to search things that were mentioned, print off the info, read it, and then summarise key points on the Word doc. That way, I can verify what I heard, dismiss some points, and ensure I’m accurate in my reporting.

    I’m amazed that people were so open and honest with a complete stranger. I’d been asked beforehand how I’d engage people in conversations. No problem – Scotland was an effective door opener. I introduced myself as ‘John from Scotland’, then heard about their visits, relatives, clans, and general interest, which led to being asked, ‘so what are you doing here?’ When I explained my road trip and asked what America is like now, the floodgates of conversation opened. It helped that I was just listening and enquiring, not advocating anything.

    I’m about a third of the way through my analysis – a laborious process but, having gathered all the information, I need to do it justice to really understand what the road trip told me about America today and my relationship with the US after 50 years abroad. I’m approaching reporting somewhat like a consultancy project – I’ll look down at the topics and see what key themes emerged from the road trip. That will shape the book.

    In addition to reporting, I’ll weave in reflections and opinions. I heard a wide range of views – I’m comfortable that I can bowl a straight wicket, but I’d be remiss if I don’t offer perspectives that draw both on my insight of America and my expat experience.

    I’m chomping at the bit to start writing. Yet, for each conversation I listen to, I find that my insight broadens. Many people were interested about Scotland, the UK and Europe. In answering questions, I found that there are as many similarities as contrasts in my experience on both sides of the pond over the past 50 years. I’ll draw these out in the book.

    I explored publishing before I set out but didn’t go too far down that road. After the analysis of my road trip, before I start writing, I’ll approach agents and publishers. I’d welcome any contacts or suggestions you might have.

    While I’ve set up a workspace in the attic, I find I’m most productive when out and about in coffee shops and libraries in Glasgow’s West End, or down at the London flat. I don’t get distracted by the buzz around me – and combine work with exercise. 

    I’d like to illustrate the book with some of the pictures I took as I travelled, but we’ll see what works for the publisher. In the meantime, here is a representative sample of my experience on the road trip:


    National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Montgomery AL, 7 Dec having visited the Emmett Till Museum, I came to understand what happened, if not what it felt like


    Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma AL, 7 Dec – walking across this bridge, then driving the route to Montgomery, brought history to life for me


    You been ranching long, Connor? State Fair of Texas, Dallas TX, 20 Oct – Connor was a real poser, and his mum wanted a copy of the pic


    Cowboy Motel, Amarillo TX, 18 Oct – of all the motels I stayed in, I really wanted to stay here, but even for 50 bucks a night I couldn’t handle the smoking rooms


    Crossroads, Clarksdale MS, 30 Nov – taking the bus through Mississippi brought home to me the failure of the state’s business model


    Central Pacific Jupiter, Promontory Point, UT 13 Aug – there had to be a train in this round up!


    Al on Amtrak Crescent to New York, 2 Nov – Al and I shared stories as our train slowly ambled through the East


    Yosemite Valley towards Half Dome, 6 Sept – the West is one big money shot, helped by four months of sunshine, this one of many money shots from the wonderful National Parks


    Scarvey family, second cousins, Salisbury NC, 26 Nov – Katie and family treated me to Thanksgiving lunch, getting to know relatives I’d never met before


    Following school bus in snow, Clay Run Rd PA, 15 Nov – had to put in the one experience I had when I dodged a bullet, just managing to get to a main road with a 2-wheel rental

    Joe's tent under I-65, Houston TX, 27 Oct - I spent time with Joe and Aaron hearing about their life under the interstate
    National Cemetery, Gettysburg PA, 16 Nov - I visited many battlefields from the Civil War where my ancestors fought on the wrong side of history
    Larry at the Superdome, New Orleans LA, 30 Oct - I went to many sports events, and enjoyed seeing the fans mix
    LBJ Presidential Library, Austin TX, 22 Oct - of all the presidential libraries and museums I visited, LBJ's was the most insightful
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