"No change since 1960."
Long after the old farms and new forests of New England disappeared in my rearview mirror, I was still scrawling those words in the reporter's notebook on my knee. Big, empty, rich and unchanged - that's a pretty boring scouting report for the America I "discovered" along the Steinbeck Highway. You can add a bunch of other boring but fitting words - "beautiful," "safe," "friendly," "clean," and "quiet."
Like Steinbeck, I didn't see the Real America or even a representative cross-section of America, neither of which exist anyway. Because I went almost exactly where Steinbeck went and stopped where he stopped, I saw a mostly White Anglo Saxon Protestant Republican America, not a "diverse and politically correct" Obama one. Mostly rural or open country, it included few impoverished or crime-tortured inner cities and no over-developed/underwater suburbs.
America the Beautiful was hurting in the fall of 2010, thanks to the bums and crooks in Washington and on Wall Street who co-produced the Great Recession. It still had the usual ills that make libertarians crazy and may never be cured: too many government wars overseas and at home, too many laws, politicians, cops, lawyers, do-gooders and preachers.
But America was not dead, dying or decaying. There were no signs of becoming a liberal or conservative dystopia. The U.S. of A., as always, was blessed with a diverse population of productive, affluent, generous, decent people and a continent of gorgeous natural resources.
Everyday of my trip I was surrounded by undeniable evidence of America's underlying health and incredible prosperity. Everywhere I went people were living in good homes, driving new cars and monster pickup trucks and playing with powerboats, motorcycles and snowmobiles. Roads and bridges and parks and main streets were well maintained. Litter and trash were scarce. Specific towns and regions were hurting, and too many people were out of work, but it was still the same country I knew.
I didn't seek out poverty or misery or pollution on my journey, and I encountered little of it. The destitute and jobless, not to mention the increasing millions on food stamps, on welfare or buried in debt, were especially hard to spot in a generous country where taking care of the less fortunate is a huge public-private industry - where even the poor have homes, cars, wide-screen TVs and smart phones.