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Rob Across America

I spent May of 2008 driving all over the country and documenting my adventures. When I was planning to compile it all into a small book (which, alas, was never completed), my old friend and travel companion Wayne Kobylinski wrote this foreword:

You don’t have to have an advanced degree to understand that few things are as quintessentially American as hitting the road in search of America. But I do have one, so shut up and listen.

When Rob told me about his plan to drive across the country and back, I was struck by his tone of earnest curiosity. He really wanted to see, hear, feel, smell, and taste his way to a better understanding of the nation in which he lives.

Now, if you’re in possession of one of these books, you probably know that Rob is never short of enthusiasm for grand plans and intricate projects. But something about this one felt special to me. His voice seemed charged with the knowledge that this was a rare opportunity—even if he didn’t quite know what it was an opportunity for. All I knew was that I had to get in on it somehow.

During the course of the trip, I found myself thinking about a refrain from a Theodore Roethke poem: “I learn by going where I have to go.” I’ve always liked its ambiguity. Does it mean that the way to learn is by fulfilling one’s duties (“going where I have to go”)? Or does it mean that one can only figure out the right path to take by starting down a path (“I learn—by going—where I have to go”)? As you’ll see when you read this book, that simultaneous sense of sticking to a prescribed schedule and flying by the seat of one’s pants describes Rob Across America brilliantly.

From the moment he picked me up at the airport in Albuquerque to the moment he dropped me off at the bus station in Cleveland, I was infected by Rob’s rigorous openness to new experiences. (Except for those hours I spent on the bathroom floor in the hotel at the Grand Canyon. For that period I was infected by something else.) It was as though we’d called a time out from our hypercritical northeastern city-dwelling existences and decided to just let the country hit us as we moved through it.

But this wasn’t the stereotypical free-wheeling, fake-Zen, looking-for-kicks road trip. Rob also brought to our journey an admirable reverence for information. Nearly every night, the last thing I saw before I fell asleep was my fellow traveler lit by a Wikipedia page or the National Parks Service website, carefully crafting reflections on what he learned that day, like a shorter, redder Doogie Howser.

All joking aside, think about the dedication and effort involved in putting out those nightly posts. We would often be in the car for more than six hours on a given day listening to the voice of John Cleese tell us when to turn, or, more often, when not to exit, stopping occasionally to buy gas/candy or take quick tours of points of interest, many of which involved extensive walking. And when we would finally reach our resting place for the night, I would do a crossword puzzle and fall asleep, then wake up three hours later to see Rob still looking for exactly the right words and pictures to capture the day’s experiences. An unexamined trip this was not.

What follows is the product of that scrupulous processing of disorderly data—a glimpse of what we learned by going. Read it in the spirit in which it was written, and I’m sure you’ll learn by going along for the ride.

35 Posts

Crunching the Numbers

2 minute read

Home Is Where the Party Is

1 minute read

Stunt Driving Toward the Finish Line

2 minute read

Pahk da Cah in da Hahvid Yahd

1 minute read

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

1 minute read

Ride the Skies

1 minute read

From One Great Lake to Another

1 minute read

Sweet Home Chicago

1 minute read

I Shop, Therefore I Am

2 minute read

Making Lemonade

1 minute read

Lurking in the Mist

2 minute read

Ode to a Town Best Forgotten

2 minute read

White Is the New Yellow

1 minute read

In Montana, No One Can Hear You Scream

1 minute read

North by Northwest

2 minute read

Oregon Thanks You

1 minute read

Doing Battle with Boredom

2 minute read

The City

1 minute read

Xanadu

1 minute read

The Left Coast

2 minute read

City of the Angels

2 minute read

Right Turn Only

1 minute read

Ready to Burn

1 minute read

A Plan for Mother’s day

1 minute read

Hole

1 minute read

Wayne Across America

1 minute read

Meet the New Mexico, Same as the Old Mexico

2 minute read

The Stars at Night Are Big and Bright

3 minute read

How Do You Spell Relief? A-U-S-T-I-N

1 minute read

Fat Monday

2 minute read

Into the Deep

1 minute read

Jesus Saves! Gretzky Scores on the Rebound!

2 minute read

Five States’ Drive

2 minute read

It’s a Mental State

2 minute read

The 8600-Mile Journey Home (From Home)

2 minute read