Paul Theroux on Driving Across America

There is a wonderful new piece by writer Paul Theroux in the September issue of Smithsonian about a recent trip of his where he drove across the U.S. Here is an excerpt:

Travel is mostly about dreams—dreaming of landscapes or cities, imagining yourself in them, murmuring the bewitching place names, and then finding a way to make the dream come true. The dream can also be one that involves hardship, slogging through a forest, paddling down a river, confronting suspicious people, living in a hostile place, testing your adaptability, hoping for some sort of revelation. All my traveling life, 40 years of peregrinating Africa, Asia, South America and Oceania, I have thought constantly of home—and especially of the America I had never seen. "I discovered I did not know my own country," Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley, explaining why he hit the road at age 58.

My idea was not to linger anywhere, but to keep on the move, as though to create in my mind one long panning shot, from Los Angeles to Cape Cod; to get up each morning and set off after breakfast, going as far as I wished, and then find a place to sleep. Generations of drivers have obviously felt the same way, since the country has become a set of natural divisions, from Los Angeles, say, to Las Vegas, Las Vegas to Sedona, Sedona to Santa Fe—but I am getting ahead of myself.

Speeding east in late spring rain from the Pacific waves lapping at the edge of Los Angeles Airport, disentangling myself from Los Angeles, struggling from freeway to freeway, I was reminded that much of my life has been spent this way—escaping from cities. I wanted to see the glimmering spaces in the distances that lay between big cities, the road that unrolled before me. Los Angeles was a complex set of on-ramps and merging freeways, like a gigantic game of snakes and ladders that propelled me though the bungaloid body of the city to deliver me to Rancho Cucamonga. Beyond the thinner scattering of houses was the sight of bare hills, a distinct canyon and a glimpse of desert as I cruised into Barstow, California. Then I was happy.

Read the rest here.

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