Arizona Republic
June 15, 2007

(Phoenix, AZ)
,Author: MORT MAIMON, Special for The Republic Estimated printed pages: 2

With faith in my trusty '96 Taurus wagon, I set out to pursue an old and unfulfilled ambition -- a cross-country drive from Pacific to Atlantic.

Not that I didn't have qualms at the outset of my trek that would take me from Bellingham, Wash. to Ship Bottom, N.J., where our daughter has a weekend house. After all, my previous longest drive had been from Philadelphia to Phoenix in '96, the year I came to my senses and moved to the Southwest.

My initial misgivings proved groundless, however, because I did the trip in a surprisingly relaxing, thoroughly enjoyable eight days. Following Interstate 90 most of the way, I averaged 400 miles daily with ease.

Lightly trafficked, the route is an invitation to audition for Phoenix International Raceway. Having yielded to that temptation a few years ago and emerged lighter of wallet, I set cruise control for 75 mph, the legal limit.
Scenery was the allure, not a trooper's lights flashing in my rearview mirror.

And scenery there was, exceeding my expectations. My one regret now is being unable to navigate and keep a journal simultaneously. Some sights are etched permanently in memory. One involved an extensive stretch of Wyoming's landscape, uninhabited except for herds of antelope, where I glimpsed with increasing clarity the snowy Rockies in the distance.

Memorable, too, were sounds, including the raucous chatter of a pair of ravens soaring lazily on updrafts in South Dakota's Badlands. I found myself smiling enviously at their unapologetic self-indulgence.

And stopping at night in places like Ritzville, Wash., and Onalaska, Wis., tiny dots on some comprehensive road atlas, I breathed the clean fragrance of wind-driven evergreens, banishing temporarily the memory of noxious urban exhaust.

Then there were the people I met, for the most part, generous-spirited and friendly, eager to make those passing through feel welcome. Regions, dialects and parts of cultures may have differed, but openness and goodwill were constants.

Covering 12 states, the junket was a treasure to be remembered always. And there was a major bonus, largely unanticipated. It turned out to be a temporary escape from the doubt and division currently pervading the country.

I enjoyed the brief hiatus from our current microscopic examination of national purpose. However disconcerting today's self-scrutiny may be, crossing the heartland re-illuminated a dimming realization. We are a nation comprised of the sum of greatly differing parts. Sometimes bitter internal conflicts are inevitable because we're a democracy, not a dictatorship.
Fairly soon, we'll be whole again, and better for our introspection.

Being a nomad for eight days left me dazzled by the almost unimaginable treasure of our country. It also, thankfully, bolstered my optimism for the future.