Rediscovering the World of ‘Blue Highways’

I’ve been carrying “Blue Highways” round for months, toting it with some embarrassment, the kind you’re feeling when sporting a tasseled suede coat. It’s a product of a selected time. Yet I’ve been absorbed in the narrative, which now affords the similar kind of hope it did readers the first time round.

Mr. Heat-Moon begins on Interstate 70, touches the Atlantic after which heads West, following the trajectory of the quintessential American journey, which is at all times from night time to day, forest to huge sky. He had no detailed route, however merely adopted his whim, summoned by oddities of the atlas, beautiful-sounding valleys, cities with attention-grabbing names: Kremlin, Mont., Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Ga., and Dime Box, Tex., the place a person says, “‘City people don’t think anything important happens in a place like Dime Box.”

This methodology strands him now and again, however he meets individuals wherever he stops, and he stops continually — for meals and diversion, in search of no matter it’s that drew him to the highway. If something, that was the nation itself, which he glimpses at truck stops and in faces of individuals he meets. He consists of images of these faces, taken with an Instamatic, that characteristic poor lighting, dangerous garments and a crudeness that appears to show that these individuals and these locations truly exist, or did exist in the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan declared it Morning in America.

The nation isn’t the land, Mr. Heat-Moon found. It’s the individuals, who act as one as a result of they share an inconceivable concept. Hence the scrapbook construction of the textual content: A scrapbook is the technique to seize America, which is much less narrative than episodes organized round a theme. America is a collage — it’s solely the notions that maintain us collectively, thus the perpetual worry of flying aside.

Mr. Heat-Moon crossed the nation twice. When he heads dwelling for the Midwest, with the cities more and more extra acquainted, he sees his hometown as if for the first time. “I can’t say, over the miles, that I had learned what I had wanted to know because I hadn’t known what I wanted to know,” he writes, “but I did learn what I didn’t know I wanted to know.”

“Blue Highways” resonates for not less than two causes. First, although the occasions happen greater than 40 years in the past, the guide reads like a seek for what at present ails us, as a result of what ailed us then ails us now. It additionally reads as if it was written 100 years in the past. The nation he described is gone. It might need to do with inhabitants, a nation that grows by practically 100 million is an altogether new nation. That different America — the nation because it existed once I was 10 — is what the guide captures. It’s like the snapshot that by chance received the film star weeping in the background. I learn it and acknowledge it as dwelling.

Of course, the greatest change is GPS, with its satellites monitoring our each transfer. No extra vanishing into the vastness. No extra worry of that vanishing. Sure, you possibly can shut it off and information your self by astrolabe, however there isn’t a escape. Even if you happen to’re not utilizing it, it’ll be there in a pinch. Even if you happen to’re not utilizing it now, you’ll later, when gridlock turns into insupportable. Even if you happen to’re not utilizing it, everybody else is, which means you’re tracing a sample created by GPS. Not solely does the expertise map the world — it remakes the world by mapping it.

Rich Cohen is the creator of “The Last Pirate of New York,” the true story of the underworld legend Albert Hicks and his ultimate road-trip getaway alongside what’s now, roughly, Interstate 95. The guide is due out in June.

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