The expansive United States is a country that challenges the world traveler to adjust to its scale. Little children in India are told tales that its streets are paved in gold. Cartoon books in Belgium mock the culture’s lack of refinement. Newspapers around the world speculate on the effects of the American administration. Incredible landscapes, hidden throughout the vast continental mass, counterpoise the endless parade of Walmarts and McDonalds. While every preconception one has about the “U S of A” is valid, the challenge to the traveler is to accept this country for its gems. And here the gems are the brightest and largest, as Americans will tell you, ‘We’re number one!’
America, doubtlessly, is the first world and yet a visit to Katrina-devastated New Orleans or to the jaggedly backwards Appalachia makes one wonder whether the term first world even has any meaning. In this land of the free you had better not drink until you reach 21 years of age. The richest nation in the world does not provide its citizens affordable health care, and it has the highest proportion of lawyers and jailed criminals per capita.
All the things are the best in America, but money does all the talking. The poor backpacker, scrounging to try and see this country on the cheap, is likely to be treated as the bullshit walking. But for those with pluck, a thick skin, or a little money saved the United States opens her doors. And here, more than any country, can one settle and be a part of it all. Every culture around the world has found a place in America, and you can too, if you can get a green card.
For such a large country, America has an appallingly monotonic cultural from east to west thanks mostly to national television. A few places, however, are like separate countries themselves – namely California and Texas. The east coast, boasting a sprawling mega-metropolis from Boston to Washington, carries a sense of urgency in the atmosphere and there is no doubt something always going on in the city. The south with its bible belt states like Alabama and Missississippi slow down the pace a lot and race hangs heavy in the air. Along the Pacific a new braver breed of a people, with no history to speak of, cling to their mountain bikes or Louis Vutton handbags depending on their personal market-influenced consumer choice.
Somewhere buried in all of this, perhaps invisible to the naked eye, is the heartbeat of a fresh continent that existed here even before the Natives came tens of thousands of years ago. Martin Luther King Jr.This is the land of Walt Whitman’s plaintive singing, the land where technological marvels sprung up from places named Menlo, and Bell invented by adopted children like Einstein, and the country of highways carry such solitude that Bob Dylan and Jack Kerouac canonized them. The quest to find this America is the coming of age quest of the country’s youth.
The struggle for equality continues in the United States, too, and for every Bush and Nixon you have a John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. to impart some hope. Echoes of the spirit of the ’60s can be heard, a time in history as powerful as any.
Yes the United States has much to offer for the traveler to see and attempt to understand. The vistas of the Grand Canyon are as mysterious as Mona Lisa’s smile, the city of Las Vegas that rose out of the desert is so artificial and enveloping, Los Angeles destroys pedestrians, the Great Plains are as flat as a pancake literally. The list could go on indefinetely. Hated for its imperialism and ignorance, America is still a great country and worth a traveler’s time. Just do it when you have some dough to blow.