Friday, April 4, 2008

Americans are masochistic in Maine.

You start throwing around phrases like "economic downturn" and "...not since the Depression," and it makes one question the sanity of cutting out of town on another cross-country trip - where even the Hamptons are facing declining real estate values.

Gas. Wheat and milk. The price of everything, except houses, is going up, and here I sit on the edge of discovery, ready to journey into the heart of Old America and look into our revolutionary past. What shaped us as a country? Where did the Founding Fathers come from? Is fresh-off-the-boat crab meat really that tasty?

The answers to these questions, and more, I hope to find when I set out on May 16 to the original colonies. I’ll land on my own version of Plymouth Rock, I’ll walk down the streets of Philadelphia, bread in hand, and I’ll swim in the same pond that taught Thoreau to abandon his fellow citizens and embrace the wilderness as the last respite of a sanity-seeking intelligence. If he could spend time in prison to protest his country’s war-mongering, then surely I can sit on the banks of the Delaware and find out if Washington’s late-night crossing was worth the trouble.

Jefferson taught that a government should keep its powers within the confines of the Constitution, except while he was president, and so I don’t feel so bad taking my government money and putting it into my gas tank to run wild all over New England. If Route 66 was a quest to discover the world and my place in it, this trip is a journey to the roots of our country. What makes us tick? Where do we come from? Why can you talk about the weather with anyone, anywhere, anytime and not sound like a raving lunatic?

I’ve decided that I renting a car for this trip would be a waste. The states are so small, and the driving so non-perilous, that my little Suzuki should do just fine. It would have croaked on the side of some Colorado mountainside, but I believe the rolling hills of Vermont will not be such a chore.

I’ve also decided that, since the states are so close together, the back roads and state highways will be more than adequate to see everything I want to see in a reasonable amount of time.

The trip begins where our Declaration of Independance did: in Philadelphia, a logical starting point to a trek so historical. I’ll lay eyes on the Liberty Bell, and Mr. Franklin’s printing shop, and the building where demigods, as Jefferson called them, met and decided to try out a nation-sized experiment. From there it’s down to Maryland, up to Delaware and New Jersey, and straight through for a night (or two) in Boston and on to Maine, where I’ll stream through Route 1 and 3 on back to New Hampshire. Vermont is a resting stop before tackling Saratoga and upstate New York, with a finish through wherever I think the Adams Family (presidential, not kooky) would want to see last.

These trips are the travel equivalent to a Greatest Hits album: not a full picture, but a quick browse-through of the catalog. I may not get to a Red Socks game, but I’ll be sure to grab a picture of Fenway if I’m in the neighborhood.

The vacation time is set, the money is in the bank - what I need now are a few B&B ideas and a map of rest stops for those nights I feel like braving the New England spring nights in my spacious backseat. Nothing beats an economic downturn like a trip out of town and a few adventures along the way. Clinton and Obama can fight for the few remaining states until they’re blue-er in the face; I’ll be finding out about the prize they so greedily seek.

All that’s left is the getting there.

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